Slavery and Federalism

The emphasis on natural rights and freedom during the American
Revolution and its aftermath that resulted in the formation of an
independent United States of America contradicted sharply with the
institution of slavery that existed in the country at the time. It was,
thus, logical that slavery should an important issue in American politics
during the 19th century. While the industrialized Northern states set about
abolishing slavery from their territories after the revolution, the
agricultural South whose economy depended on slave labor was adamant to
retain slavery. Several attempts were made to reconcile the differences but
the issue of slavery proved too hot to handle, and ultimately led to the
secession of the Southern states and the Civil War between the North and
the South in 1861. This essay examines the impact of slavery upon
federalism in the United States with particular emphasis on the Missouri
Compromise of 1820, Compromise Measures of 1854 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Federalism and Slavery
The United States began as a confederation[1] with a weak central
government that ruled the country from 1783 to 1789 under the Articles of
Confederation. There was no chief executive or central body to enforce the
provisions of the articles or even to impose taxes. Individual states
imposed heavy taxes on inter-state commerce that virtually paralyzed the
functioning of the government. As a result, the need for a stronger central
government was realized. The Constitutional Convention in 1787 resulted in
the framing of the US Constitution in which the broad principles of
Federalism (i.e., the formation of a strong central government without
trampling the rights of the states) were laid.
The delicate balancing act performed by the framers of the US
constitution between the powers of the federal government and the states,
left quite a few grey…


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