American Preference to Local Government and Americans Traditional Distrust of Centralized Government Term Paper

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American Mistrust of Centralized Government

This is a paper written in APA style that examines the traditional preference that Americans have for local government, the traditional distrust they have of centralized government, and the reasons behind these phenomena.

Local Government: A Traditional American Preference

There is a strong traditional preference for local government over centralized government in this country. This preference goes back all the way to the beginnings of our nation and can be plainly seen in the debates between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists over the ratification of the Constitution. It can still be seen going strong today in the never-ending cry of politicians to put an end to "big government." There is an obvious distrust for centralized government in this country, and our political history and current political climate proves this time and time again. Yet what are the reasons for this preference for local government and distrust of centralized government in this country? How can current public administrators use this information to their advantage? Are these feelings likely to ever change in this country? These are the questions that this paper will examine and answer.

The traditional distrust of the American people for centralized government is evident in the form that our first government took after the Revolution. By the time the Revolution was over, the Founding Fathers had in place a constitution to govern the new nation; this constitution was called the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation set up a very loose alliance between the states, with a weak central government to sort of oversee affairs between the states. This central government had no real power other than what the states gave it, and was most ineffective. The states essentially became their own separate nations, each with the power to do as it pleased, including producing its own currency and declaring war on other countries or other states on its own. The central government was merely a figurehead, an administrative body which did the bidding of the states on the occasions on which the states had to get together to accomplish something jointly. There was no chief executive in this central government, and only one house of Congress. In order for motions to be passed in this Congress, the vote had to be unanimous, and each state got only one vote, regardless of its population. As a result, it was practically impossible for this central government to get anything done, and it certainly never got anything done that had the real force of law behind it. It was impossible, as the states each had sovereign power.

Yet, in spite of the obvious weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, the Founding Fathers were reluctant to change them. The American people, too, were reluctant to make a change, no matter how obviously it was needed. This was because of the deep-seated mistrust of centralized government that was instilled in the hearts of the American people. The people were afraid that making the central government stronger would be a threat to their freedoms and liberties. The general consensus in the nation at that time was that if the central government were to become stronger than the states, then it would have the power to take away freedoms, and would most likely do so. All of the states had their own constitutions that protected the freedoms of the people, so the people were more trustful of their own state governments, and preferred that these governments continue to provide the governing.

Where did this mistrust of centralized government come from? The answer is pretty obvious. The roots of the mistrust of centralized government among the American people goes all the way back to the first days of colonization of the North American continent. When the first colonists sailed from England to America, they did so under charters that granted them the right to set up governments wherever they settled, and to create their own rules for the people to follow. Since England was so far away at this time, the king realized the difficulties that would lie in trying to govern the colonies from England, and decided that he really had more pressing concerns at home than to worry about a bunch of colonists across the ocean. The colonists were granted a remarkable degree of autonomy in their colonies, and they began to be used to self-rule. As a part of this self-rule, most of the colonies embraced the idea of personal freedom and individualism, and made these principles a part of their way of life.

However, this freedom was not to last. By the end of the seventeenth century, England had been through a civil war, lost its monarchy, and then had it restored. The new king wanted to have more control over the colonies. As such, he began to revoke charters and impose imperial rule through the stationing of British soldiers in the colonies. Subsequent monarchs followed the same idea regarding the colonies. It was not long before the colonists, who were so used to personal freedom, found themselves under the rule of a distant monarchy that seemed intent on destroying these freedoms. This whittling away of freedoms went on for some time. Taxation was a big issue, as the colonists were being taxed by England without having the benefit of any representation in Parliament. The forced quartering of soldiers in private homes was also a big point of contention. Random searches of private homes and wanton seizures of property by the soldiers enraged many, but became a regular practice of the Crown. These injustices, and others, went on for decades. Eventually, new generations were born who never knew the freedom of their forefathers. However, this desire for freedom, and mistrust for the Crown, was instilled in these new generations, so that they too harbored the same sentiments regarding freedom as did their fathers and grandfathers. It was these new generations, brought up to love freedom and hate the Crown without ever having experienced life without the rule of England for themselves, that sowed the seeds of discontent that led to the American Revolution.

The fight between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists over the ratification of the Constitution is another example of the powerful mistrust of centralized government that the American people held (and still hold). When it was finally determined that the Articles of Confederation had to be revised (as the weak central government was causing much havoc and confusion in the country), there was still no thought of actually changing the entire form of the government. The original idea was to only make a few changes that would enable the central government to operate more smoothly. However, once the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787 and started to suggest changes, it became obvious that the whole document needed to be revised. Soon, the Founding Fathers had come up with an entirely new Constitution that had created a very strong and powerful centralized government, and made this central government more powerful than the states. In fact, under this new constitution, the states were subject to the will of the federal government, something that had not been the case under the Articles of Confederation. Though the Constitution also adopted a principle of federalism -- a sharing of power between the national government and the states -- it was also made clear in the Constitution that the states could not make any laws for themselves that went against federal law. This was formalized in the National Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

While many of the Founding Fathers thought that the new Constitution was wonderful and just what the country needed, there were others who were horrified at the thought of having such a powerful centralized government in the United States. Thomas Jefferson was one of these people who though that the Constitution was a bad idea. He believed that the country was best run when it was governed the least, and he felt that the future of the country lay in independent farmers eking out their own living and doing things in their own way. He valued independence for the common man, and felt that the Constitution threatened this independence. It was not long before the country was divided into two camps -- the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists supported the Constitution, while the Anti-Federalists were against it. A struggle between these two groups ensued over getting the Constitution ratified.

One of the biggest problems the Anti-Federalists had with the Constitution was that it did not have a Bill of Rights to formally protect the rights of the citizens from being trampled upon by the government. The Federalists thought that such a Bill of Rights was unnecessary. They felt that the values of freedom and liberty that the nation was built upon were so well-ingrained into the hearts and minds of the people that there would be no question that these rights would be upheld by the government. The government, after all, was to be…

Sources Used in Document:


Articles of Confederation. Philadelphia, PA. 1782.

Colonial Charters." (2000). Kuyper Institute. Retrieved on December 3, 2003 at

Colonial Government." (2000). USGenNet. Retrieved on December 3, 2003 at

Colonial Government." (2001). USA History. Retrieved on December 3, 2003 at

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