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Political system that binds a group of states into a larger, noncentralized, superior state while allowing them to maintain their own political identities. Certain characteristics and principles are common to all successful federal systems: a written constitution or basic law stipulating the distribution of powers; diffusion of power among the constituent elements, which are substantially self-sustaining; and territorial divisions to ensure neutrality and equality in the representation of various groups and interests. Changes require the consent of those affected. Successful federal systems also have a sense of common nationality and direct lines of communication between the citizens and all the governments that serve them. Examples of modern federal systems include the U.S., Brazil, Germany, and Nigeria. See alsoFederalist papers; Federalist Party.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on federalism, visit Britannica.com.