The Constitution of the United States established a federal form of government for this nation. In a federal form of government, the different levels of government share sovereignty but the national government has the greatest amount of sovereignty. In the federal form of government in the United States, the government has three different levels: national, state and local. Local government includes county, city and special districts.

In our system, each level of government is free to act if a higher level has not acted. Because of this, Wyoming was able to allow women to vote before ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and Georgia allowed 18 year olds to vote before ratification of the 26th Amendment.

There are two different types of federalism established in the Constitution.

Article IV, the Interstate Relations Article, establishes horizontal federalism which defines the relationship among the states. Under the Constitution, all states are equal and must treat each other as equals.

Article VI, the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, establishes vertical federalism. This federalism establishes the supremacy of the national government in its relationship with the states.

Types of Powers

There are many different types of powers created by our federal system.

Expressed or delegated powers are those powers specifically granted to the national government. These powers are primarily in Article I, Section 8, clauses 1 through 17 of the Constitution.

Inherent powers are those powers that the national government gets because of being sovereign. Inherent powers allow the national government to conduct foreign relations with other nations.

The third type of power of the national government is implied power. Implied powers are those not specifically listed in Article I but which can be assumed from the delegated powers. The Supreme Court developed the concept of implied powers in McCulloch v. Maryland using the "necessary and proper clause" of Article I, Section 8.  When the United States charted a national bank, the state of Maryland had levied a tax on paper money by requiring that the money used in the state be printed on paper provided by the state of Maryland,  When McCulloch, the head cashier for the Baltimore Branch of the national bank, used paper money provided by the national government, the case went to the United States Supreme Court and implied powers were developed.

In the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution it says that power not given to the national government nor withheld from the state governments are reserved for the states. These reserved powers are powers that only the states have.

The final type of power is power that the national government and the state governments share. Both levels have the power at the same time or concurrently. These shared powers are concurrent powers.

For a period in our history, the Supreme Court decided that the powers of the national government and the state governments should be completely separated. They said that the national government could act in certain areas and the states had no power to act in those areas. They also said that in other areas, the states alone could act and the national government could not interfere in those areas. This idea in which the national government and the state governments are supreme in their own area is dual federalism. Today, we operate under the principle that Congress decides the areas and extent of state power that will be regulated by the national government.

Federal Grants

One aspect of federalism concerns money. A grant is money collected at the national level and sent to lower levels of government. There are two general types of grants.

Categorical grants are grants for one specific purpose. If all of the categorical grant money is not spent on the grant project, it must be returned to the national government.

Project or block grants are for a general purpose. The money from a block or project grant can be used for anything within the general area of the grant. This type of grant gives the lower levels of government more freedom in spending the money where they believe it is needed.

Grants generally require the receiving state or local government to provide some funds for a project. The funds that the state or local government provides are matching funds. The government receiving the funds must set up a separate agency to administer the funds. Personnel chosen to administer the grants at the lower levels are required to be chosen based on their merit or qualifications.

In the grant program, the federal government has two roles. First, the national government provides most of the financing for the project. The national government can raise more money than either the state or local governments. While the state or local government must provide some matching funds, the national government provides most of the money for the project. Because they provide most of the money, the national government assumes the right to supervise or oversee the project. By doing this, the national government can enforce certain minimum standards on projects throughout the nation.

The remainder of the roles in the grant programs belong to the state or local governments. They initiate the project, develop the plans, hire the contractors and, after completion of the project, use it.

The federal grant program has some positive results. There has been some transfer of wealth from the richer states to the poorer states. Tax money collected from the larger, wealthier states has improved the poorer states to some degree. The administrators of the funds at the lower levels have a developed a greater ability to deal with large, complex projects. This ability may help solve other complex problems at the state and local levels. Finally, the program enabled state and local governments to solve problems that might otherwise go unresolved because of a lack of money.

The federal system we have with its various levels and different types of powers is very complex. However, the system does work and we have begun our third century under it.