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Throughout the history of the United States, the division of political power between the states and the central government has been a subject of the continuous legal and political debate. Apart from public conversations, mostly via newspapers, the debate also took the form of state ratifying conventions. This debate pitted those who were advocating for states’ rights (anti-federalists) against those who favored a strong federal government (federalists). Each side tried to convince the public that self-governance and precious liberty that was earned during the Revolution was at stake.
Those who favored a stronger federal government were concerned about the fragile Articles of Confederation. They held that for a government to be functional, it ought to be strong (Wills102). Therefore, a strong government had to control all uncooperative states. They were of the opinion that this strong national government ought to be run by the men of immense talent and experience. Rather than embracing the Bill of Rights, the federalists held that a strong federal government would be able to protect the rights of its people. Since the federalists were loose constructionists, they took the meaning of the Constitution loosely, therefore making the national government to have more opportunities.
Wills (234) argues that while the opponents of a strong federal government contended that the executive branch of the federal government would wield too much power, the proponents of this system argued that any government needs to be strong so that it can perform its duties. According to the federalists, the three arms of the federal government would have some checks and balance so that none of the three branches could overpower the other. Each arm of the federal government represents a specific interest of the masses, and since the three branches are equal, no one group can claim to control over the other.
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On the other hand, those who advocated for states’ rights feared that a strong national government would become tyrannical or transform into a monarchy. As a result, they pushed for the Bill of Rights, which would ensure that the individual States could keep some of their powers. It is imperative to understand that the Americans had just fought a war to ensure that their fundamental rights were secure. Thus, this group did not want a constitution that would jeopardize these hard-fought rights. They also argued that the proposed constitution would give the president too much power. Based on the necessary and proper clause, the anti-federalists were of the opinion that the proposed Congress would be very aristocratic because it would be comprised of few representatives, who would be expected to represent very many people (Storing 78).
The anti-federalists were also worried that a strong federal government would wield too much power, and that too much power would be taken from the states. Citing the Supremacy Clause in the proposed Constitution, the anti-federalists were not comfortable with the fact that all federal laws would be greater than the laws of each state (Storing 56). According to the anti-federalists, this would undermine the sovereignty of the states. The anti-federalists also felt that the U.S was an extensive country that could not be controlled by one federal government. They held that such a government could threaten the rights of the common citizen. They were of the opinion that since the proposed Constitution was created by the aristocratic individuals, there was a sinister motive to suppress the liberty of the masses.
One policy that elicited different reactions in regards to a strong federal government emanated from the intergovernmental grant system. These reactions resulted from the attempts by the administrations of Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon to distribute power relations within the federal government. The intent of these administrations was to shift responsibilities and authority to the local and state governments in a bid to manage the intergovernmental grant system more effectively. These efforts brought to light the importance of the states in contrast to a strong federal government.
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