Federal Government Vs State Government
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite”.
- James Madison, in 1787
The above words were uttered by Madison, which reflects that the founders of this nation had planned for minimal federal government and stronger state Governments. But gradually during the past 227 years, the federal government has become more powerful than the States. The role of the federal government expanded dramatically in the twentieth century, and today it is much more powerful than the State Governments.
Civil war was one of the major reasons behind the strengthening of the federal government. The main reason behind the civil war was the dispute over, how much power should the federal government have over the States in issues such as the economy, industrialization, and especially, slavery. During the civil war, the national government began transforming itself into a more powerful force, by building up institutions like national banking system, the bureau of pensions, national cemetery system, and an Agricultural Department. As Richard Bensel, a historian at Cornell University, states, even before the civil war there was a federal government and bureaucracy. But after the war, there was a huge change in the form of a large social base supporting the federal power.”
The next major boost to the powers of the federal government came during the industrial revolution, which resulted in the country being transformed from an agrarian economy to an industrialized one. The large scale industrialization and the globalization that tagged along made the role of the federal government significant. A strong federal government was better equipped to handle the necessities of a large industrial economy than the States. Though, the United States government practiced a non-intervention or laissez-faire economic policy, it started to take upon more regulatory power in its hands. The incidents such as the Panic of 1873 and other such economic crisis, stressed on the need for a good central economic policy to guide the sudden outburst of trade and industries. Thus, the federal Government took a more proactive role in controlling the inflation and money supply. For example, president Ulysses S. Grant passed the coinage act in 1873, after vetoing the proposal of an inflationary spending bill. This act removed silver from being used as a form of currency and restored some sanity in the economy. The late nineteenth century saw other protective fiscal measures being imposed by the federal government, such as prescribing rail rates and imposing protectionist tariffs on imported goods, to protect the local industries from competition, which went as high as 50% in the 1890s.
The final enhancement to the federal government power came during the World War I. War of any kind always see a centralization of authority, as the mobilization of military needs a strong central command. During the period of the Great War, the federal government experienced a tremendous increase in size and scope. It created the Federal Reserve System which started dictating the capital markets, and the government played a huge role in the distribution of coal and oil and in international trade. Almost 2.8 million people were drafted for the purpose of the war, and the transportation, clothing, food, ammunition and health care of these men needed the government to pull out resources from the private citizens. So in a series of measures vastly dubbed as ‘war socialism’, taxes were increased and through various other interventionist methods the federal income grew by close to 400 percent in between 197 and 1919. The espionage act of 1917, further gave discretionary powers to the federal government, and from there on in the power of the federal government begun to mask that of the Sate governments.
Gales, Joseph and William Winston Seaton. Register of Debates in Congress. Washington D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1833. Print.
Rein, Lisa and Richard Bensel. Civil War gave birth to much of modern federal government. 7 October 2011. web. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/civil-war-gave-birth-to-much-of-modern-federal-government/2011/09/22/gIQA43EFSL_story.html. 27 June 2014.
The Library of Congress. Civil War (1860-1865). 2014. Web. <http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/civil/jb_civil_subj.html>. 27 June 2014.