Table of Contents 

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MOST NATIONS are unitary in organization. The national government exercises all final power and sovereignty. By contrast, federalism may be defined as a structure of government that divides final power and sovereignty between a central government and local geographic units. Independent legislative, judicial, and executive organs are often found on each level. Federalism may be distinguished usually from confederation by its allocation to the central government of final authority on important matters affecting all the individuals of the federal union. Not unexpectedly, there have been many more cases of confederation than of federation. For independent states have often banded together out of convenience and necessity, thus forming confederations, without relinquishing their final powers on any important questions.

As it operates, federalism decentralizes and limits the central governing authority in certain ways. A division of labor is worked out which gives local areas substantial autonomy. It is a form of geographic pluralism, for involved in all federal states is the idea that local values must be preserved by being given a secure place in the total political structure.

The Varieties of Federalism


Whatever may be the historical, legal, or political origins of a particular federal state, within it there exist units smaller than the whole which possess such a large degree of survival ability and power of decision that they appear and act in many important ways as if they were separate governments. In the American federal union, we are especially impressed by the resemblance between the state governments and the national government. This resemblance occurred because the national Constitution imitated some features of the existing state constitutions, and thereafter the new states imitated closely the structure of the national government. But experience elsewhere provides many cases of federalism in which the central and local bodies hardly resemble each other in structure.


A glance at the table of federations on the following page (Figure 9) will show the bewildering variety of historical circumstances out of which federations arose. The table points up one of the essential conditions in the origins of federations: federalism is a compromise between two conflicting yet desirable sets of values, one local, the other central. The bonds that tie the smaller units to the larger unit may be purely spiritual and sentimental. This was the case of the Amphictyonic Council, the religious league of the ancient Greek cities. At another extreme, the bonds of unity may be strong controls such as those embodied in the economic and nationalistic program that occasioned the German federation under Bismarck. Although reasons and circumstances may vary, federalism, to be genuine, can never be completely one-sided. A balance of functions and authority, always precarious, must be maintained by the central and local authorities.


Whence comes the strength of the localities? It comes first of all from the strength of community ties; as we have shown in the preceding chapter. In the age of the city-states in the ancient Mediterranean, the center of politics, trade, and culture rested in a locality containing some thousands of persons surrounded by an agricultural hinterland. In the late Middle Ages, the Italian and German cities waxed rich in trade and culture at the expense of nationalism. They conquered surrounding areas, often in league with other cities. But neither they nor the Greek cities relaxed their local independence or pride. Federalism for them was a minor convenience of an economic, religious, or cultural sort. So it was too with the feudal baronies of the Middle Ages. They fought bitterly and in the end vainly against monarchical centralization. The results of the struggle in several cases took the form of federalism - for neither the king nor the nobles (the cities were often a third force) could achieve immediate supremacy. In Spain, the kings convoked the Cortes in the early thirteenth century in order to get from the nobles and townsfolk by influence what they could not get by sovereign command. And in France the Estates-General, and in England the Parliament, served the same purposes at first.




Amphictyonic Council
Delian League
Achaean League
Aetolian League
Boetian League
Lycian Confederation
Etruscan Confederation
Roman Confederation


Lombard League
Ghibelline League
Rhenish Confederation
Suabian Confederation
Hanseatic League
Cinque Ports
Holy Roman Empire


Swiss Confederation
United Netherlands
German Confederation
German Zollverein
German Empire
German Republic
Iroquois Federation
New England Confederation
Continental Congress and Articles of Confederation
Confederate States of America
League of Nations


Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
British Commonwealth of Nations
Union of South Africa
United States of America
Argentine Republic
United States of Brazil
Republic of Mexico
United States of Venezuela
United Nations
Organization of American States
Republic of Indonesia
West Germany
European Economic Community


Western European Union
European Union
Balkan Federation
East African Federation
Central African Federation
Scandinavian Federation
Democratic Union
World Federation
Pan-Arab Federation

In breaking up feudalism-which we must remember represented centuries of tradition and law-the kings had to crack through the same barriers that defend the localities in modern systems of federalism. They had to break the system of local armies, of local judiciaries and law, and of local fiscal independence (see Figure 10). By the fifteenth century, their success in western Europe was assured.



It is notable that the period of the destruction and disintegration of feudalism was accompanied by the eclipse of flourishing parliaments in the principal countries involved. There exists a definite connection between early modern federalism and early representative government. Representative government is peculiarly suited to federalism for the latter requires local autonomy at the same time as it requires a central body. In fact, the more power the individual representative to an assembly has, the more truly federal a state. An extreme of such power, for example the free veto (liberum veto) of any law, as possessed by the thirteenth century barons of England, or the nobles of the Polish Diet, or the city-state ambassadors to the Amphictyonic Council, or one of the "Big Five" of the United Nations Security Council, means that federalism has indeed been sacrificed to weak confederation.


