Dual federalism

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Dual federalism, a legal theory which has prevailed in the United States since 1787, is the belief that the United States consists of two separate and co-sovereign branches of government. This form of government works on the principle that the national and state governments are split into their own spheres, and each is supreme within its respective sphere. Specifically, dual federalism discusses the relationship between the national government and the states' governments. According to this theory, there are certain limits placed on the federal government. These limits are:

  1. National government rules by enumerated powers only.
  2. National government has a limited set of constitutional purposes.
  3. Each governmental unit—state and federal—is sovereign within its sphere of operations.
  4. Relationship between nation and states is best summed up as tension rather than cooperation.


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