States Can't Fight Coronavirus on Their Own—And the Founding Fathers Knew ItRoundup
tags: national emergency, founders, Federalism
Lindsay M. Chervinsky is a historian at the White House Historical Association. Her book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, will be published by Harvard University Press on April 7.
The United States currently faces an unprecedented crisis caused by the international pandemic. The nation has the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world and the numbers are rising exponentially. Many governors have led the offensive against the novel coronavirus in their own states, including notably California’s Gavin Newsom, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Maryland’s Larry Hogan. They have pulled out all the stops acquiring protective gear for medical workers, purchasing ventilators for patients and ordering strict shelter-in-place measures to slow the spread of the virus.
But the virus is not attacking one state at a time. Scarce resources, which are common during pandemics and crises of this magnitude, have challenged coordination efforts and increased competition. It’s a problem the nation’s founders could have foreseen. After all, they knew from experience that some problems can’t be dealt with on a state-by-state basis.
During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress had passed a new governing document called the Articles of Confederation. After declaring independence from the British monarchy, the congressmen were fearful of strong central governments and they overcorrected a bit. Under their new system, Congress had little authority to coordinate the states’ diplomatic, military or economic efforts. Congress could pass requisitions, which were basically requests for money from the states. They had no power to enforce compliance, however, so the states frequently ignored the appeals from Congress. Furthermore, the states frequently competed with each other for land, passed taxes that harmed each other and pursued conflicting diplomatic agendas.
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