Understanding the Origins of the Major Principles of us government

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Understanding the Origins of the Major Principles of US Government

  • Limited Government, Checks and Balances, Separation of Powers, Rule of Law, Representative Democracy, Federalism, popular sovereignty

Read the following slides and click on the linked websites when necessary.

  • Define the following principles of government: Limited Government, Checks and Balances, Separation of Powers, Rule of Law, Representative Democracy, Federalism, popular sovereignty
  • After you define each term look at the slides that follow and decide which one of the major principles of government is represented.
  • Then support your answer in one sentence with details from different slides.

Rule of Law- everyone must live within the law; no one is above or below the law. All citizens must abide by the rule of law. Before the American Revolution in 1776 monarchs were considered the next best thing to the Lord

  • Louis XIV of France reigned for 72 years, 54 of them he personally controlled French government. Louis XIV was a great monarch, and he was capable of maintaining strong kingdom because he never, in his entire life, doubted his right to be king.

It’s good to be the King! Often, monarchs collected taxes from their subjects and used them to build palaces such as the Versailles Palace below. Louis XVI once said “I am France,” which meant that the people of France served him, not the other way around. Click on http://www.louis-xiv.de/index.php?t=start&a=start to learn more about King Louis

Natural Rights

  • John Locke, a radical supporter of individual rights claimed that government is morally obliged to serve people, namely by protecting life, liberty, and property. Thomas Jefferson based the Declaration of Independence on this notion and went a step further to claim that his royalty was out of line for violating such natural rights.

Judicial Review

  • In Federalist Paper #78 Alexander Hamilton, one of the primary author of the federalist papers and loud supporter of federal government claimed that the courts needed to have the ability to check the legislative and executive branches. Further, he stated that judges should be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate like other officers and cabinet members. Hamilton also called for an independent judiciary that could guard the Constitution and individual rights from legislative branch.

Federalist Paper # 78

  • “It can be of no weight to say that the courts, on the pretense of a repugnancy, may substitute their own pleasure to the constitutional intentions of the legislature. This might as well happen in the case of two contradictory statutes; or it might as well happen in every adjudication upon any single statute. The courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise WILL instead of JUDGMENT, the consequence would equally be the substitution of their pleasure to that of the legislative body. The observation, if it prove any thing, would prove that there ought to be no judges distinct from that body.”
  • “If, then, the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty.”

Limited Government

  • Since the people give government its power, government itself is limited to the power given to it by them. In other words, the US government does not derive its power from itself. It must follow its own laws and it can only act using powers given to it by the people. Unlike France in the 17th century limited government implies that the government serves the people and not the other way around.

Most people in 17th century France lived a bit more simply than King Louise XIV. In fact many were considered serfs and were literally not allowed to leave the estates they were born on. Often the government education and clean water. provided these people few services we take for granted today such as public

During Medieval age only the monarchs were guaranteed individual rights. In fact they were guaranteed any right they chose for themselves even if that right gave the king power to kill his subjects because they dressed funny. In turn the king’s subjects were afforded few or different rights. In other words there were different laws that different groups of people were forced to follow.

There was no freedom of worship or freedom of speech.

Representative Democracy

  • The idea that a government’s leaders and decision makers should be elected by the citizens for whom the government rules over. In practice elections are regularly held and people have the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Monarchs such as King Charles the II of Great Britain thought that common people were incapable of making governmental decisions. They believed that the people who ruled over a nation should instead be born of a high standing, in other words- related to them. To learn more about Charles click on http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/charles_ii_king.shtml

The British King wasn’t doing too bad for himself either!

Not everyone liked Charles. Oliver Cromwell didn’t think he was much of a king so he killed him and returned the British government to the House of Lords (made up of wealthy men who owned land) and set up a limited democratic form of government with power to propose laws and over turn some of the king’s decisions.

