The Evolution of American Federalism

The Constitution sketches a federal framework that aims to balance the forces of decentralized and centralized governance in general terms; it does not flesh out standard operating procedures that say precisely how the states and federal governments are to handle all policy contingencies imaginable. Therefore, officials at the state and national levels have had some room to maneuver as they operate within the Constitution’s federal design. This has led to changes in the configuration of federalism over time, changes corresponding to different historical phases that capture distinct balances between state and federal authority.

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