FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (Lat. foedus, a league), a form of government of which the essential principle is that there is a union of two or more states under one central body for certain permanent common objects. In the most perfect form of federation the states agree to delegate to a supreme federal government certain powers or functions inherent in themselves in their sovereign or separate capacity, and the federal government, in turn, in the exercise of those specific powers acts directly, not only on the communities making up the federation, but on each individual citizen. So far as concerns the residue of powers unallotted to the central or federal authority, the separate states retain unimpaired their individual sovereignty, and the citizens of a federation consequently owe a double allegiance, one to the state, and the other to the federal government. They live under two sets of laws, the laws of the state and the laws of the federal government (J. Bryce, Studies in History and Jurisprudence, ii. 490). The word "confederation," as distinct from "federation" has been sometimes, though not universally, used to distinguish from such a federal state (Bundesstaat) a mere union of states (Staatenbund) for mutual aid, and the promotion of interests common to all (see Confederation).
The history of federal government practically begins with Greece. This, however, is due to the fact that the Greek federations are the only ones of which we have any detailed information. The obvious importance, especially to scattered villages or tribes, of systematic joint action in the face of a common danger makes it reasonable to infer that federation in its elementary forms was a widespread device. This view is strengthened by what we can gather of the conditions obtaining in such districts as Aetolia, Acarnania and Samnium, as in modern times among primitive peoples and tribes. The relatively detailed information which we possess concerning the federal governments of Greece makes it necessary to pay special attention to them.
In ancient Greece the most striking tendency of political development was the maintenance of separate city states, each striving for absolute autonomy, though all spoke practically the same language and shared to some extent in the same traditions, interests and dangers. This centrifugal tendency is most marked in the cases of the more important states, Athens, Sparta, Argos, Corinth, but Greek history is full of examples of small states deliberately sacrificing what must have been obvious commercial advantage for the sake of a precarious autonomy. Such examples as existed of even semi-federal union were very loose in structure, and the selfishness of the component units was the predominant feature. Thus the Spartan hegemony in the Peloponnese was not really a federation except in the broadest sense. The states did, it is true, meet occasionally for discussion, but their relation, which had no real existence save in cases of immediate common danger, was really that between a paramount leader and unwilling and suspicious allies. The Athenian empire again was a thinly disguised autocracy. The synod (see Delian League) of the "allies" soon degenerated into a mere form; of comprehensive united policy there was none, at all events after the League had achieved its original purpose of expelling the Persians from Europe.
None the less it is possible, even in the early days of political development in Greece, to find some traces of a tendency towards united action. Thus the unions of individual villages, known as synoecisms, such as took place in Attica and Elis in early times were partly of a federal character: they resulted in the establishment of a common administration, and no doubt in some degree of commercial and military unity. On the other hand, it is likely that these unions lacked the characteristic of federation in that the units could hardly be described as having any sovereign power: at the most they had some municipal autonomy as in the case of the Cleisthenic demes. The union was rather national than federal. Again the Amphictyonic unions had one of the characteristic elements of federation, namely that they were free sovereign states combining for a particular purpose with an elaborate system of representation (see Amphictyony). But these unions, at all events in historic times, were mainly concerned with religion, and the authority of the councils did not seriously affect the autonomy of the individual states.
Thus among the city-states as well as among scattered villages the principle of cohesion was not unknown. On the other hand the golden mean between an easily dissoluble relationship, more like an alliance than a federation, and a national system resulting from synoecism was practically never attained in early Greek history. There are, however, examples in Greece proper, and one, Lycia in Asia Minor, of real federal unions. The chief Greek federations were those of Thessaly, Boeotia, Acarnania, Olynthus, Arcadia, Aetolia, Achaea, the most important as well as the most complete in respect of organization being the Aetolian League and the Achaean League.
