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Federalism: The Historical Trends and National/State Power Balance Outline - page 1 / 5





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Federalism: The Historical Trends and National/State Power Balance Outline

Era 1:  Dual Federalism: Federalism as National Supremacy v. States’ Rights


During the period from the adoption of the Constitution to the end of the Civil War, the constitutional debate continued over the proper role of governments in the American system.

Main issue in this first era: the Union’s survival.

Nation-centered view vs. state centered view.

Given the state-centered history of America before the Constitution, it was inevitable that the states would dispute national policies that they perceived as being contrary to their own interests. 

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) Although Marshall’s ruling in McCulloch helped strengthen national authority, the issue of slavery posed a growing threat to the Union’s survival and a nation-centered view.

A resurgence of cotton farming in the early 19th century revived the South’s flagging dependence on slaves and heightened white southerners’ fears that Congress might abolish slavery.

John C. Calhoun helped develop a constitutional argument that helped support southern dissenters’ ideas.  

Calhoun’s argument: the Constitution created a government of states…NOT a government of individuals. He used Hamilton’s own words in the Federalist papers in his argument: Hamilton said that the "plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation" of states clearly retaining "all the rights of sovereignty which they had before"…which were not delegated to the United States.

Nullification debate: Calhoun’s argument was called the doctrine of nullification which declared that each state had the constitutional right to nullify a national law.

In 1832, S. Carolina invoked this doctrine when they declared null and void a tariff that they felt favored the north. Andrew Jackson, then president, used the threat of military force to make them comply (and Congress amended the tariff as well).

In 1857, the Dred Scott Decision was made by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Taney. In the opinion, he said that slaves were property rather than citizens and could not be made free by moving to a free state or territory.

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