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Learning objectives

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

  • Describe how federalism has evolved in the United States
  • Compare different conceptions of federalism

The Constitution sketches a federal framework that aims to balance the forces of decentralized and centralized governance in general terms; it does not flesh out standard operating procedures that say precisely how the states and federal governments are to handle all policy contingencies imaginable. Therefore, officials at the state and national levels have had some room to maneuver as they operate within the Constitution’s federal design. This has led to changes in the configuration of federalism over time, changes corresponding to different historical phases that capture distinct balances between state and federal authority.

The struggle between national power and state power

As George Washington’s secretary of the treasury from 1789 to 1795, Alexander Hamilton championed legislative efforts to create a publicly chartered bank. For Hamilton, the establishment of the Bank of the United States was fully within Congress’s authority, and he hoped the bank would foster economic development, print and circulate paper money, and provide loans to the government. Although Thomas Jefferson , Washington’s secretary of state, staunchly opposed Hamilton’s plan on the constitutional grounds that the national government had no authority to create such an instrument, Hamilton managed to convince the reluctant president to sign the legislation.

The Lehrman Institute. “The Founding Trio: Washington, Hamilton and Jefferson.” http://lehrmaninstitute.org/history/FoundingTrio.asp

When the bank’s charter expired in 1811, Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans prevailed in blocking its renewal. However, the fiscal hardships that plagued the government during the War of 1812 , coupled with the fragility of the country’s financial system, convinced Congress and then-president James Madison to create the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. Many states rejected the Second Bank, arguing that the national government was infringing upon the states’ constitutional jurisdiction.

A political showdown between Maryland and the national government emerged when James McCulloch, an agent for the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank, refused to pay a tax that Maryland had imposed on all out-of-state chartered banks. The standoff raised two constitutional questions: Did Congress have the authority to charter a national bank? Were states allowed to tax federal property? In McCulloch v. Maryland , Chief Justice John Marshall ( [link] ) argued that Congress could create a national bank even though the Constitution did not expressly authorize it.

McCulloch v. Maryland , 17 U.S. 316 (1819).
Under the necessary and proper clause of Article I , Section 8, the Supreme Court asserted that Congress could establish “all means which are appropriate” to fulfill “the legitimate ends” of the Constitution. In other words, the bank was an appropriate instrument that enabled the national government to carry out several of its enumerated powers, such as regulating interstate commerce, collecting taxes, and borrowing money.

Questions & Answers

the political philosophy that ordinary people can govern themselves
Trapper Reply
we know what's best for us... with humility, GOD's Word, "Do no Harm to Others" Civil and Respectful people can and should manage their own lives.. This is one of the main Tenents of our Constitution. The Federal Government is supposed to regulate Commerce, Treaties & Protect rights of Citizens
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The Constitution is the law of the land regarding the governance of America. However, it is not The complete Law in itself. The laws that we follow, both federally and state-wide, come from the foundations laid down by the Constitution and it's articles.
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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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