1. The Thessalian League originated in the deliberate choice by village aristocracies of a single monarch who belonged from time to time to several of the so-called Heracleid families. Soon after the Persian War this monarchy (dynasty of the Aleuadae, Herod, v. 63 and vii. 6) disappeared, and in 424 we find Athens in alliance with a sort of democratic federal council representing (cf. Thuc. i. 102, ii. 22, iv. 78), and probably composed of delegates from the towns. The local feudal nobles, however, seem to have put an end to this government by council, and a dictator (tagus) was appointed, with authority over the whole military force of the federation. Three such officers, Lycophron, Jason and Alexander, all of Pherae, endeavoured vainly to administer the collective affairs of the federation, the last by means of a revived republican council. The final failure of this scheme coincided with the disappearance of Thessaly as a sovereign state (see Thessaly).
2. The form and the history of the Boeotian federation are treated fully under Boeotia (q.v.). It may probably have originated in religious associations, but the guiding power throughout was the imperial policy of Thebes, especially during its short-lived supremacy after 379 B.C.
3. The federation of Acarnania is of peculiar interest as being formed by scattered villages or tribes, without settled, still less fortified, habitation. In the early part of the 4th century a met at Stratus (Xen. Hell. iv. 6. 4). Late in the same century towns began to form, without, however, disturbing the federation, which existed as late as the 2nd century B.C., governed by a representative council , and a common assembly at which any citizen might be present.
4. The foundation of the Olynthian federation was due to the need of protection against the northern invaders (see Olynthus). It was in many respects based on liberal principles, but Olynthus did not hesitate to exercise force against recalcitrants such as Acanthus.
5. The 4th century Arcadian league, which was no doubt a revival of an older federation, was the result of the struggle for supremacy between Thebes and Sparta. The defeat of Sparta at Leuctra removed the pressure which had kept separate the Arcadian tribes, and was established in the new city, Megalopolis (q.v., also Arcadia).
6 and 7. The Aetolian and Achaean leagues (see Aetolia, and Achaean League) were in all respects more important than the preceding and constitute a new epoch in European politics. Both belong to a period in Greek history when the great city states had exhausted themselves in the futile struggle against Macedon and Rome, and both represent a conscious popular determination in the direction of systematic government. This characteristic is curious in the Aetolian tribes which were famous in all time for habitual brigandage; there was, however, among them the strong link of a racial feeling. The governing council was the permanent representative body; there was also a popular assembly , partly of a primary, partly of a representative kind, any one being free to attend, but each state having only one official representative and one vote. Of all the federal governments of Greece, this league was the most certainly democratic in constitution. There was a complete system of federal officers, at the head of whom was a Strategus entrusted with powers both military and civil. This officer was annually elected, and, though the chief executive authority, was strictly limited in the federal deliberations to presidential functions (cf. Livy xxxv. 25, "ne praetor, quum de bello consuluisset, ipse sententiam diceret"). The Achaean League was likewise highly organized; joint action was strictly limited, and the individual cities had sovereign power over internal affairs. There were federal officers, all the military forces of the cities were controlled by the league, and federal finance was quite separate from city finance.
8. Of the Lycian federation, its origin and duration, practically nothing is known. We know of it in 188-168 B.C. as dependent on Rhodes, and, from 168 till the time when the emperor Claudius absorbed it in the provincial system, as an independent state under Roman protection. The federation was a remarkable example of a typical Hellenic development among a non-Hellenic people. Strabo (p. 665) informs us that the federation, composed of twenty-three cities, was governed by a council which assembled from time to time at that city which was most convenient for the purpose in hand. The cities were represented according to size by one, two or three delegates, and bore proportionate shares in financial responsibility. The Lycian league was, therefore, in this respect rather national than federal.
Of ancient federal government outside Greece we know very little. The history of Italy supplies a few examples, of which the chief is perhaps the league of the cities of Latium (q.v.; see also Etruria).
See E.A. Freeman, Federal Government in Greece and Rome (2nd ed., 1893, J.B. Bury), and works quoted in the special articles.