If the strength of the localities lies in community pride and culture, in local economic interests, in hatred of remote oppression, what contrasting abilities has the central organization to offset them? Centralization provides greater over-all power and the more efficient use of the resources of all the parts, at least by the crude techniques of past human organization. Yet we need not feel that centralization is the inexorable destiny of human society. We need not assume that federalism -for being a condition of contrasting and balancing authorities-must be a transient phenomenon, useful only in manipulating a transition from many to one. We can at least say that, history being a vast panorama of instabilities, federalism may not be a less permanent condition of human society than other forms of organization.

The interplay of central and local forces gives the angle from which may be observed the federal societies of the past. Of the forty-odd major efforts at federalism that march down the pages of history, the American trial has been the most consistently successful and deserves the most careful attention. Yet to put it in perspective, one must know of the trials and errors of other attempts.


Following up her leadership in the wars against the Persians in the fourth century B.C., Athens, on the initiative of Pericles, formed a league of Greek cities, known as the Delian League, for purposes of mutual protection. Athens assumed a protector's role, which became ever more onerous to the other members of the League. Policy was made by Athens, the League was used as an instrument of Athenian policy against Sparta, it became the target of a counter-league formed by Sparta, and finally the resources of the Delian League were appropriated by Athens.

The sentiments of Greek unity were cultural; beyond them the Greek community did not exist. The state is a vital farreaching community, wrote Aristotle some years afterwards; if men "have nothing in common but exchange, alliance, and the like, that would not constitute a state." The Delian League did not grow into a fraternity but into a group of reluctant servitors of Athens. Aristophanes implored the gods for unity:

Put an end to our fights and our feuds and division, Till all men shall hail Thee, our Lady of Peace, Put an end to the whispers of cunning suspicion, And mingle all Greece In a cup of good fellowship. Teach us at last To forgive one another forgetting the past.

But he prayed in vain.

The failure of co-operative federation from within brought intervention from without. Philip of Macedonia conquered the Greek cities of Europe. And after his line expired, the Romans, having gone through a period of confederation themselves, mastered the essentials of organizing divergent peoples and conquered the Greek cities.


From 1815 to 1866, the German states were grouped loosely into a German Confederation of which the ruler of Austria was president. Prussia took the lead in demanding closer union and, after successively defeating Austria and France in war, joined with the rest of Germany (save Austria) in the German Empire. The new state was federal in structure, combining four kingdoms, six grand-duchies, five duchies, seven principalities, three free cities, and AlsaceLorraine, all under the hereditary "presidency" of the king of Prussia. Sovereignty was declared to reside in the union of the federal princes and free cities.

But Prussia had more population and area than the rest of the union; its king was now emperor or president of Germany and controlled the imperial administrative machinery. He was able to convoke sessions of the legislature, composed of the Bundesrat and Reichstag. He might appoint and remove the powerful imperial chancellor. He controlled foreign affairs and the armed forces. Nor were the legislative powers of the empire limited nearly so much as in other federal states. Soon after the federation was formed, the will of Prussia became quite apparently the will of the empire. The autonomy of the local units was largely administrative. Taxes were collected by the states according to the demands of the imperial administration. Sate courts were retained but subjected to the uniting influence of a supreme court of appeal. After World War I, the German Republic accelerated the process of nationalization and Hitler completed it. Owing largely to American influence, the West German "Bonn" Constitution of 1949 revived a stronger federalism.


Since 1409, a working confederation has been part of the Swiss tradition. The constitution of 1848, as modified in 1874, made Switzerland a federal state. It possesses a bicameral legislature of which the National Council represents the people directly and the Council of States the constituent members as entities. The constitution plainly limits the powers of the union and gives all others to the cantons. The federal government's powers have increased during the last fifty years. All communications, the army, and the social security system are nationalized. Unlike America, a uniform code of civil law exists for the whole land. The executive branch (Bundesrat) is a commission elected by the two houses of the federal legislature in joint session. Since 1874, a federal supreme court has handed down opinions on matters affecting cantonal and federal relations.


