This explanation of federalism and its significance is taken from my new, yet unpublished book.  I hope that it is useful to you.

It was clear from the beginning that Dr. Anita Cortright was a serious historian for she wasted no time with introductory humor or cute anecdotes.  Rather, she moved directly into the topic at hand.  Remaining at the podium where the sound system was most effective, her eyes moved back and forth across the audience creating the feeling that all were included.  Only occasionally did she glance down at the notes held neatly in the portfolio resting on the podium.  Reading glasses, held around her neck by a thin silver chain, were available but rarely needed.  It was apparent from her first words that she was thoroughly prepared.

“Many people,” she began, “have only a vague understanding of federalism.  This is unfortunate because freedom is fragile and federalism is freedom's most vigilant protector.  Stated simply yet accurately, federalism means that some powers are held by the national government, that is in Washington, while other powers are given to the individual states, thousands of counties, municipalities, and finally, as stated in the final words of the Tenth Amendment, to the people.  You see,” she continued, “the founders were convinced that governmental power is a threat to individual liberty; that the use of power must be limited; and that the division of power helps to restrict it thus preventing abuse.  Federalism allows local actions in matters of local concern while allowing national action in matters of wider concern.  This format acknowledges that, while some issues require a unified national response, other traditions, needs and desires vary widely from one region to another.”

Using these opening remarks as a springboard, she launched into the heart of her presentation touching on the specifics of delegated powers, powers reserved, concurrent powers, and powers denied.  Dr. Cortright was careful to clarify each power with specific examples.  One theme that threaded itself throughout the lecture was that the natural tension of federalism can be a healthy aspect of a democracy, or if the tension becomes too severe, it can lead to hostility-even violence.  The talk was strengthened with examples of historical events that included Madison's Federalist paper number forty eight, the presidential election of 1800 which she referred to as the Second American Revolution, the Hartford Convention, Calhoun and the Doctrine of Nullification, and the writings of Lord Acton.  As she spoke, Alvord Spring wished that he had brought along a pen and notebook.  There were so many details that he hope to pursue later.

When the lecture ended, Alvord felt as though he had received a civics lesson on a subject long absent from his thoughts.  It had helped that he had recently finished reading Thomas Bailey's History of the United States.  He left the room impressed by the speaker's knowledge and clarity. He was intrigued that she never once hinted at her personal views.  Exiting the room he picked up a pamphlet highlighting the work of the Center for Historical Studies.

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