Federalism may be described as a system of government that features a separation of powers and functions between the state and national governments. This system has been used since the very founding of the United States. The constitution defines a system of dual federalism, which ensures sovereignty of the state and national governments. This is put in place in order to limit the national government’s power. However, the Great Depression of 1929 greatly weakened the nation’s economic systems. President Roosevelt made many changes in the relationship between the national and state governments, thus revolutionizing our understanding of federalism, through the New Deal. This essay seeks to explore the changes and attributes that define post-New Deal federalism.
Prior to the New Deal, the United States practiced the traditional interpretation of dual federalism. The two forms of government were sovereign and had different parts to play, in the life of the American citizen. Under the ‘expressed powers’, the national government was granted various roles. These were the powers to collect taxes, coinage, declaration of war and regulation of commerce. However, the national government’s role in the economy was limited to interstate commerce. The tenth amendment to the constitution reserved these powers to the state governments. This in effect ensured that the state governments controlled most aspects of the economy. Federal institutions were limited to ensuring and harmonizing cooperation, between different states, on economic matters.
During the Great Depression, many economic institutions failed. President FDR opted to forego economic ideas such as the market’s self-regulation. The national government was traditionally limited in its roles to supporting commerce. President Roosevelt opted to involve the federal government in the nation’s economy in a wholesome manner. He achieved this through the development of regulations defined in his New Deal. This would assist in boosting the national economy, hence creating additional jobs and improved living conditions for the American people. The President adopted and developed socioeconomic policies through the creation of various national regulatory bodies, as seen in his ‘alphabet soup’ of the New Deal. Institutions such as the National Recovery Association were expected to supervise economic efforts around the country. For example, the institution promoted labor efforts in the country through jobs and wages, therefore, improving economic conditions. This created problems under the traditional definition of federalism. The concept of interstate commerce effectively spelt doom for the federal government’s efforts. State governments had additional powers over the national economy, and could, therefore, impede the efforts attempted under the New Deal.
For successful implementation of President Roosevelt’s economic policies, the understanding of federalism had to be redesigned. Since the founding of the...