Operating since 1853 under a constitution modeled after that of the United States, Argentina is composed of fourteen provinces possessing general grants of home rule. The provinces elect their own governors and legislatures. The central government is headed by a president and a bicameral legislature, with a supreme court having powers of judicial review of provincial legislation. A succession of revolts, however, prevented Argentina from undergoing any lengthy period of stable federal development. Provincial autonomy has afforded the leaders of factions occasion for organizing resistance to the central government in the relative isolation of provincial politics. On the other hand, neither local autonomy, nor a clearly drawn federal constitution, nor a supreme court has prevented the central government from regimenting the population, and at present the provinces are de facto subordinates of the national government on all important questions.


In 1926 an imperial conference gave to the British Empire the name of The British Commonwealth of Nations. In 1930, the Statute of Westminster gave equality with England to the self-governing dominions of the Empire. This was the culmination of a growth in independence on the part of not only the populations of British descent in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, but also on the part of foreign states such as India and Burma. Ties of blood and culture make the British components of the Commonwealth a true federation, especially in wartime. Fealty to the British crown is sworn by the member governments, but few compulsive powers are possessed by the crown or its dominion representatives.

In recent years, economic and foreign policy differences have grown stronger among the Commonwealth associates. When India, Pakistan, and Burma received grants of independence following World War II, they were invited to remain as equal members of The Commonwealth of Nations. However in their case, and to a large extent in the case of the other members, the Commonwealth tie is confederational and lacks all sanction save that of friendship and voluntary co-operation. This was demonstrated by the Union of South Africa's withdrawal in 1961 over the issues of treatment of Negroes and violations of civil liberties in the Union.


That the U.S.S.R. is federal in formal structure cannot be doubted. In the Soviet constitution of 1936, there are clear grants of extensive authority, including even the right of withdrawal, to the sixteen republics. Thus, Article 17: "To every Union Republic is reserved the right freely to secede from the U.S.S.R." The "right" is, of course, meaningless, save to indicate that the communist leaders have always been concerned with propitiating claims for cultural autonomy.

Many federal provisions were contained in Stalin's plan for a constitution in 1922 which formed the basis for the constitution of 1924. Under the new constitution of 1936, the union government received full control of foreign trade; transport; communications; finance; concessions; currency; domestic trade; use of land, labor, and resources; the allunion budget and the individual union republics' budgets; all taxes and revenues; and citizenship. The "republics" were permitted constitutions, given educational functions, courts (with supposed autonomy), agricultural functions, and health and social welfare activities. Amendments of 1944 to all constitutions granted the republics the right to conduct foreign relations and to maintain military establishments. The republics have all the trappings of statehood but little of the powers. Their rights are primarily cultural, although they have some important powers over local government. All economic, police, and military authority is concentrated in the national government that operates directly on the people.

The union republics are represented in the central government on the Soviet Council of Nationalities with eleven representatives each. In addition to the monopoly of economic affairs and force that the central government holds, the position of the Russian Soviet Federated Republic, controlling over half the territory and population of the whole, gives it a commanding role such as that possessed by Prussia in the German Federation before World War I.

Finally, to complete the task of qualifying the federal status of the U.S.S.R., we must consider that the Communist Party is the only recognized party in the whole country and that it exercises strict discipline over all of its members whether they are in the local republican governments or in the central political and administrative organization. There seems little reason to dispute P. Gronski's thesis that the Soviet Union is an administrative dictatorship masquerading as a federation.


We need not go beyond American experience to compare the conditions of confederation and those of federation. The United States began as individual states, living in some isolation and drawing their feelings of unity partially from their common problems and their common allegiance to a distant crown and parliament. Some daring men, notable among them Benjamin Franklin (in 1754 and 1775), proposed continuing co-operation among the colonies in a permanent organization. The Revolution brought confederational union, which was formalized and cemented by the Articles of Confederation of 1781. Thereafter, until the adoption of the Constitution of the United States of America in 1789, the American states struggled to reconcile their common needs with their sovereign pretensions.

Under the Articles, central-state relations were primarily political. Congress was a unicameral assembly of ambassadors from the several states, each possessing a single vote and the undisputed power (though not the right) to dissociate itself from a collective decision of the central government. No national organ like a central executive existed to focus universal attention on common goals. For carrying out its decisions, the Confederation government relied principally on the congressmen of the various states, who were, however, dependent upon state interests and subject to the states' will. A federal administration scarcely existed and, in any event, was controlled directly by committees of Congress.

One must not imagine that the problems of such a system were so evident in those days as they would be now with our complex national economy. Actually, common interests were not important enough in many sections of the land to make haphazard co-operation the peril it would be today. The principal difficulties confronting the Confederation affected directly the more cosmopolitan and commercial groups and only indirectly or potentially the mass of the population. Decline of the credit of the central government, the presence of trade barriers among the states, depreciation of both state and confederation currency, the fear of Spanish, English, and Indian aggressions on the frontiers-these were major problems that the Confederation lacked the power to solve and that worked hardships on many people.

