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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how the balance of power between national and state governments shifted with the drafting and ratification of the Constitution
  • Identify parts of the Constitution that grant power to the national government and parts that support states’ rights
  • Identify two fiscal policies by which the federal government exerts control over state policy decisions

When the framers met at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, they had many competing tensions to resolve. For instance, they had to consider how citizens would be represented in the national government, given population differences between the states. In addition, they had to iron out differences of opinion about where to concentrate political power. Would the legislative branch have more authority than the executive branch, and would state governments retain as many rights as they had enjoyed under the Articles of Confederation?

Here we look at the manner in which power was divided between the national and state governments, first under the Articles of Confederation and then under the U.S. Constitution. As you read, observe the shifting power dynamic between the national government and subnational governments at the state and local level.

State power at the founding

Before the ratification of the Constitution, the state governments’ power far exceeded that held by the national government. This distribution of authority was the result of a conscious decision and was reflected in the structure and framework of the Articles of Confederation    . The national government was limited, lacking both a president to oversee domestic and foreign policy and a system of federal courts to settle disputes between the states.

Restricting power at the national level gave the states a great deal of authority over and independence from the federal government. Each state legislature appointed its own Congressional representatives, subject to recall by the states, and each state was given the authority to collect taxes from its citizens. But limiting national government power was not the delegates’ only priority. They also wanted to prevent any given state from exceeding the authority and independence of the others. The delegates ultimately worked to create a level playing field between the individual states that formed the confederation. For instance, the Articles of Confederation could not be amended without the approval of each state, and each state received one vote in Congress, regardless of population.

“Articles of Confederation,” https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/SMAN-107/pdf/SMAN-107-pg935.pdf (March 14, 2016).

It wasn’t long after the Articles of Confederation were established that cracks began to appear in their foundation. Congress struggled to conduct business and to ensure the financial credibility of the new country’s government. One difficulty was its inability to compel the individual states to cover their portion of Revolutionary War debt. Attempts to recoup these funds through the imposition of tariffs were vetoed by states with a vested financial interest in their failure.

“Tax History Museum: The Revolutionary War to the War of 1812 (1777–1815),” http://www.taxhistory.org/www/website.nsf/Web/THM1777?OpenDocument (March 14, 2016).

Questions & Answers

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yes
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by following all the due processes
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3
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3
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Israel
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Bailey
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Darhel Reply
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Paschal Reply
because it is documented
Comfort
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SonIa Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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