Popular Sovereignty

  • This principle states that the source of governmental power lies with the people. This belief stems from the idea that government should be for the benefit of its citizens. If the government is not protecting the people, it should be dissolved.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, claimed that the US had the right to rebel against Great Britain because the British were trying to establish a tyrannical government that would not benefit the citizens of the US. To read about what Tom Jefferson thought about freedom click on http://www.pbs.org/jefferson/enlight/sstips1.htm

The concept of popular sovereignty also known as the consent of the governed led to the American Revolution.

Separation of Powers

  • The US Government is divided into three branches so that no one branch has all the power. Each branch has its own purpose: the executive branch carries out the law, the legislative makes the law and the judiciary interprets the law.

The founders of the United States wanted to make sure that a monarchy or a government that did not respect the rule of law or popular sovereignty and was not limited in its powers over the people would never develop in the United States.

  • In order to prevent a tyrannical government from developing in the US the founders tried to write a constitution that would make sure no one person or branch of government would get too much power. For that reason the executive (President), legislative (Congress) and Judicial (Judges) branches of government only have specific and limited powers.

Checks and Balances

  • In order to further protect the citizens, the constitution set up a system of checks and balances. Basically, each branch of government has a certain number of checks it can use to ensure the other branches do not become too powerful. For example, the president can veto legislation, the Supreme Court can declare acts of Congress unconstitutional, and the Senate must approve treaties and presidential appointments

Separation of Powers wasn’t enough to prevent tyranny in the minds of the founders.

  • They also instituted a system of checks and balances to make sure no one person or branch of government gets too much power. For instance, the legislative branch can impeach (accuse, indict and try the president for an alleged crime) the leader of the executive branch. Also the President can reject laws passed in the legislative branch. Click on http://www.socialstudieshelp.com/Lesson_13_Notes.htm to learn more about checks and balances.


  • Federalism refers to the splitting of power between the federal government and the states. By the time the American Revolution had been waged and won, state governments had grown powerful and independent. It was unlikely, therefore, that the states would agree to the creation of a powerful central government at the total expense of its self-governing authority. Granting the states specific self-governing powers and rights was not only politically easy, but also served the Framers' intent to limit the central government's authority. The sharing of power between the states and the national government was one more structural check in an elaborate governmental scheme of checks and balances.

In order to ensure that there was central authority, but not too much of it the Framers split powers between the federal and state government.

In1789 the world was introduced to the first federal republic based on the democratic principles checks and balances and separation of powers written in a constitution that applied to all citizens.

Analyze the following quotes, cartoons and picture. Identify which principle of government is being referred to and support your answer with facts and details in one or two sentences.

  • Your Turn!!!!!

1. Which principle is illustrated by the passage below?

  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
  • – Declaration of Independence

2. Which principle is illustrated by the passage below?

  • For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies.
  • - Declaration of Independence

3. Which principle is illustrated by the passage below?

  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
  • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
  • -Declaration of Independence

4. Which principle is illustrated by the cartoon below?

  • Click Here

5. Which principle is illustrated by the cartoon below?

  • Click Here

6. Which principle is illustrated by the cartoon below?

  • Section 10. No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility. - Constitution
  • Amendment X- The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

7. Which principle is illustrated by the passage below?

  • Section 2. The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature. - Constitution

8. Which principle is depicted by the passage below?

  • Article 2, section 4, requires that the President, Vice President, and all civil officers, must be removed from office if they are impeached, and then convicted of, "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors".
  • Impeachment is simply the process by which the President, Vice-President or “civil officers” can be charged with an offence by the US House of Representatives - they are innocent until proven guilty by the US Senate. And it also doesn't mean that they will be removed from office. It simply means that they will face a formal trial in the Senate.

9. Which principle is represented by the following cartoon? In the US even Paris Hilton can receive prison time.

10. Which principle is illustrated by the passage below?

  • When the US Supreme Court overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling of “separate, but equal” in favor of integration in the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) the Supreme Court used its power of this principle.

The End

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