FEDERAL GOVERNMENT (ante), a body-politic composed of the people of sev eral different and in some respects independent states, over which, in its own prescribed sphere, it exerts a supreme authority; while outside of that sphere the states and the people thereof are sovereign within their respective jurisdictions. The character of a federal government varies with the extent of its powers. The first form of "federal government" established in this country was that of the " Articles of Confederation," adopted during the war of the revolution, July 9, 1778. The separate colonies, finding some form of central government indispensable to the efficient prosecution of the war of independence, gave a reluctant consent to those articles, which, while the war lasted, and all felt the presence of a common danger, worked tolerably, though not without some embarrassing friction arising from notions of colonial or state sovereignty. But after the independence of the country was established, and the pressure of a com mon danger no longer existed, there was a disposition to exalt the state, and to depre ciate the national authority, which to some extent was regarded as a burden. The national government had no judicial tribunal to make an authoritative exposition of its powers, and no executive officers to enforce its decrees; it was entirely dependent upon the voluntary action of the states for means to carry on its operations; so that, in the language of Washington, it was "little more than a shadow without the substance," and " congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to." There was, in short,an utter want of all coercive authority on the part of the government to carry into effect its own constitutional measures. The, embarrassments growing out of this state of things were endured till 1787, when a convention of delegates from the several states was held in Philadelphia "for the purpose of revising the articles of confedera tion and reporting to congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provis ions therein as shall, when agreed to in congress and confirmed by the states, render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of the government and the preserva tion of the union." The convention encountered many difficulties arising from diver sities of opinion among its members, and from conflicting local interests, but finally succeeded in framing a constitution which the people of the several states finally ratified, and which, with various amendments, has continued to this day. From the time of its
adoption different theories of interpretation have prevailed, and these conflicting theo ries, to a greater or less extent, have determined the character and aims of political par ties. It has been contended on the one side that the union was merely a league between the several states in their organized capacity, and that each state had the right, at its pleasure, of withdrawing therefrom. On the other side it has been held that the union, instead of being the creation of the states, as such, was formed by " the people of the United States," acting indeed through their respective state organizations, but still as citizens of a common nationality. According to this theory no right of secession on the part of a state has any existence, but it is the right and the duty of the national gov ernment to maintain the union by force. This question was brought to an issue in the late rebellion, the slaveholding states seeking to exercise the assumed right of secession for the protection of slavery, and the non-slaveholding states taking up arms for the defense of the union. The results of the war are generally regarded as a vindication of the anti-secession theory, though there are still some disputed questions as to the rela tive powers of the national and state governments.
Another example of federal government is afforded in the Dominion of Canada, founded in 1867 by a union of the provinces of Canada West, Canada East. New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and afterwards enlarged by the addition of the provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia, the British territory, and Prince Edward island. These provinces have each its local legislature, while the government of the Dominion, essentially like that of the American union, extends over the whole territory. The government of the Dominion is administered by a governor-general appointed by and representing the British crown and exercising his authority with the aid of a council appointed by himself. The parliament consists of a senate of not more than 72 mem bers, appointed for life by the governor-general; and a house of commons of 180 mem bers, chosen by and representing the people of the several provinces. The different - cantons of Switzerland are united under a common government in a similar way.