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AP Government
 Instructional Resources
Edwards, Chapter 3
The Words We Live By w/discussion questions
Article I, Sec. 8, 9, 10
Article VI
10th Amendment
11th Amendment
Supreme Court DBQ’s
McCulloch v. Maryland
Gibbons v. Ogden
 Overview
“Federalism” refers to the division of power between the national government and the states. Under
our federal system, significant government powers are divided between the central government and
small governmental units; neither completely controls the other, and each has some room for
independent action. We begin by defining federalism and differentiating it from other forms of
political organization, chiefly unitary and confederal systems. We then examine the basic principles
of American federalism, including the division of power between the national and state governments
and the principles of national supremacy and state obligations. Next, we consider how American
federalism has changed over time, evolving from a system of dual federalism to a system of
cooperative federalism, to the contemporary system of new federalism as it exists today. We
conclude by evaluating the impact of federalism on public policy and politics in the United States.
 Learning Objectives
Define federalism and contrast it with alternative ways of
organizing a nation.
Outline the constitutional basis for the division of power
between national and state governments, the
establishment of national supremacy, and states’
obligations to each other.
Characterize the shift from dual to cooperative federalism,
the role of fiscal federalism in intergovernmental relations
today, and diversity in policies among the states.
Explain the consequences of federalism for diversity in
public polices among the states.
Assess the impact of federalism on democratic
government and the scope of government.
 Class Activities
CLASS ACTIVITY 1: Ronald Reagan labeled his proposals on the roles of state and local
government “new federalism.” He pictured millions of Americans as resentful of the idea that “a
bureaucratic elite in Washington knows best what is best for people everywhere and that you cannot
trust local governments. Local government is the government closest to the people; it is most
responsive to the individual person; it is a people’s government in a far more intimate way than the
government in Washington can ever be.”
In what sense can it be argued that government at the local level is closer to and
more responsive to the people? Which people?
How does Reagan’s understanding of federalism differ from that presented in
Federalist No. 10?
CLASS ACTIVITY 2: Brainstorm a list of the ways in which government affects our daily lives.
Think about the level of government that influences or regulates each activity.
Are we more influenced in our daily lives by the national or state and local
Think about what daily life would be like in the United States if we had a unitary
system where most decisions were made by the national government. Could such a
system function effectively in the United States? Why?
CLASS ACTIVITY 3: The Northern victory in the Civil War decisively established that the Union
was indissoluble.
Contrast our views toward the nature of the United States as an “indissoluble union”
with our views toward the right of new countries to secede from existing countries in
the 1990s, as Croatia and Bosnia did from Yugoslavia.
Research how these events were described at the time they were unfolding. Students
will review relevant articles and present an outline of key issues and events to the
Should the secession petitions filed on the White House petitions website following
the 2012 election should be honored?
CLASS ACTIVITY 4: Debate the following question: does the American form of federalism
increase democracy, or does it have a negative effect on democracy?.
CLASS ACTIVITY 5: Brainstorm and develop a short list of the major domestic policy
controversies or problems in American politics. The class will be divided into two groups:
cooperative and dual federalists.
Each group will describe how the problem might be addressed in its system of
federalism and report back to the whole class on its solution(s).
The class will discuss, critique, and debate each group’s ideas.
Formatives: Due on Monday
 Short Answer Questions: Provide a response to
each of the following questions:
Explain the difference between the powers that the U.S. Constitution provides to the national and
state governments. Be sure to give specific examples.
Explain the significance of Gibbons v. Ogden.
How do block grants differ from categorical grants?
Explain why the Framers of the U.S. Constitution chose to abandon the Articles of Confederation.
Define unfunded mandates. Why are unfunded mandates problematic?
There are two major types of federal grants-in-aid for states and localities: categorical grants and block
grants. Define each type and show how they are used in today’s federal budgetary process.
Describe the primary strengths of a federal system.
Explain the justification of federalism from the Framers’ point of view.
Explain the consequences of federalism for diversity in public policies among the states.
Explain the privileges and immunities clause.
The Constitution divides power between the national (federal) government and state governments
and makes the national government supreme within its sphere. The national government has implied
as well as enumerated powers, as McCulloch v. Maryland made clear. Explain the issues involved in this
ruling and its impact on federalism.
Explain how critics of the Defense of Marriage Act invoke the full faith and credit clause.
How do we know that the U.S. Constitution is federalist? Cite specific clauses or articles.
Explain why the Supreme Court struck down the Violence Against Women Act.
Why does Medicaid place states in a difficult position?
 Essay Questions:
Respond to TWO of the following:
Describe the evolution of federalism over the course of American history. Provide specific
social/policy developments or Supreme Court decisions for each evolutionary step.
Discuss how devolution impacted social service policy and legislation in the 1990s.
Explain how the federal government uses federal funding to indirectly imposeits will upon the states.
Explain why today’s federalism is or is not an effective form of government for the United States. Be
specific in supporting your argument.
In what ways was Brown v. Board of Education a dispute between states’ rights and national power?
 Research Activities: Complete ONE of the following:
RESEARCH ACTIVITY 1: Using the list of government activities from the Landmark Cases
website at, create a
Venn diagram to determine which of the activities falls into each of these categories: enumerated
powers, implied powers, reserved powers, concurrent powers.
This activity illustrates the division of power under the American system of federalism.
RESEARCH ACTIVITY 2: In a short reaction paper, evaluate the federal response to the BP oil
spill.. The Guardian’s website ( offers an archive of
extensive coverage of the event. Consider the following questions in your analysis:
The response was largely viewed as a massive failure. Is this a fair assessment? If so,
who or what institutions are to blame?
How much responsibility should the states and BP assume, and how much should
the national government assume? What should be their respective roles?
Should the levels of government react differently than they would in response to the
loss of homes or businesses during a national crisis?
This activity encourages students to think about how federalism might undermine more
efficient and effective public policy in some areas.
RESEARCH ACTIVITY 3: Research the contemporary debate over immigration reform and
enforcement. Start with Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which was widely viewed as one of the
broadest anti-immigration measures in recent U.S. history.
Provide a short summary of Arizona’s SB 1070 or similar measures in other states.
Write a short position paper responding to the question, Should states and cities be
responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws?
RESEARCH ACTIVITY 4: Read “It’s Not About Federalism #14: Gay Marriage” from the
Brennan Center for Justice at NYC School of Law (
In a short response paper, reflect on the question of whether legal recognition of gay marriages
should be determined by the states or by the national government.
RESEARCH ACTIVITY 5: Which states win and lose the federal aid game? Use the infographic
from the textbook to answer the following questions:
Which states are “recipient states,” receiving more from the federal government than
they contribute? Which states are “donor states,” paying more to the federal
government than they receive?
Can you explain in your own words precisely what the data show? What are donor
and recipient states? How are they calculated?
How does politics help explain whether a state is a recipient or donor state? What is
the relationship between party politics and recipient/donor state status? Were you
surprised by these results? Why?