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Federalism

This eLesson was written by Julie Oglesby, a member of the BRI teacher council.

Summary:  Federalism is one of the basic principles of our U.S. Constitution but a complex concept to understand.  When the Framers created the Constitution they not only established a system of checks and balances to separate power within the national government, they also divided authority between state and national governments. This division creates clear spheres of responsibility for each level of government, promoting local control and preventing tyranny, or the concentration of power, in the hands of one body. In this eLesson, students will describe the concept of Federalism and explain the important role it plays in the U.S. constitutional system. Essential Question: Why is Federalism important in a Constitutional Republic? Objective:

  • Students will be able to define federalism.
  • Students will be able to provide examples of national, state, and shared powers as outlined under the U.S. system of federalism.
  • Students will explain how federalism helps protect the rights of individuals.

Resources:

  • Federalism examples cut into slips (examples below)
  • Tape

Lesson/Activity plan: Opening Class Activity:  10-15 minutes On the board, make a chart with 3 categories: Decisions parents/guardians make, Decisions teenagers and parents/guardians make together, and Decisions teenagers make on their own.  As a class, fill out the chart. In the end, define federalism and ask students the following questions:

  1. Why do parents make the decisions they do?
  2. Why aren’t all decisions made on your own?
  3. Why might you want more independence to make decisions?
  4. What kind of supports do your parents/guardians provide?
  5. How does federalism relate to the chart?

Federalism: The division of power between the national and state governments. Group Work: 15-20 minutes On the board, make another chart with 3 categories:  Powers of the national government, Powers shared by national and state governments, and Powers of state governments.  Cut out large slips of paper with the following statements.  Have one student at time (or a pair of students) place it in the category they believe it best fits and discuss as a class why it was correct or move it to the correct spot. Federalism Examples: Admit new states Conduct elections Declare and engage in war Determine the qualifications of voters Establish and maintain schools Govern marriage laws Levy and collect taxes Maintain an army, navy, and air force Maintain the state militia (also known as the National Guard) Negotiate treaties with foreign countries Print and coin money Protect public health Protect the rights of citizens Provide for public safety Punish lawbreakers Regulate interstate and foreign commerce Regulate intrastate commerce Set rules for immigration Set traffic standards Set up a post office   Key:

Powers of the national government Powers shared by national and state governments Powers of the state governments
  • Declare and engage in war
  • Print and coin money
  • Maintain an army, navy, and air force
  • Regulate interstate and foreign commerce
  • Admit new states
  • Negotiate treaties with foreign countries
  • Set up a post office
  • Set rules for immigration
  • Punish lawbreakers
  • Levy and collect taxes
  • Protect the rights of citizens
  • Provide for public safety
  • Protect public health
  • Conduct elections
  • Govern marriage laws
  • Regulate intrastate commerce
  • Set traffic standards
  • Establish and maintain schools
  • Determine the qualifications of voters
  • Maintain the state militia (also known as the National Guard)

  Conclusion:  5-10 minutes Have students write one-two paragraphs answering these essential questions: Why do states and the national government have the powers they do? Why is federalism important in a Constitutional Republic?  They must provide evidence to support their beliefs.   Extension: Students may complete the following information as an extension activity. If you had just declared independence from Great Britain and wanted to create your own government, what powers would you give to the national government and what powers would you reserve for the state government? Try to think of at least 5 for each. Explain in complete sentences and a well-organized paragraph why you gave certain powers to each form of government. Consider what problems you might encounter and possible changes that may need to be made in the future.