GED Social Studies Practice Test: United States Government – Federal, State and Local Government


Federalism is a type of government in which the central government (federal government) and the states share power in running the whole country. The United States government has federalism built into it. State governments have their own powers as outlined by the U.S. Constitution. There are certain powers that only the states have, such as running education within their state. However, there are also certain powers reserved only for the federal government such as making treaties with foreign nations.

The Framers of the Constitution recognized that the 13 colonies that became states were there before any meaningful central government. Still, experience demonstrated that letting the states do more or less as they pleased, with only a weak central government (the Articles of Confederation), had been a disaster. States wages trade wars with each other, ignored the central government’s directives, and did more or less as they pleased. It is telling that the introduction to the Articles of Confederation begins “We the States” while the Constitution’s Preamble (introduction) begins:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic

tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty

to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

There is no mention of the states in the beginning. It’s clear the Framers had in mind a role for the states but the central government was designed to be first among equals. Louisiana or Nebraska, for example, may not like what the federal government does, but it is bound to obey its actions.


Federal. State and Local Government

The United States Government is generally broken up into three parts: (1) Federal, (2) State, and (3) Local.

  1. Federal: The federal government is the central government located in the U.S. Capital, Washington, D.C. It oversees the entire country to a certain extent. It has the power to do things such as make treaties with other countries, regulate currency (the dollar), create federal laws, etc. It’s powers, however, are limited as the state governments have powers of their own. Overall, the powers granted to each level of government are dictated by the U.S. Constitution.
  2. State: The United States is currently made up of fifty states, excluding territories. Each state has its own government and laws. For instance, the state of Florida has its own governor who serves as executive or leader of that state. Florida also passes it’s own laws, just as long as they don’t conflict with federal laws. That is, some state laws can be more strict than federal laws as they’re still meeting the minimum requirements of federal laws. However, state laws generally cannot be more lenient than federal laws as the federal laws would be violated at that point. Sometimes, however, conflicting state and federal laws can be a matter of debate, especially if both sides feel as though their law making powers take precedence over the other. After all, this exact principle contributed to causing the American Civil War as state governments felt that the federal government did not have the authority to end slavery within each particular state.
  3. Local: Lastly, there are local governments that control towns and cities within each state. Like a president at the federal level, and a governor at the state level, a city at the local level has a mayor. Cities can also make their own laws, just as long as those laws do not interfere with federal or state laws.
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