chapter  8
25 Pages

Federalism, the states and local government

The federal principle

The Founding Fathers established a system of government at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 which was the result of the compromises necessary to reconcile the conflicting political and economic interests present. Federalism was in fact a ‘half-way house’ between the concept of a centralised unitary state that was unacceptable to the 13 states jealous of their own independence and that of a confederation which was a weak association of autonomous states of the kind that had proved unsatisfactory between 1781 and 1787. Federalism arose out of a desire to bolster national unity while at the same time accommodating regional diversity. The Constitution itself does not mention anywhere the terms ‘federalism’ and ‘federation’ but the United States has been recognised ever since as the major example of this compromise form of unity. Many other nations later attempted to adopt the federal principle which K.C. Wheare describes as: ‘The method of dividing powers so that the general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, co-ordinate and independent.’1