Why did the Founding Fathers choose federalism?
The founding fathers realized that by 1789 the Articles of Confederation (ratified in 1781) was putting the new nation in critical danger. As a constitutional structure, the Articles served as a loose union between the different states and a centralized national government. Unfortunately, the states were so distrustful of a centralized authority, the national government was extremely limited in its capacity to govern. Although the national government could make war and negotiate treaties, it lacked the fundamental power to tax. Without the 'power of the purse' the national government was essentially held captive by the individual state governments. In addition, the powers the national government did have were impossible to enforce leaving the national government again at the whim of the states. Furthermore, Shay's Rebellion caused the founding fathers to take the weaknesses of the Articles seriously. In 1787 the Constitutional Convention assembled for the purpose of revising the Articles. Instead they constructed a new document; The U.S. Constitution based upon several principles one of which was Federalism. Federalism redefined their confederation by creating a fedeal union. A federal union is a compromise between a unitary system's concentration of power and a decentralized confederation of state structure.
There are a number of ways to answer this.
- The Framers chose federalism rather than a confederation because they had tried confederalism under the Articles of Confederation. They had found that it created a central government that was too weak to really do what was needed.
- The Framers chose federalism rather than having a unitary system (all power given to the central government) because people did not trust central government. They had just fought to become free from a centralized British government that, they thought, was too oppressive.
- The Framers chose federalism also as way of preventing tyranny. They wanted to split the power of government between the states and the central government so that neither level of government could become too powerful. They felt that splitting power up was a good way to protect the people from government tyranny.