Copyright

What is a Federal Government? - Definition, Powers & Benefits

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Political Party: Definition, Function, Organization & Mobilization

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Definition of a…
  • 1:35 Benefits of a Federal…
  • 2:34 Division of Power
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels.

A federal government is a system that divides up power between a strong national government and smaller local governments. We'll take a look at how power plays out between the national and local government, and the benefits of a federal government.

Definition of a Federal Government

Are you a fan of Hollywood cop films? If you are, you may know that a common plot line in these movies is jurisdiction friction, or when some kind of tension between local police (usually the hero) and federal investigators (usually the antagonist) takes place over who has control of an investigation. Take, for example, the film Rush Hour. In this movie, an LAPD police officer (Chris Tucker) tries to help a fellow Chinese cop (Jackie Chan) find the abducted daughter of the Chinese Ambassador to America. While they face many road blocks, one of the biggest obstacles in their investigation is the FBI, which orders Tucker and Chan to stop their investigation because it is outside of local jurisdiction and a matter of federal jurisdiction.

What this common Hollywood plot line reveals is the nature of a federal government. A federal government is a system of dividing up power between a central national government and local state governments that are connected to one another by the national government. Some areas of public life are under the control of the national government, and some areas are under control of the local governments. For this reason, cop films like to create drama by making the federal government and local government bump heads over who should be investigating the crime at hand. Federal government systems usually have a constitution that specifies what areas of public life the national government will take control over and what areas of public life the state governments will take control over.

Benefits of A Federal Government

Why does the United States have a federal government but not Great Britain? The answer has to do with size. Federal governments are best used in large countries where there exists a diverse group of people with diverse needs but a common culture that unites them together.

For example, think of the difference between Wyoming (the least densely populated state) and New Jersey (the most densely populated state). Clearly, the needs at the local level of each state will be different, so they should have different local governments to address those needs. Nonetheless, both states share a common culture and interest and, therefore, are united by the national government.

Federal governments help address the wide variety of needs of a geographically large country. It is no wonder, then, that federal governments exist in large countries, like the United States, Mexico, Germany, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and others.

Federal Government in the United States: Division of Power

In the United States, the Constitution created the federal system by limiting the activities of the national government to a few areas, such as collecting taxes, providing for defense, borrowing money on credit, regulating commerce, creating a currency, establishing post offices and post roads, granting patents, creating lower courts, and declaring war. The 10th amendment of the Constitution, on the other hand, gave all other powers to the states. As a result, any specific power not given to the Federal government is a power of the state government. The chart explains which powers are given to the federal government and which are given to state governments.

federalism

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account
Support