Chapter 3: The Constitution
Section 1: The Six Basic Principles
The Constitution was founded on six basic principles.
In this section, you will examine these six principles, and how they are
embodied in the Constitution, and understand their bearing on the workings
of the United States government. The six basic principles are: popular
sovereignty; limited government; separation of powers; checks and balances;
judicial review; and federalism
B. Popular Sovereignty
1. Recall that in the United States, all political
power belongs to the people, who are sovereign.
C. Limited Government
Sovereignty: Basic principle of the American
system of government; that the people are the only source of any and all
governmental power, that government must be conducted with the consent
of the governed.
2. Government can govern only with the consent of
3. Sovereign people created the Constitution and
the government, both federal and state.
4. The Preamble:
"We the People of the United States, in Order
to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure
the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and
establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
1. Limited Government is the principle that holds
that government may do only those things that the people have given it
the power to do.
D. Separation of Powers
Basic principle of the American system of government; that government is
limited in what it may do, and each individual has certain rights that
government cannot take away. 2.The government and its officers are always
subject to the law.
2. Constitution is a statement of limited government.
Reading it, displays explicit prohibitions of power to government. SeeArticle
I, 9 and 10 (pp. 730-31); the 1st through the 10th Amendments (pp.
736-38); and the 13th, 14th, 15th (pp. 738-39), 19th (p. 740), 24th
(pp. 741-42), and 26th Amendments (pp. 742).
Basic principle of American system of government that government is conducted
according to constitutional principles, i.e., that those who govern are
bound by the fundamental law.
Rule of Law:
Concept that government and its officers are always subject to -- never
above -- the law.
E. Checks and Balances
of Powers: Basic principle of the American
System of government, that the executive, legislative, and judicial powers
are divided among three independent and coequal branches of government.
1. Recall previous discussions regarding differences
between parliamentary system (power in one central agency) and presidential
system (three branches).
2. The Constitution distributes the powers of
the National Government among Congress (legislative branch), the President
(executive branch), and the courts (judicial branch).
3. The Framers of the Constitution created a separation
of powers in order to limit the powers of the government and to prevent
tyranny -- too much power in the hands of one person or a few people.
4. James Madison wrote, "The accumulation of all
powers...in the same hands...may be pronounced as the very definition of
tyranny," he was arguing on behalf of the principle of separation of powers.
1. Each branch of government is subject to a
number of constitutional restraints by the other branches. This is the
concept of "checks and balances."
F. Judicial Review
Balances: System of overlapping the powers
of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, to permit each branch
to check the actions of the others.
2. Although there have been instances of spectacular
clashes between branches, usually the branches of government restrain themselves
as they attempt to achieve their goals.
3. For example, it is this constitutional principle
that when the Senate confirms or rejects the President's appointee to be
the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to be secretary
of defense, or a federal judge.
The division of political power among a central government and several
regional governments. Horizontal and vertical federalism
1. United States federalism originated in American
rebellion against the edicts of a distant central government in England.
2. Federalism is a compromise between a strict
central government and a loose confederation, such as that provided for
in the Articles of Confederation.
3. This constitutional principles was devised
as a compromise between a powerful central government and a loose confederation
OUTLINE OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES
||Relations Among the States
||Provisions for Amendment
||Public Debts; Supremacy of National Law; Oath
||Ratification of Constitution
||Freedom of Religion; Speech; Press, Assembly, and Petition
||Right to Keep, Bear Arms
||Lodging Troops in Private Homes
||Search, Seizures, Proper Warrants
||Criminal Proceedings; Due Process; Eminent Domain
||Jury Trials in Civil Cases
||Bail, Cruel, Unusual Punishment
||Powers Reserved to the States
||Suits Against States
||Election of President and Vice President
||Slavery and Involuntary Servitude
||Rights of Citizens
||Right to Vote -- Race, Color, Servitude
||Popular Election of Senators
||Prohibition of Intoxicating Liquors
||Equal Suffrage -- Sex
||Commencement of Terms; Sessions of Congress, Death or Disqualification
||Repeal of 18th Amendment
||Inclusion of District of Columbia in Presidential Election System
||Right to Vote in Federal Elections -- Tax Payment
||Presidential Succession; Vice Presidential Vacancy; Presidential Inability
||Right to Vote -- 18 years of age
© McClenaghan, William
A., Magruder's American Government. Needham, MA: Prentice Hall,
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