Federalism in America.


The solution to the conflict between nationalists and statists was a compromise between confederation, with its weak central government and strong states, and centralization, wherein the independence of each state would be curtailed completely by vesting the federal government-to-be with all final authority. Months of labor produced an intricate constitution, beautifully drawn, with several key principles establishing a division of labor between the whole and its parts.


Functions: Certain activities that concerned the whole people were delegated to the federal government (for example, conduct of foreign relations and war, the regulation of interstate commerce and foreign trade). Certain other functions were delegated to the national government but were to be shared also by the states. The balance of functions not delegated to the central government explicitly or by implication and result of the delegated functions were to be managed by the states. Yet this simple classification could not be easily observed in practice, and controversy began immediately over the division of functions.

Structure: The states retained much of their political independence despite the powers given the national government. There were two bodies of political officers, independent of each another in most important respects. There were two systems of courts and two systems of taxation. Most important of all, loyalties were divided, and these divided loyalties, although at one time polarized into warfare, served often to mitigate extreme nationalism or statism and to render the division of labor between nation and state continuously possible. But, as in the case of the assignment of functions, the structural distinctions of the federation did not prevent extensive conflicts over the legal jurisdiction of state and federal officers and over their powers with respect to one another.

Although put together bit by bit in the Constitutional Convention, the Constitution represented a whole frame of federal government. Its "rationality" came not from remote logic but from a political process that, despite the desires of many individual delegates, eventuated in a solution that was all things to all men-whether states' rights advocates or nationalists. The federalism that ensued after ratification was prevented functionally and structurally from falling prey either to the national or to the state authorities.


The interrelations of state and nation in the Constitution were many. They were not those of superiority or subordination, either, when taken as a whole. The modes of electing the President, the Senate, and the House of Representatives involved the states. The federal government guaranteed the states a republican form of government and the states might call on the national government for help in repelling invasion or suppressing insurrection. The participation of the states was necessary in the amendment process, and state officers were required to take an oath to support the Constitution. Interstate agreements required congressional sanction. An independent chief executive was established to represent the nation, even though the states figured in his election through the Electoral College. The state militias might become federal troops in a national emergency. Thus the more simple organization of the Confederation was transformed. Driven on by their logic, their interests and their self-generating enthusiasm, the delegates at Philadelphia locked nation and states together almost beyond the possibility of dissolution.

Throughout the whole 160 years of American history, there were several constant factors whose stability and importance kept the federal government from rapidly developing into confederation or unitary government. These were the structural elements: political, judicial, fiscal, and protective. No power in the Constitution conceivably allows the destruction of this basic core of state autonomy.


The American states possessed working governments and administrations before the Union was formed. In many ways, they were incorporated as states in the new Constitution although new channels were provided for national intervention into the lives of all citizens without the mediation of the states. The rapid cutting of these latter channels evidences the great need that soon existed for them. Although John C. Calhoun and other states' rights advocates condemned as too rapid the shifting of authority from the confederation organization of nation-state-individual to the federal organization of nation-individual, it is questionable whether, in the face of pressing needs for national unity, the former organization would have survived at all. It might have been too feeble to harness the new national forces. If the attempt had been made to carry out all national policy through the agency of the states, the result might well have brought, in James Madison's words, "equal calamities to the innocent and the guilty, the necessity of a military force, both obnoxious and dangerous, and, in general, a scene resembling much more a civil war than the administration of a regular government. Hence was embraced the alternative of a government which, instead of operating on the states, should operate without their intervention on the individuals composing them."

Thereupon, state political machinery developed somewhat independently of the national. The United States in due course became the only large nation in the world in which strong and quasi-independent local parties prevailed throughout the land. American parties are founded to a large extent on local needs and their members are loyal to their local organizations. It is most difficult to organize the fifty quasiindependent political organizations into a disciplined national party.

Weaving the states as units into the federal structure reenforces these tendencies. The states are represented equally in the Senate. They vote as units in the House when the Electoral College cannot give a majority to a presidential candidate. They set up congressional districts. Most important of all, they have almost complete control of state and local election systems, machinery and administration. And they are entrusted with the conduct of elections of federal officers, although since the Civil War there has been an increase in congressional legislation and judicial decision imposing federal controls on that part of the election machinery which affects federal officers.


