Powers of the Federal Government

Shortly after the famous revolution in America, there emerged a new constitution that focused on distinguishing the governance of the country. The circumstances leading to the adoption of a new constitution are rather appalling owing to the chaotic nature in which the country was left. Consequently, states acted as independent countries with the powers to govern themselves while guiding their own interaction with the outside world. The independence of the thirteen states was not only disadvantageous to the states but to the country as a whole. In a bid to ensuring smooth governance and better coexistence between the different states, the people adopted a constitution stipulating two levels of governance. These decisions were targeted towards making the central government more powerful while limiting the powers of the states. In so doing, the people realized the dangers of having an all too powerful central government thus decided on a limitation of its powers. In addition, the anticipated wrangles between the states and the federal government resulted in an enumeration of the powers of the federal government.

Federalism as established in the US constitution is a system of governance in which the US territory is controlled and administered through two levels of government. The first level is a central government that administers over national issues affecting the entire country. The second level of governance, the states governments, control issues concerning and affecting their jurisdictions within the respective states (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 43). Surprisingly, each of these two levels has powers to make laws relating to their jurisdictions with each state having its own unique constitution. Regardless, the constitutions of the different states must comply with regulations in the US Constitution. In fact, each of these constitutions is subordinate to the national constitution and provisions that are conflict with those of the national constitution are deemed to be null and void. Ultimately, the US Constitution is effective in ensuring a smooth governance of the country by limiting and restricting the advent of conflict between the different states.

The Constitution of the US created a federal government with two levels of government to include national and state governments (United States, 2012). Obviously, there were bound to be wrangles between the two levels of government regarding issues that affected their respective jurisdictions. The complexity and interrelatedness of issues affecting each of the two levels of government require a strict definition of powers that each of the two governments has. The constitution envisages these occurrences in Articles I, II and III by defining the enumerated powers of the federal government. Indeed, the federal government has three branches as dictated by the constitution including the executive, judiciary and the legislature. Each of these branches has its unique roles in the administration and governance of the country. Moreover, they are all independent and free of each other and have set mechanisms to dissuade encroachment from any of the other branches.

The powers reserved for the federal government is collectively referred to as the enumerated powers. The constitution prohibits the federal government from exercising any other powers besides the enumerated ones. The clarity with which the constitution lists the powers is enough to dissuade and detect any misuse and abuse by the three arms of the federal government. Article I of the Constitution defines the creation of the legislative branch of the government and lists its enumerated powers. The congress is a combination of both the Senate and the House Assembly and together form the law making organ of the government. The second article of the constitution creates the executive branch of the federal government with a list of the various enumerated powers (United States, 2012). Lastly, the third article culminates in the formation of the judiciary and similarly outlines the powers of the branch of federal government. Collectively, the enumerated powers dictate the confines within which the federal government can exercise its powers and greatly limits the powers especially within the states.

The Congress, a branch of the federal government, has powers to tax and spend and these powers are listed in the first clause. Indeed, the constitution gives the Congress the power to lay and collect duties, imposts, excises and taxes. This provision further adds that the congress has powers to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. However, it further asserts that these taxes and duties must be uniform throughout the country thus ensuring fairness and uniformity in exercise of these powers (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 26). The section dictating these powers was further supplemented by the 16th Amendment which gave the congress powers to levy an income tax on the citizens. In addition to levying tax, the Congress also has power to borrow money on the credit of the United States. Through these powers, the federal government can borrow money through the issuance of bonds among other means to fund national projects. Upon borrowing of money, the national government creates a binding contract to repay the money later that cannot be repudiated.

Further afield, the federal government has powers to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the different states. This provision is one of the most important for the national government as it ensures that all states trade fairly with each other and among the traders in the states. The provision regulating commerce permits a variety of federal laws including regulation of business and the outlawing of racial segregation across the different states (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 36). In addition to these powers, the federal government has powers to establish a rule of naturalization and laws on the subject of bankruptcies. However, these powers must be exercised fairly and uniformly across the entire country of the United States. Using these powers, the Congress can set forth requirements regulating the people who can become citizens. Further, the powers of deciding who can become a citizen are a reserve for the federal government and not the single state governments.

The federal government also has powers regulating the value of money and the use of foreign currency among other important roles. In these provisions, the Congress is bestowed with the right to fix the standard of weights and measures and the regulation of the value of the currency while controlling the use of the foreign coin (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 46). In addition, the federal government has powers to provide for the punishment of counterfeiting especially regarding money laundering. By giving the federal government the powers to coin money and also issue paper currency, the Constitution helps in monetary regulation of the country. In addition, the federal government can regulate the economy of the country thus ensuring a uniform development in both social and economic terms. The article also gives the congress the power to enact laws that are necessary to the execution of the powers bestowed upon it. This provision is currently in use through the creation of a Federal Reserve System for the regulation of the country’s monetary supply.

Another power of utmost importance to the federal government is the power to constitute tribunals and courts that are inferior to the Supreme Court. In fact, the constitution of the US only provides for the creation of a Supreme Court and leaves the congress to create lower courts (Ginsberg, 2013, pp 16). In addition to merely creating these courts, the Congress has powers to set the jurisdictions and duties of these courts. In so doing, the Constitution allows the federal government to govern itself by giving it powers to define its operations. The consolidation of the judicial system is also important in ensuring uniform application of the law and offers similar punishment for offences regardless of the state in which they are committed. Further, the Constitution also confers powers to protect copyright and patents to eth federal government.

Also, the Constitution of the United States gives the federal government powers to define and punish maritime crimes and offences committed on the high seas. Every sovereign country has the rights to define and punish maritime crimes and the United States is no exception. In fact, the US Congress has continually exercised these powers over time including the punishment of offenders against the laws of nations. Moreover, the federal government has the right to declare war and make rules regarding captures on land and on water. The execution through the president wages war against an enemy and the Congress declares war against the same enemy. While these powers are enumerated to provide checks and balances against each of these branches o government, they are often misused as is the cases of forces going to war without the approval of the Congress.



Ginsberg, B. (2013). We the people: An introduction to American politics. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

United States. (2012). The Constitution of the United States of America and selected writings of the founding fathers.


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