Law and Politics

Start Free Trial

Student Question

What were the primary principles that the United States was founded on? How, and where, when it was founded, do you see them? Do you think the current government of the United States is consistent or inconsistent with these principles? Can you find these principles in the Democratic and Republican parties? How so? Use current events to substantiate your answer.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Declaration of Independence provides seven main principles that the United States was founded on. The first is that "all men are created equal and by their Creator will receive unalienable Rights in the pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness," with no natural class of rulers. The second principle states that each person is born with individual liberty. The third allows that individuals are afforded the right to obtain possessions and "the fruits of their own labor." In the fourth principle, it declares that the United States national government will operate only with the power granted in the constitution and will not assume an unlisted power. In the fifth, it is promised that the people and state will retain a certain amount of power in a dual sovereignty system with the national government. The sixth principle requires that the United States maintain a representative government where republican parties will elect representatives to advocate their interests. Lastly, it is stated that there will be a separation of powers (also known as checks and balances) in an attempt to keep one party from accumulating too much power.

Currently, there seems to be inconsistencies with the founding principles as we see many minority groups treated unfairly and on unequal terms. Historically, African Americans have been denied the right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Slavery is the most glaring example of this. At the time when these principles were founded, black individuals were designated to be three-fifths of a person. Denied the right to vote until 1965, African Americans were not and have never been considered truly equal in American society. The Black Lives Matter movement is a current movement that has gained traction for fighting for the rights of African American or black American individuals' treatment in regards to police brutality. There is an on-going fight in the African American community for equality and the unalienable rights upon which this country was founded upon.

The Standing Rock movement is another social rights movement that exemplifies the ways in which our contemporary society has not remained consistent with the principles it was founded upon. At around the same time the principles were written and African Americans were declared to be three-fifths of a person, the United States also began its systems of Indian reservations and assimilation through boarding schools. Through treaties and by force, the United States government determined the land boundaries of Native Americans who had been living across the continent for centuries prior. It was determined, through these treaties, that Native Americans would have inhibited access to the land that had always been theirs. Boarding schools began in the 1880s as an attempt to "kill the Indian, save the man" by restricting traditional indigenous practices through the forced separation of children from their families. In addition, the Constitution referred to Native Americans as "savages." In 2016, the government sided with a corporation's right to build a pipeline through tribal territory, which spurred the Standing Rock movement. This is yet another example of the ways in which minority communities in this country have been denied access to the founding principles of the country.

There is also much contention about the government's recent ability to maintain its checks and balances. The Republican party is currently facing much media discussion about the possible impeachment of our Republican president. A central part of this discussion is the fact that the government does not allow a sitting president to be indicted. Democrats have called this a failure in checks and balances. In response, many Democrats are calling for the impeachment of the president. In another contemporary example, the Edward Snowden Wikileaks highlight how both parties have been "assuming an unlisted power," and have therefore been failing to follow the guiding principles of the nation. Snowden leaked documents from the National Security Agency, which showed that the president (Democratic president Obama at the time) approved of gathering personal data on American citizens. Snowden later stated that he chose to release this information out of a belief that the country was failing to live up to its own founding principles. He believed that the government was operating outside of the power of the Constitution and that the people were being purposely kept out of the loop.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial