Federalism is a system of government in which a written constitution divides the powers of government on a territorial basis between a central or national government, usually called states or provinces.† Each of these levels of government has its own substantial set of powers.† Neither level, acting alone, can change the basic division of powers the constitution has created.† In addition, each level of government operates through its own agencies and acts directly through its own officials and laws.
The American system of government stands as a prime example of federalism.† The basic design of this system is set out in the Constitution.† This document provides for a division of powers between the National Government and the States.† That is, it assigns certain powers to the National Government and certain powers to the States.† The division of powers was implied in the original Constitution and then spelled out in the Bill of Rights.
In effect, federalism produces a dual system of government. That is, it provides for two basic levels of government, each with its own area of authority.† Each operates over the same people and the same territory at the same time.
Federalismís major strength is that it allows local action in matters of local concern, and national action in matters of wider concern.† Local traditions, needs, and desires vary from one State to another, and federalism allows for this very significant fact.