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The United States government structure occurs in several levels. The primary levels include the Federal government and the States governments. These two levels are interrelated in the aspect that the federal government covers all the states (Pound). The primary function of any government is to serve its people. As a consequence, a conflict may arise between the two levels of governments as they aim to fulfill their mandate to the people. Therefore, it is important to establish a well-developed framework that will guide the relationship between these levels of governance (Pound). Throughout history, there have been documents, as well as proposals, which governed the relationship between national and states governments.

Discussion and Development

The interactions between the national government and the States governments have been guided historically by several documents (Pound). Currently, this relationship is governed by the United States Constitution. These documents were: the Articles of Confederation, the Virginia, and New Jersey plans and the Federalist papers.

  1. The Articles of Confederation

The articles of confederation were the leading documents that established the relationship between the established national government of the United States and the thirteen states that formed the government. These states were colonies of the Great Britain and came together to form a confederation as the felt they needed a stronger union (Foner and Garraty). The articles were in operational from 1777-1781 (Foner and Garraty). The relationship established that the states were sovereign and independent from the national government. The central government created was weak since the states feared the creation of a central authority that would likely continue the atrocities of their former colonizer. The only power the national government had over the States was that it dealt with all foreign policies and matters (Foner and Garraty). The only institution on the national level was the Congress; the Congress was controlled by the States when passing decisions as the states representatives focused on issues that would benefit their particular states.

  1. The Virginia and New Jersey Plans

The articles provided a weak federal government and as a consequence the need for a stronger national government emerged. The main contentious issue under the new government was representation of the states at the national levels. The large states like Virginia were of the opinion that the representation should be dependent on the population size of the states. Conversely, the small states, like New Jersey, feared that the large state would seize the control of the federal government is the population was the foundation of representation (Boundless).

The Virginia plans proposed that the legislative structure should consist of two chambers. The representation in these chambers would in proportion to the population of the respective states. As a consequence, large states would have more representatives than their small counterparts (Boundless). The New Jersey proposal provided a unicameral legislature, in which each state would have one vote representation as it was established in the Articles. The New Jersey plans were more pro-equality than the Virginia plans A middle ground was set up in order to make these parties remain under the same national government. The compromise, famously known as the Connecticut Compromise, dictated that there would be a bicameral legislature. The House of Representatives’ representation would be built on the population proportion while the Senate representation would be founded on equal votes per state (Boundless).

Under these plans, the Congress was given significant powers than the Congress under the Articles. The Congress was given powers to pass legislations on diverse matters like taxation and expenditure. Under the compromise, the vast estates won control in legislating. However, this control was regulated in that the Senate would check the legislations passed and either approve or reject them (Boundless). This aspect brought equality on legislations.

  1. The Federalist Papers

The continuation for a push for a national government that had more powers than established in the articles of confederation continued. The federalist papers were crucial in this drive. The federalist papers comprise of 85 articles that were promoting the ratification of a constitution that would give the national government more powers (Palombo). The relationship between the federal government and the states government was pegged on providing safety to the citizens of the confederation member states. The argument brought forward by the federalists was that the union of states was necessary for the security of the American people. Therefore, trying to reason against the government that can assure this safety was fruitless as this government takes rights away from the States (Palombo). The papers primary objective was to strike a balance in the federal and states governments’ powers.

  1. The united states constitution

The Constitution is the highest law of the land, and it is empowered by the independent authority of the populaces by the framers and the agreement of the legislatures of the states. The constitution serves as source of all government powers, and also provides important limitations on the government powers. The constitution was to be ratified by a unanimous agreement. The federalist papers, by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, played a critical role in the ratification of the constitution (Pound). The ratification of the constitution began on December 7th, 1787 and was operationalised on March 9th, 1789 (Pound). The principles that guide federal-states relations are related to the limitation of the federal government. The constitution provides the limits of the duties, and the powers delegated to the federal government (Pound). The federal government powers are confined to challenges the capture the national scope and as a consequent the federal government should avoid preempting the state laws and policies.

Protection of the State Rights

The rights of the States are evidently protected in the current United States constitutions. The states’ rights are related to the political powers of the state governments as established in the constitution. These rights were set up in the law under the supremacy clause. The clause indicates that the law under the federal Constitution takes precedence over the state legislation and constitutions (Pound). As a consequence, the clause provides guidance on the mechanism through which the judicial system should make their ruling whenever a conflict arises between the federal and states laws. However, there are limitations on the federal powers (Pound). These constraints act as an avenue to protect the State rights.

The state rights can be clearly elaborated through the various policies that have been established in the United States. The federal government has established many policies that have caused conflicts between the national and state governments. For instance, President Barack Obama speech during Sixth State of the Union Address touched on a critical issue that may result in the conflict between the states and the national government (Kiely et al.). The policy regards the making two years of college free and universal. The cost elimination relates to American community colleges.

The federal government banks this proposal on the successful implementation by two states; the Tennessee and Chicago states. However, a critical issue arises as the plan requires that the states are supposed to finance 25% of the cost (Kiely et al.). Not all states in the country would be willing to meet these costs. This is evident from the fact that not all states supported another federal government project. Numerous States failed to expand their medical aid following the Obama health care law (Kiely et al.). The reason is that after the grace period for federal government financing the entire cost of the health program in the first years elapses, the states would be required to take up the mantle. Therefore, the states cannot be forced to ratify such proposal despite the stipulation in the supremacy clause. The reason is that among the limitation of the federal government as established in the constitution is that the federal government cannot impose on the state revenue (Pound).




The relationship between the federal government and the state governments has changed throughout the history of United States. The dynamics have been guided various documents that have been helpful in creating a harmonious relationship between the two level of governance. Currently, the relationship is governed by the current United States Constitution. Through the Constitution, the rights of the states are protected from the federal interference (Pound). This protection helps to maintain the sovereignty of the states

Works Cited

Boundless,. ‘The Virginia And New Jersey Plans’. Boundless (2014): n. pag. 25 Feb. 2015.

Foner, Eric, and John A. Garraty. ‘Articles Of Confederation – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.Com’. N.p., 1991. 25 Feb. 2015.

Kiely, Eugene et al. ‘Factchecking Obama’s State Of The Union In His Sixth Annual Address, The President Stretched Some Facts On His Record.’. The Wall Street Journal (2015): n. pag.

Palombo, Marielle. ‘The Federalist Debates: Balancing Power Between State And Federal Governments’. Humanities 2010. 25 Feb. 2015.

Pound, William T. ‘An Observation Of The State-Federal Relationship’. N.p., 2010. 25 Feb. 2015.



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