A stable federal system, one that is not a mere truce of arms between local force and national force, relies heavily on the judiciary. Dependence on a judiciary to settle federal conflicts is especially great in the formative stages of a federal government. The American Constitution insists that federal law is supreme on all matters entrusted to the competence of the federal government and that the Constitution takes precedence over state constitutions and laws. The Supreme Court is given jurisdiction over all disputes between two states or between a state and the central government. Accordingly, the Court has, with few objections, reviewed state laws and the decisions of state courts to determine whether they conformed to the federal Constitution. In important instances, the Court has used its discretion to enlarge or diminish the area of state autonomy.

The legal right of federal courts to move into state affairs is limited generally by the Constitution and specifically by the views of the Supreme Court. Wherever not authorized to intervene by the Constitution, or by federal laws passed in pursuance thereof, they must stop short; in such cases the jurisdiction of state courts is supreme. State courts exist independently, by right, with the tenure, privileges, jurisdiction, salaries, and personnel provided them by state constitutions and state laws.


Both state and national governments may levy taxes widely and intensively in the same area and on largely the same objects. Considerable confusion and conflict result from this practice. It is as if federal and state courts would hear the same case twice-worse, for the incentive to tax is stronger than the urge to hear a case. The states are free to levy any tax they please, except imposts, or duties on imports or exports, duties on tonnage, or taxes that burden the stream of interstate commerce passing through the state or stopping within the state. The national government has wide tax freedoms now, too, since it acquired the right to tax personal incomes by constitutional amendment in 1913.

Until World War I, the states depended primarily on property taxes and licenses for their incomes, while the federal government gathered the bulk of its funds from alcohol and tobacco taxes and tariff duties. Between 1905 and 1915, practically all states imposed motor vehicle taxes and all of them developed the motor fuel tax between 1917 and 1929. New functions more than kept pace with new taxes, however, and the states reached for even more taxes in new directions-the corporation income tax, individual income tax, more tobacco taxes, and a variety of direct consumer excise or sales taxes.

These more recent taxes caused difficulty. Sales taxes were unpopular. Income taxes benefited mainly the industrialized states like New York and Pennsylvania, and tended even there to encourage industry and individuals to move to other states. On the whole, the states were less successful than the federal government in tapping sources of revenue. Their finances suffered badly during the Great Depression of the "Thirties" and they sought and obtained federal emergency aid. Federal grants of money became an increasing proportion of their total revenue. All attempts at gaining unhampered funds or persuading the federal government to relinquish tax-rich resources like the tobacco tax failed.

Still the states might borrow money on the open market up to the limit of their credit; they might tax their citizens to their full capacity; they had full control over the collection procedures; and they could dispose of the money as they pleased. These were not small powers at all, despite difficulties on the fringes of financing, and they constitute a notable feature of state autonomy.


Protection means both army and police. The Constitution dictates that the state militias be jointly governed by state and nation. The states man and train their militias or "national guards" according to uniform standards of organization, armaments and discipline set down by the federal Congress. Congress may provide for calling forth the militias and incorporating them into the army of the United States. Almost from the beginning of the Union, Congress provided military funds for the states, but not until 1886 did it begin to attach meaningful conditions to their expenditure. The active intervention of the United States in world affairs caused many men to fear the inefficiency of the state forces. Furthermore, as the machinery of warfare became complicated and expensive, the militias could hardly be equipped by the individual state treasuries. New conditions were attached to the grants of federal aid in an effort to maintain the old balance between the federal standing army and the state guards without the loss of fighting preparedness. Although the possibility exists of wiping out most of the militias by federal nonfinancing, the states are entitled constitutionally to maintain whatever reserve military forces they may desire and can afford.

State and local police forces retain most of the authority and functions originally possessed, but the growth of rapid communications and a high mobility of population has necessitated in recent years a development of federal-state police co-operation. Federal facilities were employed to standardize methods of criminal identification and crime reporting among the states, to provide information and service to local authorities, and in a growing number of cases actively to aid local authorities in search and seizure. When certain problems became significantly interstate in character -among them car thefts, kidnapping, and white slaveryfederal law took an active and often guiding hand.


Two major theories of federalism have influenced American government since the beginning. One may be called "separatist federalism" because it visualizes a maximum separation and isolation of state and nation. The other may be called "co-operative federalism" because it seeks a solution of many social problems by joint nation-state action.

The nineteenth century had hardly begun before the Jeffersonians and Jacksonians took up an extreme separatistfederalist position. Their views dominated American legal and political thought, despite the effects of the Civil War, until World War I. In Tarble's Case (1871) the Supreme Court declared "there are within the territorial limits of each State two governments, restricted in their spheres of action, but independent of each other, and supreme within their respective sphere. Each has its separate departments; each has its distinct laws, and each has its own tribunals for their enforcement. Neither government can intrude within the jurisdiction, or authorize any interference therein by its judicial officers with the action of the other."

