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Introduction: Federalism – New Horizons For A Time-Honored Governing Principle – Guest Essayists: Lisa B. Nelson And Karla Jones

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With the goal of preserving freedom by preventing the consolidation of control in any one political structure, the Founders came together to draft the U.S. Constitution. Mindful and somewhat humbled by the failure of the Articles of Confederation, they understood that a central authority was necessary to provide for the common defense and general welfare – and most important of all – to protect the liberty for which they had fought so hard. However, they also recognized that giving the federal government unchecked power would likely lead to a tyranny not so very different than the one they had just overthrown. As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist no. 17, “It is a known fact in human nature that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State are apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union.” Their solution was an ingenious design that gave the federal government the authority that it needed to unite the nation while devising a system of internal and external checks to diffuse power so that the national government would ultimately be subject to the will of the states and the people.

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