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The Founders and Federalism

The Constitution gives three types of power to the national government:

  1. Delegated powers are specifically granted to the federal government. This includes the power to coin money, to regulate commerce, to declare war, to raise and maintain armed forces, and to establish a Post Office.
  2. Implied powers are not specifically stated in the Constitution but may be inferred. This provision gives Congress the right "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper." Since these powers are not stated, the courts are often left to decide what constitutes an implied power.
  3. Inherent powers are not specifically listed in the Constitution, but they arise from the functioning of the national government. For example, the United States has the power to acquire territory by exploration and/or occupancy, mainly because most governments in general claim that right.
  4. The Constitution also identifies reserved powers, which are set aside for the states. Unlike delegated powers, they are not listed specifically, but are guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment. Some reserved powers include regulating trade within a state, establishing local government, and conducting elections.

Some powers of federal and state governments overlap. For example, both may collect taxes, make and enforce laws, and borrow money.

Prohibited powers are denied either to the national government, state governments, or both. For example, the national government cannot use its powers in a way that interferes with the states' abilities to perform their responsibilities. States cannot tax imports or exports, nor can they coin money or issue bills of credit.

States also have responsibilities to one another. Each state must accept the public acts, records, and civil judicial proceedings of every other state. Business contracts and marriages are recognized by all states. Extradition, the legal process in which an accused criminal is returned to the state where the crime was committed, is also required.

The founders carefully divided powers between federal and state governments. The federal system that balances state and national powers helped them guard against autocracy, allowed citizen participation in government, and allowed new policies and programs.


Source: The Founders and Federalism
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