Federalism is a political belief that determines the balance of power shared between the individual states of America and the federal government. The question of federalism was raised right after the American independence and it has since remained relevant throughout the American history.
Federalism, as a political belief, usually refers to the idea that the federal government should have more powers as compared to states who should be subservient to the powers of the federation.
After United States became independent and won the Revolutionary War, it had to face a large national debt. At the same time, the economic conditions led to uprisings. The federal government had little power at the time – it couldn’t raise an army on its own nor could it undertake economic policies. So a need was felt to grant more powers to the federal government.
This marked the beginning of federalism in the United States. The powers bestowed on the government through the Articles of Confederation were too few. In the new Constitution of the United States, new powers were vested in the federation. These powers were elaborated upon and defended in the famous Federalist Papers.
Soon after the inception of United States, the Federalist Party came into being. Its key supporters included Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. Hamilton strongly supported a powerful central government – he proposed fiscal and economic policies for the federal government, including the establishment of a national bank. In doing so, he was supported by bankers, merchants and businessmen who believed that their interested would be best protected by a strong central government.
On the opposite end of the spectrum were the anti-federalists. The anti-federalists mostly belonged to the states in the south. They believed that the central government must not check the powers of the states and that states must have the independence to make their own decisions. Notable anti-federalists included Thomas Jefferson.
The Federalist Party enjoyed the sympathies of George Washington, although Washington never overtly supported it. The party reached its zenith when John Adams was elected as the President of the United States. Adams undertook several steps that consolidated the power of the federal government. However, when Adams failed to be re-elected, the party began to decline. This was further hastened with the death of Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
Federalism was a key issue that brought about the American Civil War. The states in the South believed that the federal government had no right to dictates them specific policies, especially about the abolition of slavery.
The North under Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, believed that the federal government had the right to abolish slavery. When the South sought to secede from the Union over this issue, it led to the American Civil War. The war further consolidated the powers of the central government as Lincoln’s powers had to be expanded for wartime measures.