This judicially expressed separatist theory helped to limit functions of the state and nation because certain problems -such as child labor, wages and hours limits, and regulation of industry and commerce-required a flexible and sometimes co-operative solution not feasible in isolation. In the case of Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), for example, the Supreme Court, in voiding a congressional act prohibiting the interstate transportation of goods in the manufacture of which child labor had been employed, declared that "the grant of authority over a purely federal matter was not intended to destroy the local power always existing and carefully reserved to the States in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution." But a single state could not very well eliminate child labor in its industries; if it did so, the prices of various products would go up, and it could not compete with similar products coming from states where child labor was still permitted.

In 1941, the Court, in the case of United States v. Darby, reversed its position and declared that Congress "may choose the means reasonably adapted to the attainment of the permitted end, even though they involve control of intrastate activities." As a result the doctrine of separatist federalism was no longer the exclusive interpretation of the American federal system.

This great change toward increased federal control was reflected in purely intrastate matters as well. For example, in 1854, President Pierce, true to the established principles of Madison, Jackson, Monroe, and Polk had vetoed a bill granting federal lands to the states for the benefit of the insane, fearing that "the dignity of the states shall bow to the dictation of Congress by conforming their legislation thereto" and therefore cause "the beginning of the end" of federalism. Yet not quite a century later, the Supreme Court in reviewing an act of Alabama accepting federal money with many conditions attached, upheld its constitutionality, declaring: "Together the two statutes now before us embody a co-operative legislative effort by state and national governments, for carrying out a public purpose common to both, which neither could fully achieve without the co-operation of the other. The Constitution does not prohibit such co-operation."


The new attitude toward American federalism has been called "co-operative." It regards federal relations as an area of dynamic operations, of interchange of ideas, functions, aid, and personnel to serve mutual needs more effectively. It rejects on the one hand extreme separatist federalism and on the other hand full centralization.

The origin of co-operative federalism goes back to the government of the Articles of Confederation that set aside land in the Northwest Territory for the development of education by the territories and states to come. It goes back also to a wide variety of co-operative activities among federal and state officials in the early years of the federal republic. Submerged for long by a prevailing mood of federal-state conflict, co-operative federalism only took hold firmly in the early twentieth century.

Two far-reaching events ushered in the new period. In 1913, .the federal government received the power to tax incomes and thus gained a continuing, highly productive source of funds. In 1914, the SmithLever Act gave half a million dollars to the Department of Agriculture to join with states and counties in a program of farm education and service. The amount of aid increased rapidly, and new programs were brought in following the success of the first program. Public opinion and officials seized on the idea of conditional grants as a needed compromise between centralization and local inadequacy. The grant system was well under way when America entered World War I, and continued to develop rapidly thereafter (see Figure 11) until now the States receive between two and three billions of dollars annually from the federal government.


Although at various times, central governments have granted aid to localities or states in personnel, land, and materials, the most important form of grant today is money. Central governments only infrequently give money grants to localities or states without attaching conditions as to expenditure. Such unconditional grants are called "block grants." More commonly central governments give conditional grants. In some cases both types of grants are given; Canada, for example, provided subsidies to the provinces in addition to conditional grants. The relative fiscal weakness of local tax units and the strong temptation to guard scrupulously the spending of grants tend to make the size of grants ever larger and their conditions ever more stringent.


(The American Case)

Social Welfare, Health and Security
Old-age assistance
Aid to dependent children
Aid to the blind
General assistance
Child welfare services
Unemployment compensation
Employment services
Health programs
Land-grant colleges
Vocational education
Vocational rehabilitation
Veterans' Services and Benefits
Experiment stations
Extension education
Soil conservation and erosion
School lunches
Surplus food
Public Works
Public works planning
Natural Resources
Flood control and prevention
Public Housing
National Guard

Public Safety
Police protection
Records and statistics
Crime control
Detention and custody of prisoners
Commerce, Industry, and Utilities
Maintenance of fair competition
Regulation of securities and security exchanges
Motor vehicles
Water carriers
Air carriers
Transmission and Sale of Electricity and Gas
Telephone and telegraph
Radio broadcasting
Petroleum Industry
Rent Control
Labor-Management Relations
Elections (consigned almost wholly to states)

* The extent of co-operation between state and federal agencies varies widely but is present in each case.


