Federalism can be defined as the process or act of sharing power between two or more entities with authority over the same people and in the same geographical area. In the United States, federalism is the DISTRIBUTION of power between the federal government and the state governments. It is regarded as the most innovative concept in the history of America’s constitution, although the word federalism does not appear anywhere in her constitution. A democratic government is a system of governance in which the supreme power is vested in the people, and it is exercised directly by them or their elected representatives or agents in a free electoral system. United states of American and Canada have such governance systems, and that is why they are always points of reference when talking about democracy and governance. The US constitution is hardwired with tensions of that struggle. Consequently, she still debates to establish the proper role of the national government vis avis the state governments.
In 1776, the newly independent states quarreled each other a lot. The reason was that the ‘united’ states had vast differences in population, history, geography, economics and politics. Each state wanted sovereign powers to make treaties regulate commerce, coin money among other responsibilities. They later on gave up some of the powers in order to survive on a world stage by agreeing to the article of confederation of the first US constitution. The agreement to the constitution created friendship among states and a legislative with limited powers.
The US constitution gives certain powers to both the state and the federal government. For instance, article I, section 8 of the constitution, gives the United States Congress certain powers that include: regulating inter-state trade and commerce, raising the military and navy, coining money, declaring war and establishing laws of immigration. The states existed first in America and afterwards, they struggled to establish the federal government. There are other things that the states cannot carry out as listed in article I, section 9. Under this section, the states are restricted from charging duties on imports and exports, coining money, entering into treaties and declaring war. Some scholars do suggest that democracy do flourish in a federal system of government just as is the case with the unitary system of governance in the Great Britain. The US national government whose headquarters is based in Washington, D.C has laws that apply to anyone living within the boundaries of the United States of America. On the other hand, the laws of each state among the fifty different states apply only on the residents of those states alone. The provision set the freedom for the various states to chat their own law. To this end, federalism does improve the democracy of the United States (Michael, 95-150).
Additional levels of government brought about by the state governments increase access to decision making in other ways other than an act of holding office. When interest groups, for instance, are prevented or blocked from influence in one level of government, may find reception at another level. In the end, this promotes democracy. It can explain why the US is referred to as a mature democracy. There is the tolerance of each other views and opinions. In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activists faced stiff opposition from the southern states that opposed racial integration, but they found support from the national government in their struggle to achieve racial equality. In the early twentieths century, proponents and supporters of the labour and environmental regulations often succeeded in passing state legislation after the national government faulted them. A federal system of government, therefore, has potential to make the government more responsive the various interests of the states ranging from social to economic. The interests often compete and states. Federalism thus helps in promoting and managing a healthy democratic society within a large republic such as the United States. Framers of the US constitution such as the James Madison placed a lot of value on the multiplication of the interest groups. The reason behind this was that it acted as a deterrent from the formation of a permanent majority that had the ability to trample on the rights of the minority.
Federalism system of governance enhances democracy as it provides a platform for effective criticism of the government policies and practices. Under federalism, a political party might be out of power nationally, but still capture state and other local offices. It allows it to challenge and hence keep the government on check about its policies. In such a situation, some members of the opposition political parties may be partisans but there are other who are reserved and express their views with respect to particular policies or course of action. The United States federal system thus aids the protection of the freedom of the citizens in opposing policies made by the national government which are viewed to misleading and misguided. In other words, federalism promotes effective governance by providing a platform for constructive criticism that strengthens democracy.
The fact that federalism accommodates local issues, it as well contributes to decentralization of policies and politics in the same measures. It thus enhances US democracy because USA is a one large geographical and complex nation. Federalism enhances accommodation of all people from various ethnic, nationalities, cultural and religious backgrounds, and morals, social, economic and political issues brought together in the federation. The governance of such a nation might be very tricky if such differences are not expressed and accommodated. The different states provide varying policies to solve same issues at hand and thus, enabling citizens to live in a state where the policy suits them best. The citizens have the option of deciding which state’s policy best suits their cultural and moral values. In the end, democracy is encouraged. For example, some states allow gambling while others prohibit it. The policies made for each state are a reflection the needs, values and experience of the majority of the citizens in that particular state. The policies are expressed in terms of enacted state laws. The goodness with state laws is that they do not require a national consensus to support a unified policy on the issue. On the same note, it is important to note that a diverse approach to a public issue does not guarantee it as a virtue but, it allows participation that in itself is democracy. Whichever way, the approach should never compromise the rights and privileges of the citizens. For example, the right of trial of alleged criminal offence should not depend on the geographical circumstance of the alleged.
