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Lesson 26: How Does American Federalism Work?

Lesson Purpose

The American constitutional system is made up of two levels of government: national and state. The system is called federalism. The powers of and the boundaries between the national and state governments never have been clear. Sometimes the national and state governments seem to work in harmony. Sometimes they seem locked in a struggle for power. This lesson examines constitutional provisions affecting the states in their relationship to the national government. It explains how state governments are organized, including their creation of units of local government. Finally, it describes the role of states as "laboratories of democracy."

When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain how American federalism involves divided sovereignty and an ongoing effort to balance power between the national and state governments. You also should be able to explain the function of three basic kinds of local governmental units?counties, municipalities, and special districts. You should be able to give examples of governmental innovations at the state and local levels. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on continuing issues related to America's unique system of federalism.