The American legal system was shaped during the period when the colonies
were governed by England. Each of the original 13 colonies had its own
government and colonial governor and answered independently to the Crown.
With the Declaration of Independence, they became separate nations with
complete control over their legal affairs. They first joined together under the
Articles of Confederation to fight the Revolutionary War. This was a very weak
federation because the colonies did not want to give up any of their powers.
They came close to losing the war because the central government could not
force the individual colonies to provide troops and supplies. This experience
caused the colonies to realize that they could not stand against the European
powers without a stronger central government. The result was the U.S.
Constitution, in which the federal government was given the power to deal
with foreign governments and to resolve disputes between the states. The
states retained many powers, including the right to run their state
governments with only limited interference from the federal government.
Although the federal government has inexorably increased its power at the
expense of the states, the states still retain substantial power, especially in
regard to public health delivery.