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Federalism Research Papers

Federalism research papers overview the concept and how it relates to government and politics. At its simplest, the concept of federalism is little more than a balance between a federal or national level of government and a local or regional level of government. However, the concept is much more complicated in practice.

While the definition of federalism has changed slightly throughout history, the modern concept refers to the following elements:

  • A system that utilizes democratic principles to create rules and structural components
  • The componants of federalism represents a shared power of government between national and regional powers.
  • The Balance of power is at the core of the very concept of federalism.

How that power has been balanced, however, has also changed over the years. Initially, the United States was governed by a system of dual federalism. This system distributes power through the use of clearly defined terms; any power not clearly given to the federal government fell naturally to the purview of the regional government. The start of the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt marked a shift to what is known as cooperative federalism; this is where the various levels of government – national, regional, and local, if applicable – work together to address problems that might exist. This ultimately interjects the federal government into areas that were once exclusively reserved for the regional governments, opening the door to greater control in these areas. Through the use of categorical grants and grants-in-aid, the federal government is able to mandate where funds are spent in those areas previously controlled exclusively by the states, thereby increasing their power in these areas.

More recently, the nation has started to take a turn towards what is called “New Federalism,” strengthening the concept of states’ rights and returning more power to the regional levels. The use of block grants, for example, gives states the authority on how certain funds provided by the federal government can be spend, reflecting the exclusive authority that states have in these areas. While the nature of the relationship between the federal and the state levels of government has changed over the years, and while there will always be a divide over how much authority each level should have, the very fact that there is a division of power between the two levels reflects the continued dedication to the concept of federalism as a cornerstone of our government.

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