State and Local Government
Federalism, the sharing of powers between the states and the national government, is one of the most important structural features of the United States constitutional order. Properly arranged, the national government will secure the rights of the people. As Madison noted in Federalist No. 51 (1788), “the different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.” However, controversy has existed since the Founding about exactly how to divide these powers. Although the Continental Congress had administered the Revolutionary War, in 1787 the states considered themselves sovereign. They were thus hesitant to relinquish much of their power and independence to the national government. Indeed, the first version of a governing document for the new United States of America, the Articles of Confederation, respected the “sovereignty, freedom and independence” of the states. This made a truly national government unworkable.
Unease about national power as opposed to state sovereignty permeated the Constitutional Convention, the Constitution itself, and the ratification process. During the Convention, the delegates vigorously debated how to give the national government sufficient energy to defend and manage the country while leaving important powers with the states. The Constitution, in Article IV, addresses the states as separate political entities. In state ratifying conventions, there were significant disagreements about the amount of power that the states should retain. These disputes contributed to what would become the Tenth Amendment: