Compare and contrast governments that are unitary, confederate, and federal.




House of Commons, London
House of Commons, London


primary_sources.PNGBasic Forms of Governmentfrom the CIA World Factbook.

  • This is includes a nation-by-nation listing of all the nations in the world.
  • Includes links from the listing to fact page about each country.


Here is a video showing a very basic comparison between the three, using an island metaphor!


Knesset Building, Home of the Israeli Parliament
Knesset Building, Home of the Israeli Parliament



Unitary Form of Government: Governmental power is consolidated in the central government.
An example of a Unitary Form of Government is The United Kingdom.

China is traditionally considered a unitary state, but this opinion article discusses how China might benefit from federalism, over their current model.

Confederate Form of Government: States form a centralized government with limited power
An example of a Confederate Form of Government would be the United States during the Articles of Confederation (1783-1789).
  • Under the Articles of Confederation, each state had the power to make their own laws, limiting the power of the centralized government. The purpose was to prevent the state from becoming too powerful, like Great Britain, while still providing the 13 Colonies with a unified defense system.
  • The ultimate flaw with the Articles of Confederation was that each state had too much individual power; and the centralized government did not have enough.


Federal Form of Government: Governmental power is shared between the central government and the states
The current United States Government is an example of a Federal Form of Government.

  • The United States has a centralized government in Washington, D.C. which is comprised of the three branches of government (For more information on the 3 United States Branches of Government, click here), the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative, but each state also has it's own smaller scale version of that governmental system.
  • The Constitution outlines the duties of the centralized government, and the Tenth Amendment of the Bill of Rights establishes that any powers not given to the Federal government belong to the states and the people. Basically the states in many ways are under the authority of the federal government, but they still have some degree of autonomy over a lot of things.
    • For example, the states have authority over the drinking age in each territory. In 1984, the United States Federal Government passed a law which ordered the Secretary of Transportation to withhold 5% of a state's federal highway funds, unless they raised the drinking age to 21.
      • In the court case South Dakota v. Dole, South Dakota argued that this was a violation of state sovereignty, in light of the Twenty-First Amendment and brought the Secretary of Transportation at the time, Elizabeth Dole, to court.
        • The courts decided that the Federal Government using its authority to "encourage" state decisions, was not out of bounds, or a violation of either the Tenth or Twenty-first Amendment, since the legislation was in pursuit of the general welfare of the country, and the funds represented by 5% were not unduly coercive.


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