A wide variety of stipulations is imposed on the expenditure of conditional grants. The conditions range from the very broad but important statement of the general purposes for which money may be spent (for example, to establish agricultural and mechanical colleges) to minute stipulations regarding each small expenditure. We can list conditions that have been encountered:

1. Granted funds must be spent only on a stipulated program.

2. Programs must be planned in co-operation with the federal government.

3. The central, national agency has authority to review state operations and inspect progress "on the job" in fulfilling the purposes of the grant.

4. Statistical and financial records and reports must conform to federal standards.

5. State expenditures of grants are audited by the federal government.

6. The states are required to match all or part of the federal funds.

7. Federal agencies are authorized to discontinue grants to the states not fulfilling the conditions of the grants.

8. States are required to hire all personnel paid from grant funds according to merit and without reference to their political affiliations.

Conditional grants may cover the whole cost of a stateaccepted and state-administered program; or, more usually, they will amount to a stated part of the total program cost and the states will be required by law to provide the balance. Such "matching grants" vary in how much they demand from the states-sometimes it is dollar for dollar, that is, 50-50, although at other times it may be 60-40, 75-25, and so forth.

Conditional grants are made according to some criterion of need; a formula is devised that adjusts the amount that the federal treasury will provide to the amount of need in a particular state. For example, given the desire to establish a good, uniform highway network throughout the United States, it would be a mistake to grant equal sums to all states, large and small, urban or rural. Even granting funds according to population alone would not be desirable, because some states, New Mexico, for example, through which lengthy and vital highways pass, are sparsely populated. Therefore the federal law provided a formula that gave equal weight to population, area, and rural postal delivery route mileage in determining any single state's share of the total federal appropriation. Similarly, vocational education programs, agricultural programs, aid to the blind, and most other recent programs assist the various states according to some formula of need.

The principle of equalization is behind several programs; their aim is to counteract the centralization of wealth and resources in the United States in order to maintain or lift standards of well-being in poorer parts of the nation. Equalization, of course, is the objective of most centrally-administered social welfare programs and lies behind the principle of progressive taxation, as, for example, the income tax. Some states like some individuals are thought to need more help than others. Hence a grant program may provide more federal money to Mississippi than to Ohio in proportion to population. Since the states themselves administer grant programs, the grant system is a way of equalizing without centralizing. In a number of cases, the populous industrial states resent the equalizing process that takes money away from them through progressive taxation and gives it to other sections of the country. A survey of the vote in Congress on the early Federal Aid Road Bill of 1916, for example, shows that urban congressmen were lined up solidly against the bill. Sectional divisions have often been noted since then.


The American federal union, as well as other federations that we have noted, required federal-state co-operation to exist and operate efficiently. In America such co-operation has gone beyond the basic necessities of organizing the government, even into areas not financed by grants to the states (see Figure 11). Grants stimulate co-operation, but several federal commissions and departments work actively with state agencies without an exchange of funds. The Interstate Commerce Commission and the Department of Agriculture are examples. The pattern of collaboration is usually designated by federal law and state laws and is worked out in detail by federal and state administrators. Joint federal-state conferences, joint hearings on matters of industrial and commercial regulation, exchange of information, loans of personnel, standardization of records, and co-ordination in operations commonly emerge from mutual needs. Difficulties have arisen from the lack of such co-operation and from inevitable clashes of local and national interests. But the cooperative trend has been growing stronger.


Another recent trend, paralleling co-operative federal-state activities in the fields of joint and concurrent administration, has been the increasing collaboration among states with or without federal participation. Often this collaboration has sprung from the fears of state leaders that the federal government might solve by itself some bothersome problem unless the states solved it themselves. Interstate relations have used four common procedures for acting in concert: interstate compacts and agreements, uniform state laws, reciprocal or contingent legislation, and administrative co-operation.

Between 1934 and 1959, about one hundred compacts between two or more states were signed, more than the total number of such compacts before then. Boundary disputes, public works, tax procedures, and natural resources were the most common subjects of compacts. The Port of New York Authority was a momentous result of the compact procedure.

Uniform state laws and reciprocal or contingent legislation are methods of adapting the internal laws of one state to that of other states with a view towards eliminating inconvenient, costly, and unnecessary conflicts of laws. The former are laws with nearly identical provisions passed by several states to regulate a problem common to all the states involved. Reciprocal or contingent legislation extends the privileges of one state to another provided the second state returns the privileges to citizens of the first state. Administrative cooperation between two or more state agencies has often accomplished the same purposes by informal agreements and procedural rules. The Council of State Governments, acting as a general secretariat for many interstate activities and as a clearing house for information, has helped accelerate the trend towards interstate co-operation.