As provided in the U.S. constitution, the Congress does not have the powers to abolish the state. At the same time, the state cannot assume the powers stipulated for the national government. United States federalism gets its authority from both the state governments and the national government which is a reflection of the will of the Americans and ultimately, power in a democracy. Federalism in the US, therefore, promotes democracy and cooperation between the state government and the national government. The national government does not have authority to dictate policies for the various state governments. The states have constitutional liberty to carry out certain specified roles and responsibilities just as is the national government. Federalism encourages decentralization of power and, as a result, people at the lowest state levels have right to enact laws that specifically affect their ways of life at that level, and this is an improvement of democracy. The various states in the US have their own independent legislative branch, judicial ranch, and executive branch. They are, therefore, constitutionally empowered to pass, enforce and interpret laws but without violating the constitution. Sharing of governance responsibilities promotes democracy and inclusion. It is worth noting that in the 1960s, there were civil rights struggle over segregation in the US laws between whites and African Americans. Evolving democracy and constitutional amendments abolished such discriminations and has brought the United States to its level of democracy.
The states were as well restricted from depriving any person of their life, property, liberty without due process of the law. The states were required not to deny anyone within its powers the protection of the law. The federalism system of governance in the US has thus helped to improve the democracy of the US. To date, segregation in education and other areas does not exist in the US governance system. It is, therefore, for a reason that the states are called laboratories of democracies. The state governments have spearheaded the introduction of innovative policies and programs ranging from welfare education reform to health and safety regulations. Even before the national government acted, the various state governments had abolished slavery and granted women rights to vote, the African Americans and the right to take part in direct elections in the US.
Proponents of federalism argue that federalism fosters state unity. It has given many Americans closer ties to their home state and maintains it by giving the different states power to chat their way in particular areas as provided by the constitution. It has as well made it possible to run a large country with a diverse population such as US much easier as compared to giving powers to local officials. The state governments have autonomy to enact policies that are useful in solving their local issues. State governments act as laboratories of democracy. State governments experiment with policies and other states including the national government learns from it. For example, Florida has often led the nation on matters of environment regulations. Involvement of state government in US political system ensures that there is the separation of powers and prevents tyranny. If a situation occurs whereby a group takes control of the federal government, federalism ensures that the state government would still function independently. It does fulfill the government structure that enhances liberty.
Critics of federalism argue that federalism hinders the creation of a national policy. It explains why the US does not have a single policy on issues; rather it has fifty-one policies that often bring about confusion. Federalism has encouraged ignorance by citizens in that most Americans know very little about their states and local government yet the states have much power that affect people’s lives. Finally, federalism has promoted unaccountability due to overlap of boundaries between the state and federal government (Purcell, 202-207).
The Madisonian concept is a philosophy of the conduct of a president that adheres to the denoted powers of the executive branch in the US constitution in which the powers of the government is separated into the executive, legislature and the judicial. It spells out the use of presidential powers. The model was established in an attempt to prevent tyranny by either a majority or minority. The three branches are independent of each other but cooperate to govern.
Madison founded federalism as he viewed it as a prudent way for the state governments to govern themselves yet remain part of the national government through cooperation in various sectors and sections as provided for in the constitution, and adhere to democratic rule. The Madisonian institution acted as a mediator or rather moderator as it guided the federal and state governments on issues to do with democracy. Madison believed that in a democratic society, the voice of the minority should be heard as the majorities have their way. If not then the essence of minority loses meaning. His thoughts and ideas have been implemented in major political events such as national elections whereby the minority have the rights to vote just as the majority. Earlier on, before the enactment of the civil rights bill, the African Americans were not allowed to vote. They were also used as slaves for the majority white population. It was after many years of campaigns and struggle that the state governments and the federal government came to understand the essence of democracy that the civil rights bill was signed into law. It outlawed discrimination based on one’s race and social group. It was after the struggle that the African American started enjoying their fundamental rights that had earlier on been denied. Discrimination was in the areas of housing, discrimination in access to employment and education system as well as means of transport. To this end, therefore, Madisonian Institution was instrumental to the achievement of equal right during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. To date, the Madison model is still held in high value by the Americans (Bardes, 44-46).
The enactment of the civil rights act of 1964 brought significant changes in the lives of Americans. The landmark ruling that led to the enactment of the civil rights legislation outlawed discrimination based on color, sex, religion, race nationality of origin. It further brought to an end unequal voter registration eligibility and segregation in schools, workplace and access to public facilities. Of course, the civil right movement is the vehicle used by human rights activist to express need for equal society that is accommodating to both the majority and the minority without regard to race, sex or religion. Human right advocates led by Hon. Martin Luther King Junior received much support from President John F. Kennedy. His support led to his assassination just like Martin. Since that time, successive governments have been working to ensure a free society where human rights of all are upheld. These are the tenets of democracy. American is thus the most mature democracy in the world although there are other issues where the government needs to improve. Every forthcoming government tries to involve the citizens in decision making, and the supreme power is vested in the people. The US constitution is highly respected and adhered to. The election of President Obama; an African America is an example of a mature democracy.
Bardes, Shelly,Schmidt .American Government and Politics Today: The Essentials 2011-2012.
Michael Les Benedict, The Blessings of Liberty: A Concise Constitutional History of the United States (D.C. Heath and Company, 1996)
Purcell, Edward A. Originalism, Federalism, and the American Constitutional Enterprise: A Historical Inquiry. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.