At a Glance:
Year became a federation: 1781
Current constitution in force since: 1788
Constituent units: 50 states, 1 federal district, 2 federacies, 3 associated states, 3 local home-rule territories, 3 unincorporated territories, and 130 Native American domestic independent nations.
Head of State: President
Head of Government: President
United States of America
Our work in the United States
Starting in 2003 the Forum has worked with local partners in the United States to organize learning events on critical issues ranging from meeting the needs of local governments to ways of managing oil and gas in federal systems.
Federalism in the United States
The constitution of the United States has been amended 27 times since 1789, and its federal system has been copied by other countries. Changes in the federal system today are likely to arise from new programs or agencies that are shared between Washington and the states, from Medicare to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The United States began after the 13 American colonies formed a confederation and declared independence in from Britain 1776. Shortly after gaining independence, without a strong central government, tensions and differences began to pull the states apart. This led to a 1787 convention that produced a federation with a constitution that survives to this day.
In 1789, the U.S. adopted what was then a unique form of government structured according to principles of federalism. A battle over ratification between federalists and anti-federalists led to key constitutional changes known as the Bill of Rights.
The 1803 Louisiana Purchase vastly increased the country’s territory, sparking westward expansion. The Civil War of 1861-65 over slavery had a critical impact on federalism as the national government asserted its responsibility to uphold the Union.
Federalism was redefined by the two world wars and U.S. emergence as a world power, The national government’s authority, particularly the presidency, grew substantially.
The constitution has remained a subject of contestation, especially the distribution of powers between Washington and the states – most recently strains imposed by the growing federal role in security since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
* Development assistance program countries