Modern Federalism in the Balance


But despite the trend toward federal-state and interstate co-operation, federal systems, like most political institutions of the contemporary world, are under enormous pressures. The last century has seen increases in central power everywhere. Whatever its ultimate fate, federalism as a principle must operate more and more under conditions hitherto thought to be conclusively destructive of it.


Foremost of these conditions is the centralization of population and industry that has occurred in all federal states. In America, a nation originally quite rural, some 20 per cent of the people today pursue agricultural occupations. The people of the rapidly growing cities, coming from many states, were inclined to be indifferent towards the state governments and to be relatively optimistic about the advantages of national regulation and administration. And many of those pursuing agricultural occupations became acutely aware that only the national government could reach out and control fully the frequently erratic markets for agricultural products.

Many Americans became aware of the fact that largescale industry, although concentrated in a few localities, affected the whole country. Interstate commerce, which was expanding greatly, could only be regulated by the federal government. The states, indeed, were presumed to be harming the national economy when they attempted to regulate business and commerce. And increasing state interference with interstate commerce, cloaked under the police and health powers of the state, tended to bring on the states more opprobrium in the long run than it brought short-term benefits.


Economic depressions also had marked effects on federalism. With an imbalance of fiscal capacity between nation and state, the downward movement of the business cycle after 1929 brought fiscal poverty .to the states and many demands for federal action. But the deep roots of federalism in American thought and in the federal political structure prevented the wholesale centralization of governmental functions. Instead, the conditional grant idea received wide support.

Also, to ameliorate crises in the international sphere the national government spent huge sums for foreign and military programs that overshadowed and caused the curtailment of state activities. Although temporary surpluses accumulated in many state treasuries during the war, afterward they were soon dissipated on programs that had been postponed.


The poverty of some of the states has been another condition adverse to federalism. The states have always differed among one another economically, but the difference has grown more pronounced in recent times. With such diversity, slogans about "the American standard of living" or "equality of opportunity" were challenged by scattered individuals, and the claim was put forth that only the direct intervention of the federal government through a number of important social service programs could help put matters to right. The states were conceived to be withering away from loss of functions and from incapacity to act when action was vitally necessary.

Opponents of centralization declared that the temporary success of centralization would soon be matched by a loss of initiative at the grass roots. They transferred John Stuart Mill's statement from individual to state: "A government cannot have too much of the kind of activity which does not impede, but aids and stimulates individual exertion and development. The mischief begins when, instead of calling forth. the activity and powers of individuals and bodies, it substitutes its own activity for theirs; when, instead of informing, devising, and upon occasion denouncing, it makes them work in fetters, or bids them stand aide and does their work instead of them. " Although grants could be admitted as better than outright centralization from the top down, the conditions attached to grants could lead ultimately to the mastery of the central government. "Block grants," with only the most general conditions, and distributed according to a simple formula of need, were proposed as an alternative.

Other federal nations felt the same struggle between central and local feeling, the same remorseless pressure of national defense, national standards, and national fiscal ability. Russia alone denies any economic localism and defends cultural federalism. But that a rigid separation of economic and cultural interests is maintainable is doubted by most social scientists. The two interact and modify each other. Therefore, under the Soviet system cultural diversity is likely to become economic apostasy and economic unity is likely to force cultural change.


The desire for uniformity on the part of many people also works against federalism. The belief in "one right answer to every problem" affects thought about political affairs from the most important political matters to the smallest administrative matters. Certainly, whether or not a case may be made for uniformity in the most important political matters, the case for uniformity in minor administrative matters is more in doubt. Since most of the force away from federalism is today a force exercised in the shadowland of administration, the dispersion of such force among many state agencies, with only an ultimate check on their behavior, may well help to preserve values more precious to a society than the values inherent in the punctilious execution of uniform detail.


A remarkable feature, indeed, of the trend towards centralization and away from meaningful federalism is the inattention of the spokesmen for federalism to the consequences of their actions. They not only fail "to keep their houses in order," to quote one of their leaders, but in order to engage in national "log-rolling" and "horse-trading," and earn national publicity, they unconsciously betray the basic, local values in the name of which they call themselves Jeffersonians or states' rightists.

Woodrow Wilson inscribed the goals of balanced government in an essay that he once wrote: "Our duty is, to supply the best possible life to a federal organization, to systems within systems; to make town, city, county, state, and federal governments live with a like strength and an equally assured healthfulness, keeping each unquestionably its own master and yet making all interdependent and co-operative, combining independence with mutual helpfulness. The task is great and important enough to attract the best minds." To achieve it requires a great deal of courage, forbearance, and technical skill.

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