Federalism and Democaracy


Due to the fear of a strong government, reminiscent of King George III of Britain while American had established a weak central government based on Articles of Confideration, delegates representing the people met together on the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787 to establish a new form of government.  They then established a federal republic which is a system of government based on federalism. Under federalism, power is shared between two separate entities: the national government and the state government. The powers of the federal government are established by the United States Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. Neither the national nor state governments can violate its provisions. The U.S. Supreme Court has the final say over interpreting constitutional provisions.

The Power of Federalism: the power of national government

The federal government is known as a limited government. Its powers are restricted to those explicitly (directly) stated in the Constitution. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is the main source of the federal government’s explicit powers. Some examples include, the power to regulate interstate commerce, establish an army and navy, and print and coin money.

Implied power: Implied powers are those not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, but that are necessary for the government to function. For instance, the federal government has the implied power to charter a bank because it has the explicit power to regulate trade, coin money, collect taxes, etc.

Exclusive power: Some powers of the federal government are exclusive. Only the federal government may exercise them. Only the federal government may print money or raise an army. Other powers of the federal government are concurrent. They may be exercised by both the federal and state governments, e.g., both may collect taxes.

Bill of Right restriction: Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights place restrictions on the power of the federal government.

The Power of State Government

Power of state government includes any powers that the Constitution does not give to the federal government nor explicitly prohibit the states from exercising belong to the state governments. Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution provides a list of powers which the states may not exercise. For example, the states may not tax goods that are transported from one state to another. Each state also has its own Constitution which establishes that State’s government and lists rights that the state government may not violate (they usually are called Bills of Rights and parallel the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights). These constitutions are the supreme law of the land in each state. State laws usually have the most direct impact on people’s lives. They touch upon such diverse subjects as traffic regulations, insurance, and the requirements for marriage. Article IV of the U.S. Constitution regulates the relations of the states to each another, e.g., the Full Faith and Credit clause requires the states to respect each other’s laws. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates (applies) most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights, to the states. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the states from treating people differently without legal justification


In the simplest sense, democracy is rule by the ruled. In a democratic political system, government power is legitimized by the consent of the governed. Consent is expressed in a variety of forms, including annual election of government leaders and citizen participation in governing processes. The roots of American democratic culture can be traced to the direct election of many colonial legislatures, as well as the practice of democratic governance in many localities. The American Revolution was animated by the idea that the colonists were defending the principle of democratic self-rule and that the American struggle was analogous to the English Parliament’s struggle against the monarchy.

The formal mechanisms of democracy can vary, however, with direct democracy at one pole and representative democracy at the other. Direct democracy allows for unmediated citizen deliberation and decision making on public matters; representative democracy permits citizens to elect representatives who act on their behalf. American democracy is representative in design and function, yet it is clearly influenced by the ideology of direct democracy.

Democracy and the American Party System

The development of democracy is closely related to changes in the American party system. The competition between political parties to win offices often generates interest among the electorate in politics and government policies.

The Civil War shifted the party system. Party politics became extremely sectionalized, with Democrats dominating offices in the South and many urban areas elsewhere, and the Republicans consistently winning elections in the East and West. After the election of 1896 Republicans dominated national politics until 1932. Sectionalism and weak competition had the effect of lowering voter turnout as well as general interest in politics. The Great Depression sparked a Democratic Party revival that pulled union members and Roman Catholics, among other groups, into a greater habit of voting and democratic participation than they had practiced previously. In the later decades of the twentieth century party loyalty among the electorate began to wane. Many analysts associated the decline in voter turnout with the loosening of ties between citizens and political parties.

Core Democratic Characteristics

Two Forms of Democracy: direct & representative

Democracies fall into two basic categories, direct and representative. In a direct democracy, citizens, without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials, can participate in making public decisions.

Majority Rule and Minority Rights

All democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities and dissenters – whether ethnic, religious, or simply the losers in political debate. The rights of minorities do not depend upon the good will of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. The rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.

Pluralism and Democratic Society

In a democracy, government is only one thread in the social fabric of many and varied public and private institutions, legal forums, political parties, organizations, and associations. This diversity is called pluralism, and it assumes that the many organized groups and institutions in a democratic society do not depend upon government for their existence, legitimacy, or authority. Most democratic societies have thousands of private organizations, some local, some national. Many of them serve a mediating role between individuals and society’s complex social and governmental institutions, filling roles not given to the government and offering individuals opportunities to become part of their society without being in government.

In an authoritarian society, virtually all such organizations would be controlled, licensed, watched, or otherwise accountable to the government. In a democracy, the powers of the government are, by law, clearly defined and sharply limited. As a result, private organizations are largely free of government control. In this busy private realm of democratic society, citizens can explore the possibilities of peaceful self-fulfillment and the responsibilities of belonging to a community – free of the potentially heavy hand of the state or the demand that they adhere to views held by those with influence or power, or by the majority.


Federalism is know as the central American government established against the fear of strong Britain government. It shapes american government into two entities in which power is shared between national government and state government. The power of federalism covers the certain powers carried out by national government: implied and exclusive power that are the extension of bill of rights as known as US Constitution. While state government gains power that includes any power that constitution gives the federal government for exercising state laws to regulate.

Democracy is government in which power and civic responsibility are exercised by all adult citizens, directly, or through their freely elected representatives. Democracy rests upon the principles of majority rule and individual rights. Democracies guard against all-powerful central governments and decentralize government to regional and local levels, understanding that all levels of government must be as accessible and responsive to the people as possible. Democracies understand that one of their prime functions is to protect such basic human rights as freedom of speech and religion; the right to equal protection under law; and the opportunity to organize and participate fully in the political, economic, and cultural life of society. Democracies conduct regular free and fair elections open to citizens of voting age. Citizens in a democracy have not only rights, but also the responsibility to participate in the political system that, in turn, protects their rights and freedoms.




About Renny Candradewi Puspitarini

Lecturer at Panca Marga University Faculty of Social Science and Political Science Department of Public Administration

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