Study Notes

Cooperative Federalism 1930s-1970s

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 2 Jun 2017

Federalism, as an ever changing concept, morphed from Dual Federalism into Cooperative Federalism from the 1930s through to the 1970s.

Under Cooperative Federalism the federal government saw a huge expansion in its role. During this period the majority of Presidents were Democrats with the exception of Dwight D Eisenhower. Showcasing the huge expansion in the role of the federal government was the introduction of a large number of federal departments. During this period of federalism, the departments of Defence (1949), Health, Education and Welfare (1953) and Transportation (1966) were all created and added to the Cabinet.


If an expansion of the federal government wasn’t enough to change the relationship the grant system for states was also changed. Instead of money merely being provided for states to spend, the federal government increased the use of categorical grants. Categorical grants are amounts of money given to the states by the federal government for specific projects such as education or transport for example. The theory being the use of categorical grants is that the federal government can enforce federal law through offering money for projects that states want. An example would be, the federal government may wish to implement a new national examination for all students aged 14. One method of ensuring compliance would be to offer money for new school buildings in states on the condition that states enforced the new national exams.


Whereas under dual federalism, the division of political power was clear cut, under cooperative federalism the division becomes less clear. In some areas, the federal government would have more powers, whereas in others it would be the states, yet this division would not be uniform across the country, nor time. It may change between presidents with different agendas utilizing differing policy areas. Therefore, cooperative federalism is known as ‘marble cake’ federalism.

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