1. Brief History
Originally the United States of America comprised thirteen colonies of Great Brittan. They revolted in 1776 and became independent of the mother country in 1783. During this period, the revolted colonies formed an America confederation, and adopted in 1777. The articles of confederation the first constitution. But it was found defective in several ways. As George Washington pointed out, the absence of coercive power was its real shortcoming. Therefore, the new constitution of federal character was adopted.
2. The founding fathers of the system
In view of these weaknesses, a convention was summoned at Philadelphia in 1787. Fifty-five delegates from all the states, except Rhode Island, met at Philadelphia, including such famous ones as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, etc. The chief question with which the delegates were mainly concerned was to establish a strong federation and yet preserve the rights of the constituent states. A compromise was brought forth which provided for representation in proportion to the population of the states in the lower House of the proposed federal congress and equal representation in the Upper House.
3. The Federal Character
The American state was a government with limited powers. This system of limitations is one of the fundamental characteristics of the American constitution. It established an association of states so organized that powers were divided between a General Government and state governments. The general or the central Government was independent of the Governments of the associated states and state governments were also independent, in certain matter, of the General Government.
4. Working of American federation
The pattern of division of powers as worked out in the constitution is as under;
i. Under the constitution, the powers of the national government have been prescribed and all such affairs enumerated on which it can legislate. The Constitution has also described concurrent affairs on which both, the central government as well as the governments of the federating units can legislate, such as imposition of taxes or control over trade etc.
ii. Certain restraints have been imposed on the central government.
iii. The state governments are also required to pay due heed to certain limitations imposed by the constitution.
iv. Residuary powers, the powers not granted to the central government nor prohibited to the state governments, belong to the states.
v. The constitution has prescribed certain responsibilities of the national government towards state governments.
Federal Guarantees of the States.
In order to strengthen the position of the states in the federal system, the constitution imposes certain obligations on the Federal Government, which may be summed up as under.
a. Respect for Territorial Integrity
The Federal Government has been required to respect territorial integrity of the state.
b. Guarantee of a Republican form of Government
The Federal Government is to guarantee to every state a Republican form of Government.
c. Protection against Invasion and Civil commotion
The constitution enjoins upon the Federal Government to protect each of them against invasion and on the application of the Legislature r of the executive against domestic violence.
d. Obligation of state towards Federal Government
The states also owe certain obligations towards the Federal Government. The states are required to conduct elections. The members of the Electoral College. The members of the lower house of the congress are elected in each state.
Legislative powers of Congress
According to section 8 of Article 1 of the constitution, the American Congress has the power to make laws on the following subjects
i. To levy and collect taxes, duties imports, and excises; to pay and debts and provides for the common defense and general welfare of United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
ii. To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
iii. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and the Indian tribes;
iv. To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
v. To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
vi. To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and correct coins of the United States;
vii. To establish post-offices and post-roads;
viii. To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
ix. To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court
x. To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas and offences against the law of nations;
xi. To declare war and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
xii. To raise and support armies but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
xiii. To provide and maintain a navy
xiv. To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
xv. To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions;
xvi. To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such parts of them as may be employed in the service of the United states, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority for training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by congress;
xvii. To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such districts (not exceeding ten miles square) as may be cession of particular states, and the acceptance of congress, become the seat of the Government of the United state, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the creation of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock yards, and other needful buildings; and
xviii. to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.
7. Restrictions on Congress
The following restrictions have been put on the powers of the congress under section of Article 1 of the constitution;
i. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition and the government for the redress of grievances.
ii. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a fee state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
iii. No soldier shall in time of peace, be quartered in any house without the consent of the owners, nor in time of war but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
iv. People will be “secure in their persons, houses papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”.
v. Trial for capital or other infamous crime will be by a grand jury. No accused will be compelled to be a witness against himself.
vi. In all criminal prosecutions, every accused shall be entitled to speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.
vii. In ordinary suits involving an amount exceeding twenty dollars, right of trial by jury will be preserved.
viii. Excessive bail shall not be required nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.
ix. The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
8. Growth of Federal Authority
Although the constitution created a very weak center, the powers of the Federal Government have widely increased. Many factors have been responsible for this which is briefly as under.
i. The Supreme Court has so interpreted the constitution that the powers of the Federal government have increased even at the cost of the states. In developed the doctrine of Implied Powers.
ii. Many amendments have increased the powers of the Federal government. The 15th amendment gave the authority of judicial review, to the Supreme Court over states legislation.
iii. The congress has passed many laws which have widened its powers. Similarly, the President as issued rules and regulations in the exercise of their authority widening the powers of the Federal Government.
iv. The growth of international relations and commerce has also enabled the Federal Government to widen its sphere of authority.
v. Recently leadership of the United States of the western powers has placed unrestricted power in the hands of the Federal Government.
vi. There have come into existence many inter-state-powers of Federal organizations of mutual consultation. These organization help in evolving uniform policies under the direction of the Federal Government.
vii. The Federal Government makes grants-in-aid to state Governments and even local bodies. Fourteen percent budget of states comes through these grants.
a. The state shall expend the money for the specific purpose for which it is granted.
b. The state shall itself incur expenditure from its finances for the purpose in hand.
c. The state shall establish suitable administrative agencies.
d. In return for the assistance, the Federal government will have the right to impose federal standards and regulations, federal inspection and federal suit of accounts.