1787 - 1865 Federalism

The nation's founders concocted a flawed system of 'federalism' which they left to men like Chief Justice John Marshall to turn into the workable framework for national government.

      Federalism is the power sharing arrangement between the federal government, state governments, and Indian tribes, that was set up by the Founding Fathers and built into the U.S. Constitution.   click here for moreFederalism

  As this cartoon demonstrates, when the founders of the United States conceived of federalism, their great 'mistake of omission' was in leaving out a clearly defined place and role for the sovereign governments of the five hundred Indian nations on the North American continent.

           Unfortunately, the Founders did a poor job of specifying just how this tri-lateral arrangement was going to work.  Figuring out how it would work was a task that was left to the courts.   Chief Justice John Marshall took up that problem in his far-reaching opinions in three Indian cases in the 1820s and 1830s:Johnson v. McIntosh, Cherokee v. Georgia, and Worcester v. Georgia. 

         State's rights advocates have been jealous of native legal standing and the tribes' special trust relationship with the federal government since the founding the nation.   In fact, it was a battle over states' rights in the south, over the sovereignty of Cherokee Indians living inside the state of Georgia,  that brought the nation to its first constitutional crisis in the 1820s.  That crisis resolved itself in the Removal Acts, championed by states' rights advocates that included the new president, Andrew Jackson.  The Removal Acts, however, proved to be a temporary fix.  Ultimately, the ideological conflict that dogged the Founders at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, in 1787, would lead to a Civil War in which the rights of Indian tribes gave way to the virulent conflict over the issue of slavery.   It is one of American history's great ironies that its original champion of 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' Thomas Jefferson, was also a staunch states rights advocate whose ideological descendants in the South would seek to establish as separate government built on the principle that not all men are created equal.