Evolution of Federalism
Activity 2 and 3

Timeline of Federalism in the United States

Increased nationalism. Articles of Confederation prove inadequate, creating the movement for a stronger national government. Under a new constitution, Chief Justice John Marshall and the U.S. Supreme Court broadly define national powers, although many states resist this trend.

U.S. federal system of government devised. The delegates to the constitutional convention create a new plan for government under which power is to be shared between a national government and the state governments.

U.S. Constitution takes effect. New constitution is ratified by conventions in nine of the 13 original states. The new federal government begins operations the following year.

Bill of Rights added to the Constitution.The Tenth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, specifically addresses the question of powers reserved to the states.

Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions passed. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson ghost-write these pieces of state legislation, which argue that the states have the right to void federal legislation they judge to be unconstitutional. Madison and Jefferson are responding particularly to the Sedition Act of 1798, a federal law that made it a crime to criticize the government of the United States.

Hartford Convention. Delegates from the New England states meet in Hartford, Connecticut, where they threaten to secede from the Union over the issue of the national tariff and the ongoing war with Great Britain.

U.S. Supreme Court rules in McCulloch v. Maryland. Chief Justice John Marshall writes opinion establishing that the powers of the United States are not limited to those expressly in the Constitution, thus expanding the power of the national government.

U.S. Supreme Court rules in Gibbons v. Ogden. In another important opinion, Chief Justice Marshall broadly defines the national government's power to regulate commerce, consequently restricting the power of the states.

Theory of nullification gains ground. Picking up on the arguments contained in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, advocates of nullification describe the Union as a compact among sovereign states, and not a government of the people. They declare that the states have the ultimate authority in deciding whether the federal government has exceeded its powers.

Increased sectionalism. Regional interests are put ahead of national interests as the northern and southern states begin their political and economic arguments over slavery, tariffs, and other issues. The country begins its drift toward civil war.

Fort Hill Address. States' rights advocate John C. Calhoun advocates theory of nullification by citing Madison's language from the Virginia Resolution. The following year, the South Carolina legislature adopts an Ordinance of Nullification, declaring two hated federal tariffs null and void, and threatening to secede if the federal government attempts to collect the tariffs by force. In response, President Andrew Jackson issues the "Proclamation to the People of South Carolina," warning that such action would constitute treason against the United States.

Supreme Court adopts theory of "dual sovereignty." Under Chief Justice Roger Taney, the Court comes to view the federal and state governments as equals; their interests and "sovereignties" should be weighed against each other.

American Civil War. The northern states' victory determines that the federal government is not a compact among sovereign states. Rather, its authority flows directly from the people. However, the war does not resolve the conflict between federal and states' rights.

Revival of dual sovereignty. U.S. Supreme Court increasingly rules against federal authority and in favor of states' rights, particularly in cases where the federal government attempts to regulate business practices.

Roosevelt administration introduces "New Deal." The president expands federal authority to regulate the economy and provide social services, based on the federal government's constitutional right to regulate interstate commerce (Article I, section 8, paragraph 3). Although the Supreme Court initially declared Roosevelt's legislation unconstitutional, the Court reversed its position in the late 1930s.

1950s and 1960s
Revival of theory of nullification. In response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), southern states decry what they see as the federal government's intrusion on traditional state government rights.

Alabama passes nullification resolution. The state legislature asserts the state's right to "interpose its sovereignty" against the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown decision.

Federal troops used to ensure school desegregation. President Dwight D. Eisenhower orders federal troops to protect nine black students as they enroll at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The governor, Orval Faubus, had earlier ordered the state's National Guard to prevent the students from enrolling. In later years, President John F. Kennedy will use federal authority to enforce desegregation orders in Mississippi and Alabama.

Johnson administration introduces "Great Society." The administration's social and economic programs, combined with the powers granted in newly enacted civil rights legislation, lead to increased federal oversight of state and local government.

Nixon administration builds on Great Society. New federal programs continue the expansion of federal power over states and localities. However, these programs are funded through federal "block grants" to the states, giving the states more discretion over spending.

Reagan administration moves to define a "New Federalism." The administration moves to limit the power of the federal government to impose its policies on state and local governments.

Debate over federal-state power sharing continues. U.S. Congress enacts legislation shifting authority and control of social, education, and economic policy to the states.

Republican Congress pursues "devolution revolution." A new Republican majority in Congress moves to hand day-to-day control of many federal programs to the states. Most important, Congress gives new authority to state governments to overhaul federally mandated programs, most notably welfare. New welfare policies use block grants to give states more discretion over spending. Congress also adopts a law compelling the federal government to pay states for the enforcement of any new federal policies or mandates. In addition, budget considerations work to limit the growth of federal programs and initiatives affecting state and local government.