Federalism is a major principle of American government. In a
federal system of government, there are three levels of government:
national, state, and local. Government power is divided between the
The national government generally has power over issues of national
concern. The states generally have power over issues of state concern.
For example, the national government has power over the defense of the
nation. Defense must be coordinated for the entire nation. The states
have the power to issue drivers' licenses because driving rules and
conditions differ from state to state.
The national powers are often called enumerated or delegated powers.
This is because they were specifically listed for the national
government when the Constitution was written. You can find these powers
written in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.
The state powers are often called reserved powers. This is because
they were powers kept by the states when the Constitution was written.
These powers are not written down in the U.S. Constitution. If a power
is not listed for the national government in the U.S. Constitution, it
generally belongs to the states. There are some exceptions to this rule,
as the case of McCulloch v. Maryland shows.
Some powers are shared by the national and the state levels of
government. These are called concurrent powers. For example, both the
national government and the state governments are allowed to tax. This
allows both levels of government to have the money they need to provide
Based on these ideas, examine the list of government powers below and
say whether you think each one is an enumerated (national) power,
reserved (state) power, or concurrent (shared) power. Download and use
the Venn Diagram handout and place each power in the appropriate section of the diagram. Be prepared to explain your answer.
List of powers:
defend the country
issue drivers' licenses
create marriage laws
make agreements with other countries
make laws for the environment
punish law breakers
create standards for schools