chapter  1
Pages 15

Federalism shapes Americans’ lives because it has shaped the past and present of their nation. Federalism-the division of government authority between the national government and the states-affects the prosperity, security, and many everyday choices of each person living in the United States. The American states always have done most of the routine governing in the United States. State laws still regulate birth and death, marriage and divorce, crime and punishment, and commercial law, such as the purchase and sale of property. States manage education, prisons, highways, welfare, environmental protection, corporate law, and the professions. Because federalism’s impact is so broad and so deep, political rivals have battled over federalism since the nation’s founding. Federalism has influenced all the important political battles in American history. The United States, its government, and its public policy are a still-evolving legacy of choices powerfully influenced by federalism over time. This book argues that federalism has played a pivotal part in the

making of America because it has been a principal battlefield of political conflict. Political opponents have fought about federalism to advance or to stop government actions. Over time these political conflicts helped construct the unique path that the development of American government, politics, and public policy has followed. Federalism has shaped American life most powerfully by converting

many political conflicts over whether government should act into conflicts over which level of government-the U.S. national government or the states-should exercise power to resolve the conflict. The most bitter and spectacular political conflicts in American history have been fought on the battlefield of federalism, including states’ rights to leave the union, and government power to regulate business, to institute political reform, and to respond to problems of race, poverty, pollution, abortion, and many more. The consequences of these choices played out over time and cumulatively have altered American political development. Federalism helped fragment American politics, encourage policy innovation and diversity, foster the American market economy, and place hurdles in the way of of

Federalism is a long-lasting institutional arrangement of political power in which both a national government and regional governments within a nation each have separate authority to maintain order, make laws, spend public funds, and provide public services. Ronald L. Watts, a foremost expert on federalism, estimated that in 2002, forty percent of the world’s population lived in nations organized around federalism; these nations include the United States, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, and Switzerland. Many believe that the European Union is evolving toward a kind of federal system.1