National versus State Government

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National versus State Government

The first type of government in America was based primarily on state government. Prior to the signing of the Constitution, America had been made up of thirteen colonies, which had been ruled by England. Following the Revolutionary War, these colonies, although they had formed a league of friendship under the Articles of Confederation, basically governed themselves. They feared a strong central government like the one they lived with under England's rule. However, it was soon discovered that this weak form of state government could not survive and so the Constitution was drafted. The Constitution:

  • defines and limits the power of the national government,

  • defines the relationship between the national government and individual state governments, and

  • guarantees the rights of the citizens of the United States.

This time, it was decided that a government system based on federalism would be established. In other words, power is shared between the national and state (local) governments. The opposite of this system of government is a centralized government, such as in France and Great Britain, where the national government maintains all power.

Sharing power between the national government and state governments allows us to enjoy the benefits of diversity and unity. For example, the national government may set a uniform currency system. Could you imagine having 50 different types of coins, each with a different value? You would need to take along a calculator to go shopping in another state. By setting up a national policy, the system is fair to everyone and the states do not have to bear the heavy burden of regulating their currency.

Exclusive Powers of the National Government and State Governments

National Government

State Governments

  • Print money

  • Regulate interstate (between states) and international trade

  • Make treaties and conduct foreign policy

  • Declare war

  • Provide an army and navy

  • Establish post offices

  • Make laws necessary and proper to carry out the these powers

  • Issue licenses

  • Regulate intrastate (within the state) businesses

  • Conduct elections

  • Establish local governments

  • Ratify amendments to the Constitution

  • Take measures for public health and safety

  • May exert powers the Constitution does not delegate to the national government or prohibit the states from using

In addition to their exclusive powers, both the national government and state governments share powers. Shared powers between the national government and state governments are called concurrent powers. Current powers of the national government and state governments include the ability to:

  • Collect taxes

  • Build roads

  • Borrow money

  • Establish courts

  • Make and enforce laws

  • Charter banks and corporations

  • Spend money for the general welfare

  • Take private property for public purposes, with just compensation

Powers Denied to the National Government and State Governments

National Government

State Governments

  • May not violate the Bill of Rights

  • May not impose export taxes among states

  • May not use money from the Treasury without the passage and approval of an appropriations bill

  • May not change state boundaries

  • May not enter into treaties with other countries

  • May not print money

  • May not tax imports or exports

  • May not Impair obligations of contracts

  • May not suspend a person's rights without due process

In addition, neither the national government nor state governments may:

  • Grant titles of nobility

  • Permit slavery (13th Amendment)

  • Deny citizens the right to vote due to race, color, or previous servitude (15th Amendment)

  • Deny citizens the right to vote because of gender (19th Amendment)

State Government

State governments have their own constitutions, similar to that of the national Constitution; however, the laws made in individual states cannot conflict with the national Constitution. The state constitutions all differ because each state has unique histories, needs, philosophies, and geography.

During the first 100 years of United States history, the states did most of the governing that directly affected the people. The national government mainly concentrated on foreign affairs. This is known as "dual federalism," where each level of government controlled its own sphere. However, during this time a rift began to form between the two over the issue of who had sovereignty that would culminate in the Civil War.

This issue was resolved following the Civil War. After the war, a series of constitutional amendments were passed that spelled out the federal government's control over social and economic policy and protection of the civil rights of citizens.

The Civil War Amendments

  • Thirteenth Amendment: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime . . . shall exist within the United States."

  • Fourteenth Amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States . . . No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

  • Fifteenth Amendment: "The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Preamble Scramble

The Constitution sets the foundation for the United States Government.

The Preamble gives the reasons why the writers wanted to form such a government.

ben dropped the preamble!

Ben tripped and dropped the Preamble before he could set it in the printing press.

Help Ben reassemble the Preamble.

this Constitution for the United States of America.
and secure the Blessings of Liberty
We the people do ordain and establish
of the United States provide for the common defense,
in Order to form insure domestic Tranquility,
a more perfect Union, to ourselves and our Posterity,
promote general Welfare, establish Justice

Ben's Mystery Word Puzzle

Ben needs to send a secret word to his fellow patriots. He has hidden it in this puzzle. To find the mystery word, write the answers to each clue in the blanks provided. The highlighted boxes, which contain the key letters, will spell out the secret word.

ben\'s mystery word puzzle

1. The U.S. Capitol is located in the _________ of Columbia. (8 letters, key = 1st letter)

2. The President can do this to prevent a bill from becoming a law. (4 letters, key = 2nd letter)

3. The House of Representatives does this when members believe the President is guilty. (7 letters, key = 2nd letter)

4. Representation in the House of Representatives is based on this. (10 letters, key = 9th letter)

5. A system of ________ and balances prevents each branch of government from gaining too much power. (6 letters, key = 4th letter)

6. The process by which people from foreign countries become U.S. citizens. (14 letters, key = 5th letter)

7. System that divides power between the national government and state governments. (10 letters, key = 6th letter)

8. The Supreme Court reviews laws to make sure they do not conflict with the Constitution. This process is called ________ review. (8 letters, key = 5th letter)

9. Guam, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico are each an example of a ____________. (9 letters, key = 9th letter)

Constitution Crossword

constitutional crossword puzzle


1. Place where the original Constitution can be viewed. (16 letters)

5. First state to ratify the Constitution. (8 letters)
9. Fearing tyranny from a strong central government, some states demanded this be
added to the Constitution. (12 letters)
11. He is known as the "Sage of the Constitutional Convention." (8 letters)
13. These essays were written to defend and promote the ratification of the new
Constitution. (16 letters)
14. Name given to the group who did not favor ratification of the Constitution. (15 letters)
15. This amendment was repealed. (10 letters)


1. This state's signing ratified the Constitution. (12 letters)
2. State that did not send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. (11 letters)
3. The 13th Amendment abolished . (7 letters)
4. He introduced the Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789.
(7 letters).
6. The Constitutional Convention met in this city. (12 letters)
7. The part of the Constitution where you find the phrase "in order to form a more
perfect union." (8 letters)
8. Number of amendments to the Constitution. (11 letters)
10. Article that establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of the country.
(2 letters)
12. The Nineteenth Amendment protects the voting rights of . (5 letters)

The Original 13 States

Ben is writing an article for his paper about the states and the Constitutional Convention. Help him identify state trivia to include.

crossword puzzle


2. The ninth state to ratify the Constitution, making it a binding document

(12 letters)
3. This southern "Tarheel State" originally voted against the Constitution
but finally ratified it after George Washington was inaugurated
(13 letters)
8. Charles Pinckney, one of the four Convention delegates from the
"Palmetto State" later served as its governor (13 letters)
9. This state was the first to ratify the Constitution and so its nickname
became "The First State" (8 letters)
10. This state's plan called for equal representation in the legislative body
(9 letters)
11. William Leigh Pierce, from this state, published notes from the
Convention in the Savannah Georgian (1828) that included character
sketches of delegates (7 letters)
12. Benjamin Franklin represented this state at the Convention (12 letters)
13. Roger Sherman, who proposed the "Great Compromise" was from
this state (11 letters)


1. This state's plan called for representation in the legislative body based

on population (8 letters)
4. The first capital of the United States after the Constitution was ratified
was in this state (7 letters)
5. This state was the site of the Annapolis Convention (8 letters)
6. The only state that did not send delegates to the Convention and the
very last state to ratify the Constitution (11 letters)
7. John Adams was asked to represent this New England state at the
Convention, but he was unable to attend (13 letters)

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