What are three ways that the federal government has expanded its power since the ratification of the Constitution?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Federal Government of the United States has seen its power and influence continue to grow since its beginning in 1787.  When the country was established, the first plan of government was established by the Articles of Confederation. When that document created a system that gave little power to a central authority, a convention of states was called and the document we know as the Constitution was born.

Initially, the Constitution was seen as a document to protect the rights of individual citizens. Increasingly the Federal Government has seen itself as an institution to provide economic security for a section of the population and has taken measures to increase its powers to achieve this and many other objectives.

The government of the United States expanded dramatically during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln, faced with the incredible challenge of keeping the Union together, expanded the reach of the central authority in Washington, D.C.  The size of the Federal Army was enlarged through the draft, some newspapers were censored, and disloyal citizens were imprisoned by Federal authorities.

"Must I shoot a simple soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?" Abraham Lincoln

By the turn of the 20th century, the Progressive Era became a springboard for a significant increase in the reach of the Federal Government.  The government began to regulate food after Upton Sinclair's The Jungle exposed the filth that had permeated that industry.  The creation of the FDA in 1906 would ensure accountability and protect the interests of the public at large.

This era of progressive legislation led to the creation of the Federal income tax with the ratification of the 16th amendment, the nationalization of the railroads, and the creation of the Federal Reserve to name a few.

The government also made an attempt to legislate morality with the passage of the 18th amendment and the subsequent Prohibition Era. This expansion of government into all facets of life would continue in the 1920s. When the the Great Depression struck, FDR used the power of the federal government to push the nation toward economic recovery.

The New Deal of the 1930s expanded the government, making it an economic stabilizer for the poor and destitute. Federal monies poured into the individual states to create jobs through public works.  The Social Security Act of 1935 provided an income supplement for those in old age and to assist those faced with unemployment.

By the 1950s, the government continued to be involved in social issues, specifically the Civil Rights Movement.  The desegregation of schools and other aspects of life would culminate with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which legally ended discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The government has increased its role in America dramatically since its conception in 1787. Once power has been granted to the central government, it is unlikely to be relinquished. Look for this trend to continue.



Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The federal government has expanded its power significantly since the ratification of the Constitution.  Government is now involved in consumer protections and anti-trust laws with things like the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Food and Drug Administration.  The federal government is active in people's everyday lives in terms of entitlement programs, which did not exist in the late 1800s.  The federal government takes an active role in managing the national economy through the Federal Reserve.  The federal government has conferred rights on people that it otherwise neglected in the original Constitution—women, African Americans, and eighteen-year-olds now have the right to vote.  The federal government also stepped in and outlawed slavery, ending a problem that had been with the nation from the beginning.  

The federal government has also gotten involved in morality and social betterment programs.  In 1919, it tried to outlaw alcohol, only to realize that this was not practical and it changed its mind in 1933.  The federal government manages the "war on drugs," something which did not exist during the Founding Fathers' time.  The federal government has also gotten involved in education by telling teachers how to teach and by funding post-secondary education.  While I realize that this is more than three ways, the federal government has changed significantly since the time of the Founders.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several ways the government expanded its power since the ratification of the Constitution. The courts were used and new policies were developed.

The first way occurred when the state of Maryland tried to tax the national bank. The government believed this was illegal. The Supreme Court agreed in the case of McCulloch v Maryland. The Supreme Court said a state couldn’t tax a federal institution. More importantly, it also said it was acceptable to interpret the Constitution loosely. This meant the government could do things that weren’t specifically written in the Constitution.

The second example of increasing federal power came in the court case of Gibbons v Ogden. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled the federal government is responsible for dealing with interstate trade. This gave the government more power.

A third example of the increasing power of the federal government was the development of the American System. The government taxed imports, continued to have the national bank, and began a series of internal improvement projects that included publically financed building of roads and canals.

Other examples of increased government power would include the development of the income tax and the passage of laws that limit our freedom at times. During the Civil War, an income tax was passed to help pay the cost of the war. Today, we still have the income tax. During World War I, the Sedition Act was passed. This made it illegal to criticize the government. Today, we get our luggage searched when we travel through an airport. We also get scanned as we enter public facilities. These are additional examples of how the power of the federal government increased over time.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial