Federalism: Checks and Balances
As an instrument of government, the Articles of confederation had many virtues, however it left too much power to the states, and had to be replaced with a constitution that provided for stronger national power. Everything in politics revolves around interests, but interests and pure force must be balanced for a legitimate government to take place. Legitimacy can be defined as recognized by the general populace. Some governments have tried to derive their legitimacy from the need for defense against a common enemy.
The contract is the general basis for legitimacy in American government; the American people give their consent to the strong national government in return for a guarantee that their fundamental rights will be protected. This idea is known as constitutionalism. There are three fundamental limits involved in the contract, federalism, the separation of powers, and individual rights. The ideal of federalism sought to limit the national government by creating a second layer of state governments. The principle of separation of powers sought to limit the powers of the national government by dividing government against itself-by splitting it into the legislative, executive, and the judicial branches. The principle of individual rights sought to limit government by defining the people as separate entities against the government.
The constitutional creation of two layers of government can is better known as dual federalism. From the beginnings of our country to 1933, the federal government was relatively small. It had a very narrowly specialized group of functions; to mint currency, set a tariff, and conduct internal improvements. Thus, virtually all of the original federal government's responsibilities revolved around its commerce power. The government's emphasis was on assistance, promotion, and encouragement. Since the 1930's, the national government has expanded into interstate matters.
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