In a federal system, political power is divided between the central government and sub-central forms of government, such as a states. Notably, this goes beyond simple devolution, which is often a feature of countries – such as the United Kingdom – that have a Unitary form of government, whereas, in a federal system, the States have unalienable powers and prerogatives. In theory at least, their powers can only be relinquished or transferred from the States with their assent. Significantly, the constitution represented a shift toward a more centralised form of governance. Under its provisions, the federal government had a President to offer, in Alexander Hamilton’s words: “energy in the executive”. It was also assigned specific powers, such as defense and regulation of economic activity, that crossed state lines. However, this begs the question, is the USA still a federal state?

In many ways, the USA is a federal state, as central government has increased its power, and this can be illustrated with President Obama passing major pieces of legislation. This arguably has, in turn, strengthened federal government power. This was the case as a response to the economic crisis. Notably his ‘Dodd Frank’ Act of 2010 extended federal regulation of the banking industry to try and ensure there wasn’t a repeat of the financial crash. Additionally, the federal government can be seen to be powerful, where Obama, in his first term, bailed out the Auto Industry to save the industry facing bankruptcy, as intended by the Auto-Industry bailout of 2009.

Furthermore the USA is a federal state shown through Obama’s Affordable Care Act that made it mandatory for every American citizen to have healthcare, and this would be enforced throughout the States. This was a groundbreaking extension of federal government power. This was further upheld in the salient Supreme court case of National Federation of Independent Businesses vs. Sebelius 2012, where the court confirmed this as it ruled that government had a right to impose such a tax, thus making it concrete knowledge that the USA exists with a federal government.

Even recently, the federal government can be illustrated operating with the issue of the Connecticut school shooting. President Obama appointed Joe Biden to head a task force into tougher gun control laws. Firstly, Obama initiated 23 executive orders, and also, with his federal power, he wants to toughen up gun laws, especially those concerning assault weapons. This is a further attempt to extend federal power. However, on the contrary, federalism is still strong, and the States remain active. Firstly, the Tea Party has shown that “states rights: are still very important to millions of citizens who think that the federal government has no right to interfere with their lives”. They deeply resent the Affordable Care Act, and citizens that support the NRA will attempt to resist the proposal for tougher gun control laws, in mobilizing public opinion through events, such as “gun appreciation day” held on the January 19th 2013.

Additionally federalism is still strong because the individual states can be “laboratories of democracy”, that is, they can pass legislation that enchances the individual liberties of citizens, even before the federal government does. Seven states have legalised gay marriage – for example – and this federalism allows for separate states to create legislation as appropriate for the communities belief, and therefore perhaps the USA no longer exists with a federal government.

Similarly, of course, states can still be seen to be very active when they pass laws that don’t always protect civil liberties. This is seen in discriminatory policies as affirmative action bans, as maintained in Arizona’s SB1070 laws that target immigrants. Here federalism seems to be the most over-riding and impacting force on the States and therefore the citizens.

Nevertheless, when assessing this question one can turn to the journalist and political philosopher Herbert Clory and his seminal work “The promise of the American life”. In this work, Clory proposed Americans must fulfill Americas promise by obtaining “Jeffersonian ends by Hamiltonian means”. Significantly, Hamilton believed in a strong federal government, whereas Jefferson believed in a thriving democracy of state power. Hebert’s idea was the supposition that a strong central government should allow states to develop their own freedoms. One could argue that this does in fact operate because a strong government must respond to national disasters, whilst giving states freedom to create legislation. Perhaps this isn’t realistic, however, the synthesis would be ideal to obtain. Be that as it may, for now, it seems that tension between federalism and a federal government will carry on being aggressive, and will continue to create controversy.