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Unformatted text preview: arge leveled at Washington itself in more recent times. The Declaration
of Independence pledged the thirteen colonies and their citizens’ lives, fortunes, and sacred honor “to each other,” not to
any grander government. Following victory in the Revolutionary War and governance under the flawed Articles of
Confederation, the biggest debate at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia was the question of whether or not
there was a need for a national government at all.
Internal and external policing matters reluctantly turned the framers in favor of a national government, although its
powers were thought were to be very limited by a clear delineation in Article I, Section 8, the so-called “enumerated
powers clause.” Still, concerns over the potential power of this new national government lead to the adoption of the first
ten amendments to the Constitution, the “Bill of Rights.” Most importantly for any discussion of federalism is the tenth
amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are
reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.”3 Most thought that this provision provided a firm guarantee that
the power of the national government would be constrained.
History would prove otherwise. The earliest blow to a restrained national government came from the US Supreme Court
in the 1819 case of McCulloch v. Maryland.4 In its decision the Court ruled that the US Congress had “implied” powers
that allowed it to legislate well beyond the specific charges found in the Constitution. And it also announced the principle
of national government supremacy – that when a conflict between federal and state law occurred, the federal law was
The US’s great and unfortunate Civil War in the mid-nineteenth century affirmed national government power in a less
subtle way. By winning the war the North’s view that the Union was a nation of people, not a compact of states, was
fortified. No state could secede from the Union of its own accord.
In the first half of the twentieth century, crises, both home and abroad, were to give a boost to centralization of
government power. The domestic crisis was the Great Depression. When many states were unable to respond to the
economic dislocation that was occurring, the federal government, under the leadership of President Franklin Delano
5 US Declaration of Independence.
Amendment X, US Constitution.
McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819)
Ibid. 25 Commission on Fiscal Imbalance Roosevelt, intervened. Programs such as social security and minimum wage laws greatly broadened the reach and
responsibility of the national government. Why did the states and the people accept these actions? Because there
seemed to be no alternative.
The crises of World Wars I and II greatly ratcheted up the revenue raising ability of the national government. In
preparation for World War I, the 16 Amendment to t...
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