Federal Government in challenging authority

Federal Government


The federal government is undoubtedly one of the most fundamental pillars of the United States. It is made up of the legislature, the executive and the judicially, all of which derive their powers and authority from the constitution, as well as the varied acts of the congress. Needless to say, the authority of the federal government has been expanding since time immemorial, so as to meet the dynamics of the society that it served or serves.  The expansion of the federal authority can be seen in varied events pertaining to the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Era.      Since the federal government derives its authority from the constitution, the expansion of its authority in the varied eras came through constitutional amendments.

One of the most fundamental expansions of the federal authority revolved around the 1865 Thirteenth Amendment, which underlined the abolishment of slavery, as well as the authorization of congress to make legislation enforcing the abolition. The 13th Amendment made the Emancipation Proclamation a law.  This most crucial political aspect of this amendment rests on its second part, which granted the United States’ congress powers to make legislation enforcing it (Piven, 2006). It is worth noting that the Supreme Court had previously opined that the Congress was deficient of powers of controlling slavery. This amendment, however, gave the congress this power, thereby allowing it to deal with the ten confederate states that rebelled at that time. The social aspects of this amendment revolve around the depiction of the incorporation of full civil rights. It exposed the discrepancy that existed between the laws of the land and the public opinion (Piven, 2006). As much as the slaves and their descendants could have or were entitled to the same rights as their white counterparts according to the law, they still underwent a different treatment until the coming of the civil right movement (Piven, 2006). On the same note, there 13th Amendment came with some economic implications especially considering that the agricultural businesses had to modify their manner of functioning due to the elimination of slave labor. The profit margins declined despite the low wages as the former slaves now could start their own enterprises or seek better opportunities elsewhere.

In addition, the federal government’s authority was considerably increased in 1913 by the Sixteenth Amendment. This amendment authorized the federal government to keep unallocated taxes instead of subdividing the taxes among the states as outlined in the constitution. The economic implications of this amendment were extremely pronounced thanks to the banking laws whose introductions allowed individuals to evade taxes legally through varied strategies including government bonds, retirement accounts, as well as medical savings accounts. On the same note, the amendment triggered some social changes thanks to the economic changes. In an effort to avoid paying taxes, people made some modifications on their spending habits and sought ways of sheltering their money (Piven, 2006). It is worth noting that the amendment also triggered the development of movements that questioned government expenditure and allocation of resources, with the Sixteenth Amendment being responsible for the enhanced quality of life. The expanded federal government authority had implications on the political structures as it gave the federal government powers that it did not have, something that negated the ruling of the Supreme Court (Piven, 2006). In fact, the amendment is credited with allowing the Internal Revenue Service to increase its staff over the subsequent years.

In conclusion, federal government has been a fundamental pillar of the United States. It has been deriving its authority from the constitution and the acts of congress. Over time, it has been expanding its authority to meet the dynamics of the day, with the expansion coming mainly from constitutional amendments. One of the most crucial instances where the federal government had its authority expanded was the enactment of 13th Amendment, which abolished slave trade. This gave congress powers to make legislation on the same, authority it didn’t have. It also affected production as slave labor reduced considerably, and exposed the discrepancies between the law and the realities on how slaves were treated. In addition, the federal government expanded its authority through the 16th Amendment of 1913, which allowed it to keep taxes instead of subdividing them among the states. This allowed individuals and corporate to come up with legal methods of avoiding taxes. It also altered spending habits of individuals, and had the political implication of giving the federal government powers it did not have. It led to the expansion of Internal Revenue Service staff over the years.




Piven, F. F. (2006). Challenging authority: How ordinary people change America. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.


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