fed·​er·​al·​ism | \ ˈfe-d(ə-)rə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce federalism (audio) \

Definition of federalism

1a often capitalized : the distribution of power in an organization (such as a government) between a central authority and the constituent (see constituent entry 2 sense 1) units under our system of federalism, states bear the primary responsibility for defining and controlling criminal behavior— W. R. LaFave & J. R. Israel — compare centralism
b : support or advocacy of this principle
2 capitalized : Federalist principles

Examples of federalism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Abiy became prime minister in 2018, promising a fairer division of power among Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups as well as a move toward a unified Ethiopian identity, rather than the ethnic federalism favored by the TPLF. Washington Post, 2 Nov. 2021 These waivers are being jeopardized by the Biden administration, which has signaled its suspicions of health-care federalism. Ross Marchand, National Review, 3 Mar. 2022 That variety is itself a strength, akin to that of American federalism. Christopher Demuth, WSJ, 4 Feb. 2022 If enacted, this would infringe the freedom of interstate travel and effectively gut the jurisprudence of federalism, which denies the legitimacy of extraterritorial criminal law. Damon Linker, The Week, 25 Mar. 2022 However, the matter before the court is the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which does not present the same federalism issue. Albert C. Lin, The Conversation, 17 Feb. 2022 But when pressure turns into compulsion, the legislation runs contrary to our system of federalism. Dan Mclaughlin, National Review, 16 Feb. 2022 Beyond federalism concerns, which tend to fluctuate according to partisan interests, most Republican objections revolve around suspicions of fraud. Samuel Goldman, The Week, 13 Jan. 2022 The unity government has also proposed federalism as a way to reach out to the country’s ethnic groups. New York Times, 6 Dec. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'federalism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of federalism

1787, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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The first known use of federalism was in 1787

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Dictionary Entries Near federalism

federal funds



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Last Updated

8 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Federalism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/federalism. Accessed 19 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for federalism


noun, often capitalized
fed·​er·​al·​ism | \ ˈfe-drə-ˌli-zəm, ˈfe-də-rə- How to pronounce federalism (audio) \

Legal Definition of federalism

: distribution of power in a federation between the central authority and the constituent units (as states) involving especially the allocation of significant lawmaking powers to those constituent units — compare comity, full faith and credit, states' rights

More from Merriam-Webster on federalism

Nglish: Translation of federalism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about federalism


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