Among the later European confederations the Swiss republic is one of the most interesting. As now constituted it consists of twenty-two sovereign states or cantons. The government is vested in two legislative chambers, a senate or council of state (Ständerat), and a national council (Nationalrat), constituting unitedly the federal assembly. The executive council (Bundesrat) of seven members elects the president and vice-president for a term of three years (see Switzerland: Government). Before the French Revolution the German empire was a complex confederation, with the states divided into electoral colleges, consisting - (1) of the ecclesiastical electors and of the secular electors, including the king of Bohemia; (2) of the spiritual and temporal princes of the empire next in rank to the electors; and (3) of the free imperial cities. The emperor was elected by the first college alone. This imposing confederation came to an end by the conquests of Napoleon; and the Confederation of the Rhine was established in 1806 with the French emperor as protector. But in 1815 the Germanic confederation (Deutscher Bund) was established by the congress of Vienna, which in its turn has been displaced by the present German empire. This, in its new organization, conferred on Germany the long-coveted unity and coherence the lack of which had been a source of weakness. The constitution dates, in its latest form, from the treaties entered into at Versailles in 1871. A federation was then organized with the king of Prussia as president, under the hereditary title of German emperor. Delegates of the various federated governments form the Bundesrath; the Reichstag, or popular assembly, is directly chosen by the people by universal suffrage; and the two assemblies constitute the federal parliament. This body has power to legislate for the whole empire in reference to all matters connected with the army, navy, postal service, customs, coinage, etc., all political laws affecting citizens, and all general questions of commerce, navigation, passports, etc. The emperor represents the federation in all international relations, with the chancellor as first minister of the empire, and has power, with consent of the Bundesrath, to declare war in name of the empire.
The United States of America more nearly resembles the Swiss confederacy, though retaining marks of its English origin. The original thirteen states were colonies wholly independent of each other. By the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union adopted by the Continental Congress in 1777, and in effect in 1781-1789, the states bound themselves in a league of common defence. By the written Constitution, drafted in 1787 and in operation since 1789, a stronger and more centralized union was established - in theory a federal republic formed by the voluntary combination of sovereign states. A common citizenship was recognized for the whole union; but the federal government was to exercise only such powers as were expressly delegated to it (Amendment of 1791). The powers of the central government are entrusted to three distinct authorities - executive, legislative and judicial. The president, elected for a term of four years by electors chosen for that purpose by each state, is the executive head of the republic. The vice-president, ex officio president of the Senate, assumes the presidency in case of resignation or death. Legislative power is vested in a Congress, consisting of two Houses: a Senate, composed of two members elected by each state for a term of six years; and a House of Representatives, consisting of representatives in numbers proportionate to the population of each state, holding their seats for two years. The supreme judicial authority is vested in a Supreme Court, which consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices, all appointed for life by the president, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The extension of responsible constitutional government by Great Britain to her chief colonies, under a governor or viceregal representative of the crown, has been followed in British North America by the union of the Canadian, maritime and Pacific provinces under a federal government - with a senate, the members of which are nominated by the crown, and a house of commons elected by the different provinces according to their relative population. The governor-general is appointed by the crown for a term of five years, and represents the sovereign in all matters of federal government. The lieutenant-governors of the provinces are nominated by him; and all local legislation is carried on by the provincial parliaments. The remarkable federation of the Dominion of Canada which was thus originated presented the unique feature of a federal union of provinces practically exercising sovereign rights in relation to all local self-government, and sustaining a constitutional autonomy, while cherishing the colonial relationship to Great Britain.
The Commonwealth of Australia (q.v.), proclaimed in 1901, is another interesting example of self-governing states federating into a united whole. There is, however, a striking difference to be observed in the powers of the federal governments of Canada and Australia. The federal parliament of Canada has jurisdiction over all matters not specially assigned to the local legislatures, while the federal parliament of Australia has only such jurisdiction as is expressly vested in it or is not expressly withdrawn from the local legislatures. This jurisdiction is undoubtedly extensive, comprising among others, power to legislate concerning trade and industry, criminal law, taxation, quarantine, marriage and divorce, weights and measures, legal tender, copyrights and patents, and naturalization and aliens. There was also an early attempt to federate the South African colonies, and an act was passed for that purpose (South African Act 1877), but it expired on the 18th of August 1882, without having been brought into effect by the sovereign in council; in 1908, however, the Closer Union movement (see South Africa) ripened, and in 1909 a federating Act was successfully passed.
See also Bluntschli, The Theory of the State; W. Wilson, The State; Wheaton, International Law.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)