VII.2: What Does “Federal” Mean?

Share this page

What Does Federal Mean

The word ‘federal’ refers to the division of governing power between a nation and its sub-regions or states.

It is confusing that in America it has become common to use the word “federal government” to refer to the national government alone. It would be far clearer to use the phrase “national government” for that purpose. By contrast, “Federal government” should refer to both the national and state governments and the division of power between them. But common usage has chosen otherwise.

The words “confederacy”, “federal”, and “federation” all come from the Latin word for “faith”. That is, each state places faith in the other states to make good on the contract between them.

In today’s language, the word “federal” or “federation” usually means a more tightly coupled association. And “confederal” or “confederacy” means a looser association. For example, the Confederate States of America was a looser association than the U.S. In fact, the southern states seceded from the union because they wanted more state power, and thus a confederacy, rather than a federation.

Earlier, in 1776, when the thirteen American colonies declared their independence, they established themselves as thirteen separate nations.

Back then, the words “state” and “nation” meant the same thing. So we could say that they were in fact a “United Nations”. They hastily put together an agreement for cooperation called the Articles of Confederation, which established a Continental Congress.

But that Congress had no power to enforce anything at all. In fact, after the War for Independence ended, the thirteen states sought their own separate interests rather than their common interests.

This lack of cooperation led to chaos. It caused so many problems that the states called for a Constitutional Convention to amend the Articles. But when the delegates from the states met, they chose to scrap the Articles and write an entirely new U.S. Constitution instead.

The Constitution changed the thirteen-nation confederation into a federal system, which means the thirteen loosely connected nations became one nation. They were more tightly coupled than before but they continued to keep the state governments as well.

By 1788, enough Americans within enough states accepted the U.S. Constitution to make it the law of the land. So a new kind of government was created for Americans.

This new government was a contract between the people of all the states as one single body of people.

That made it very different from the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were a contract between the separate states, rather than between the people of the entire nation.

Alexander Hamilton wrote most of the Federalist Papers, a series of newspaper articles describing and defending the new Constitution. He described this new kind of contract like this:

[I]f we are in earnest about giving the Union energy and duration, we must abandon the vain project of legislating upon the States in their collective capacities; we must extend the laws of the federal government to the individual citizens of America…. (Hamilton 1787, 23)

Of course, this new approach was necessary because the state governments didn’t want to let go of their power as separate and independent nations. In this new system the national government is supreme over the individual states, as declared unquestionably in the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

In earlier posts, I wrote about “States’ Rights and National Supremacy”, “National versus State Sovereignty”, and “The Virginia Resolution”. In those posts I described the tug of war between the states and the nation.

Do you think America’s federal arrangement is too tight (too much national power), too loose (too much state power), or just right?

This site is for discussing how to improve our political system. It is NOT for discussing party politics or political figures. So if you have a non-partisan question or comment, feel free to leave it below.

To top of page

Next post


Hamilton, Alexander. 1787-1788. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay.

58 thoughts on “VII.2: What Does “Federal” Mean?”

  1. For my thesis, I consulted a lot of information, read your article made me feel a lot, benefited me a lot from it, thank you for your help. Thanks!

  2. Howdy, There’s no doubt that your website may be having internet
    browser compatibility problems. Whenever I take a look at
    your site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in I.E.,
    it’s got some overlapping issues. I just wanted to give you
    a quick heads up! Aside from that, great

  3. A fascinating discussion is worth comment. I do believe
    that you should write more on this subject, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people do not discuss
    these issues. To the next! Many thanks!!

  4. My brother suggested I might like this blog. He was totally right.
    This post truly made my day. You cann’t imagine just how much time I had
    spent for this information! Thanks!

  5. Great post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
    Bless you!

  6. Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as I provide
    credit and sources back to your webpage? My blog is in the exact same niche as yours
    and my visitors would truly benefit from some of the information you provide here.
    Please let me know if this okay with you. Thanks!

  7. Simply wish to say your article is as astounding.
    The clearness to your post is simply nice and that i could
    assume you’re knowledgeable on this subject. Well together
    with your permission let me to clutch your feed to stay up to date with
    drawing close post. Thank you a million and please keep up the rewarding work.

  8. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who was
    conducting a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me lunch simply because
    I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this….

    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to
    talk about this topic here on your website.

  9. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my
    own blog and was wondering what all is needed to get set up?

    I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very web smart so I’m not 100% certain. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks

  10. You have made some decent points there. I looked on the net to find out more about the issue
    and found most people will go along with your views on this website.

  11. Can I simply just say what a relief to uncover someone that truly understands what they are discussing
    online. You actually realize how to bring an issue to light
    and make it important. A lot more people should look at this and understand this side of the story.
    I can’t believe you’re not more popular because you surely have the gift.

  12. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked
    submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just
    wanted to say fantastic blog!

