Regents Prep: U.S. History: Government:
Federalism in U.S. Government
The concept of Federalism is one that underlies all concepts about the power of government in the US system. Federalism within the United States system is the balancing of power between a Federal Government and State Governments. Within this system the Federal Government is superior to the State Governments. For example, a state could not pass a law that directly contradicted a law passed on the federal level. Within these principles, power is divided among the federal and state governments.

Divided Powers in US Government
The US Constitution specifically states what types of powers are to be granted to what governments.

  • Delegated Powers - To delegate means to specifically assign, in this case delegated powers are those powers specifically assigned to the Federal Government. The founding fathers feared a national government that would overstep its bounds, so they took care to only allow the national government very specific powers. These are also referred to as enumerated powers.
  • Reserved Powers - To reserve is to save, in this case all powers not specifically delegated the Federal Government are to be reserved or saved for the State Governments.
  • Concurrent Powers - Concurrent means "at the same time", in this case concurrent powers are those that both the federal and state governments have simultaneously. 
  • Implied Powers - These are powers that are NOT specifically delegated in the Constitution, but are understood to be necessary or allowed. The elastic clause or necessary and proper clause allows these by stating that Congress has the power "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers" (art. I, sec. 8). Examples include:
    • Hamilton's creation of the National Bank - no power to create banks is delegated the Federal Government, however it was deemed necessary and proper to form a bank to aid in Congress's power to coin money and regulate the economy. (see McCullough vs. Maryland 1819)
    • Regulation of Railroads, Shipping, Highways - Congress is delegated the power to regulate interstate trade and as such it is implied that Congress also has the power to regulate interstate transportation by which interstate trade is made possible. (see Gibbons vs. Ogden 1824)
  • Denied Powers - These are powers that are are specifically NOT allowed to either the federal or state governments. Again, this listing of denied powers was a specific way in which the founding fathers attempted to create a limited government.

Examples of Divided Powers in US Government

Delegated Powers:
Those powers specifically granted the Federal Government by the Constitution.
Reserved Powers:
Those powers not delegated to the Federal Government or denied the states are reserved for the states.
  • Regulate interstate and international trade
  • Coin money
  • Declare war
  • Maintain an armed forces
  • Establish a postal system
  • Enforce copyrights
  • Sign treaties

Concurrent Powers:
Powers that are shared by both the Federal and State Governments.

  • Regulate intrastate trade
  • Establish schools
  • Establish local governments
  • Pass statewide laws (ex. safety belt laws)
  • Run elections
  • Power to tax
  • Maintain courts
  • Borrow money