chapter  2
Federalism at the Founding
Pages 17

No one at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 fully anticipated or welcomed the federal framework they placed in the U.S. Constitution. The specific rules of American federalism in that document resulted from the delegates’ conflicts over the direction of American political development. Most of the Constitution’s framers were skilled republican politicians who agreed that the national government needed more power, but they strongly disagreed about how much power the national government needed, and how much power the states should keep. Supporters of broad nationalism, like James Madison of Virginia, aimed to create a very powerful national government, exercising complete power to tax, govern commerce, and defend the nation. These delegates sought to reduce the states to a small, secondary role in American government. Supporters of narrow nationalism, like Roger Sherman of Connecticut, insisted that the new national government needed only a few additional, limited powers. They believed that the states should continue to govern most of American life, and that the national government should supplement, not supplant, most of the existing powers of the states. These clashing visions produced a federal framework built by a series

of political compromises that included elements of both broad and narrow nationalism. Advocates of narrow nationalism won many limitations on national power and protections for the states, while supporters of broad nationalism won many new national powers and elastic authority that could be expanded to meet future national needs. The Constitution gave the national government the tools to manage national sovereignty, but made it difficult for the national government to use these powers. It gave the states the power to manage everyday American life, but it amputated some of the states’ tools for dealing with public problems. The Constitution left the dividing line between national and state power ambiguous, inviting endless political conflict over the rules of federalism in the United States.