  13. Hello, i believe that i noticed you visited my weblog so i came to go back the prefer?.I am trying to find issues to enhance my web site!I assume its ok to make use of some of your

  14. Hi there, I think your website may be having internet
    browser compatibility problems. Whenever I look at your web site in Safari, it
    looks fine but when opening in I.E., it’s got some overlapping issues.
    I simply wanted to provide you with a quick heads up!
    Aside from that, excellent site!

  15. For most up-to-date information you have to visit world-wide-web
    and on world-wide-web I found this site as a most excellent web page for hottest updates.

  16. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across
    a blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the
    head. The issue is something not enough people are speaking intelligently about.
    Now i’m very happy I came across this in my search for something
    regarding this.

  17. I truly love your blog.. Excellent colors & theme.
    Did you build this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m hoping to create my
    very own site and want to know where you got this from or what the theme is named.
    Thank you!

  18. It is perfect time to make a few plans for the long run and it is time to be happy.

    I have read this publish and if I could I want to counsel you few
    fascinating things or tips. Perhaps you can write next articles relating to this article.
    I wish to read even more issues about it!

  19. It’s perfect time to make a few plans for the longer term and it is time
    to be happy. I have read this put up and if I may just I desire to recommend you few attention-grabbing things or tips.
    Maybe you can write next articles regarding this article.
    I wish to read more issues about it!

  20. Hi there everyone, it’s my first visit at this site, and piece of writing is
    actually fruitful in favor of me, keep up posting these posts.

  21. Does your website have a contact page? I’m having problems
    locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some suggestions for your blog you might be
    interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look
    forward to seeing it grow over time.

  22. Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it.
    Look advanced to far added agreeable from you!
    By the way, how could we communicate?

  23. Hey! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a
    blog article or vice-versa? My blog covers a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly
    benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to send me an e-mail.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Superb blog by the way!

  24. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  25. Hello everyone, it’s my first pay a quick visit at this
    website, and article is genuinely fruitful for me, keep up posting these types of articles.

  26. Howdy! This blog post could not be written much better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept talking about this. I am going to forward this post to him.
    Pretty sure he’s going to have a very good read.
    Thanks for sharing!

  27. Thank you, I’ve recently been searching for information approximately
    this topic for ages and yours is the best I’ve discovered so far.

    However, what concerning the bottom line? Are you positive in regards to the source?

  28. Fine way of explaining, and fastidious paragraph to get data on the topic of my presentation subject matter, which i am going to
    present in institution of higher education.

  29. Hi! I just would like to give you a huge thumbs up for the great information you have right here on this post.
    I am coming back to your site for more soon.

  30. Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a entirely different subject
    but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Outstanding choice of colors!

  31. Admiring the commitment you put into your website and
    detailed information you present. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed
    material. Excellent read! I’ve bookmarked your site
    and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

    香港到會公司 —— 卓越餐飲體驗的首選

    內容:我們 專業餐飲服務提供商是一家致力於 滿足客戶提供 高品質 餐飲服務的專業團隊。我們以 高素質的團隊成員和新鮮食材 為基礎,為各種場合提供個性化的 餐飲解決方案。

    我們的 餐飲專家團隊擁有 長時間的 經驗,並深諳餐飲行業的最新趨勢和創新。無論是商業會議、私人派對、婚禮或各種特殊活動,我們都能根據客戶的需求和場地特點,提供最佳的餐飲方案。

    我們的 餐飲專家團隊注重品質和細節,並致力於提供令人滿意的餐飲體驗。我們與優質供應商 合作,確保使用 高品質、新鮮 的食材來準備每一道菜品。無論是中式、西式、日式還是其他特色菜系,我們都能為客戶提供多樣化的選擇。

    作為一家專業的香港到會公司 ,我們不僅提供優質的餐飲服務,還注重客戶的需求和滿意度。我們的團隊專注於細節,並努力確保每一個活動都能順利進行。從活動前的策劃到現場的執行,我們與客戶緊密合作,以確保他們的期望得到實現。

    無論是商業活動 ,我們的 餐飲專家團隊都將根據客戶的具體要求和預算,提供量身定制的餐飲方案。我們提供多種服務選擇,包括
    豪華套餐 ,以滿足不同活動的需求。


  32. Wow, fantastic blog structure! How lengthy have you ever been blogging for?
    you made running a blog look easy. The overall look of your website is magnificent, let alone the content material!
    You can see similar: dobry sklep and here ecommerce

  33. Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I am inspired!
    Extremely helpful information particularly the last phase 🙂 I care for such info a lot.
    I used to be looking for this particular information for a
    very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

    Also visit my website – vpn coupon 2024

  34. I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog.

    Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality
    writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.

    Also visit my blog: vpn special code

  35. Hi there, You have done an incredible job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends.

    I am sure they’ll be benefited from this web site.

    Visit my blog: vpn 2024

  36. Howdy, I think your website may be having web browser compatibility
    issues. When I look at your site in Safari, it
    looks fine but when opening in I.E., it has some overlapping issues.

    I merely wanted to provide you with a quick heads up!
    Apart from that, fantastic blog!

    Also visit my blog; vpn special coupon


Leave a Comment

Verified by MonsterInsights