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The relationship between the states and the federal government: lesson overview

A high-level overview of the relationship between the states and the federal government. 
Government in the United States is shared between local, state, and federal governments. The distribution of power between state and national governments has changed over time in response to societal needs.
Map of the United States denoting states and counties.
Map of the United States, including state and county boundaries. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pojęcia kluczowe

TermDefinition
block grantsFederal grants issued to states or local governments to support broad programs
categorical grantsFederal grants restricted to specific purposes
concurrent powersPowers shared by the federal government and state governments, e.g. lawmaking and taxation
exclusive powersPowers reserved either to the federal government or state governments
federalismPolitical system that organizes government into two or more levels with independent powers; in the United States this consists of local, state, and national governments
federal revenue sharingThe practice of sharing federal income tax revenue with state and local governments
mandateA requirement that states or local governments meet a specific condition in order to receive federal aid

Document to know

The US Constitution: Articles IV and V of the US Constitution outline the federal system used in the United States today.
Article IV establishes that the states will give “full faith and credit” to the laws of other states. For example, if a citizen gets legally married in one state, he is still married if he moves to another state. Likewise, if a citizen commits a crime in one state, she cannot escape to another state and evade justice. States also can’t discriminate against citizens of other states if they move; any US citizen who moves to a state is entitled to the same “privileges and immunities” of citizenship in that state as someone born there.
Article IV also promises states the protection of the federal government. It does this by promising to defend states against invasion, guaranteeing them a republican form of government, and barring the federal government from splitting up a state without the consent of its legislature and Congress.
Article V describes the process of amending the Constitution, which requires the ratification of three-quarters of the states. This provision of the Constitution demonstrates the importance of the states in approving the workings of the US government.

Exclusive and concurrent powers of state and federal governments

Exclusive federal powersConcurrent powersExclusive state powers
Coining moneyTaxationConducting elections
Regulating interstate and foreign commerceLawmaking and enforcementEstablishing local governments
Regulating the mailChartering banks and corporationsProviding for public safety, health, welfare
Declaring warTaking land for public use (eminent domain)Maintaining militia
Raising armiesEstablishing courtsRatifying Constitutional amendments
Conducting foreign affairsBorrowing moneyRegulating intrastate commerce
Establishing inferior courts
Establishing rules of naturalization

Najważniejsze punkty

Constitutional allocation of power: In addition to the separation of powers and system of checks and balances that guard against any one branch of the federal government becoming too powerful, federalism separates the powers of the federal and state governments as an added security measure to reign in government power. The federal system grants states large autonomy over lawmaking within their borders, so long as they do not violate citizens’ rights or contradict federal laws. The federal government is also able to assert power over the states through grants and mandates.
This system allows local state governments to be responsive to the particular needs of their citizens while binding the states together into a larger nation.

Pytanie sprawdzające

Name one power exclusive to the federal government and one power exclusive to state governments. Now, name two concurrent powers shared by both state governments and the federal government.
Why is the American system of government divided into three levels? What is the impact of the federal system on US policymaking?
Why are certain powers reserved to different levels of government? Can you make a generalization about the kinds of powers reserved to the federal government vs. the kinds of powers reserved to state governments?

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