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Federalism: National vs. State Government

The powers of national and state governments

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The U.S. Constitution establishes a government based on "federalism," or the sharing of power between the national, and state (and local) governments. Our power-sharing form of government is the opposite of "centralized" governments, such as those in England and France, under which national government maintains total power.

While each of the 50 states has its own constitution, all provisions of state constitutions must comply with the U.S. Constitution. For example, a state constitution cannot deny accused criminals the right to a trial by jury, as assured by the U.S. Constitution's 6th Amendment.

Under the U.S. Constitution, both the national and state governments are granted certain exclusive powers and share other powers.

Exclusive Powers of the National Government

Under the Constitution, powers reserved to the national government include:

  • Print money (bills and coins)
  • Declare war
  • Establish an army and navy
  • Enter into treaties with foreign governments
  • Regulate commerce between states and international trade
  • Establish post offices and issue postage
  • Make laws necessary to enforce the Constitution

    Exclusive Powers of State Governments

    Powers reserved to state governments include:

  • Establish local governments
  • Issue licenses (driver, hunting, marriage, etc.)
  • Regulate intrastate (within the state) commerce
  • Conduct elections
  • Ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution
  • Provide for public health and safety
  • Exercise powers neither delegated to the national government or prohibited from the states by the U.S.
  • Constitution (For example, setting legal drinking and smoking ages.)

    Powers Shared by National and State Government

    Shared, or "concurrent" powers include:

  • Setting up courts
  • Creating and collecting taxes
  • Building highways
  • Borrowing money
  • Making and enforcing laws
  • Chartering banks and corporations
  • Spending money for the betterment of the general welfare
  • Taking (condemning) private property with just compensation
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