Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 278
There are four major theories that attempt to explain how states evolved from earlier governments and tribes:
1. The force theory suggests that a strong man, dictator, soldier, or a powerful group of people maintained power through force.
2. The evolutionary theory argues that as more and more families combined into a society, government evolved naturally.
3. The divine right theory suggests that God, or gods, created the state.
4. The social contract theory, which emerged from the philosophies of John Locke, suggests that the state, or government, can exist only with the consent of the governed. The government of the United States is based on this theory.
Government takes various forms. To help classify different types of governments, consider the following basic principles.
1. Geographic distribution of power:
- A unitary government places all power at the national level.
- A federal government distributes power and authority between the national and local levels.
- A confederation places most power with the states, which then loosely cooperate to make national decisions.
2. Legislative/Executive interaction:
- In a presidential system, the Legislative and the Executive branches are equally powerful.
- In a parliamentary system, the Executive branch is contained within the Legislative branch.
3. Degree of public participation:
- A dictatorship is an all-powerful Executive branch that does not answer to the public.
- A democracy is a government that answers to the people through elections.
In addition to the structures and principles already discussed, democracies must adhere to a few basic concepts:
- Democracies believe in the individual worth of human beings.
- Democracies support equality between persons.
- Democracies run by majority rule but still protect minority rights.
- Democracies believe in compromise.
- Democracies support a large degree of individual freedoms.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350
Section 1: Our Political Beginning
The colonists that first settled in the Americas borrowed heavily from the English tradition of government. Although England was a monarchy at that time, it also had a Bill of Rights and a Parliament. It was within this framework that the early colonial governments emerged. Because of the physical distance between the colonists and the mother country, a form of political independence existed long before the American Revolution.
Section 2: The Coming of Independence
In 1763, Britain needed additional revenue to pay for its war debts. Thus began a controversial era of colonial taxation. Since no colonial representatives were in the British Parliament, the colonists argued that they were enduring "Taxation without Representation."
The First and Second Continental Congresses organized a loose alliance that at first formally protested British policies. In 1776, actual independence was declared.
Elements of the state constitutions that followed would later be added to the national Constitution.
Section 3: The Critical Period
The first attempt at forming an actual independent government resulted in the Articles of Confederation (1781-1789). The Articles provided for a weak central government with no power to tax or raise an army. It was also difficult to pass laws and almost impossible to amend the Articles themselves.
Shay's Rebellion in 1787 convinced enough people to call for a Constitutional Convention to make a second attempt at democracy.
Section 4: Creating the Constitution
Twelve of the thirteen states sent delegates to the convention in Philadelphia. Over the following seventeen weeks, disagreements between states stalled the convention time and again. The Constitution is often referred to as a "bundle of compromises" because those disagreements had to be settled. Perhaps the most important was the Connecticut Compromise, which created of House of Representatives and the Senate.
Section 5: Ratifying the Constitution
The debate over approving the new Constitution was mainly between Federalists, who supported the document, and Anti-Federalists, who believed that the government would have too much power. When a collection of essays called The Federalist was published, it convinced enough states to approve the new form of government. The United States under the Constitution began in April of 1789.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 262
The Constitution is organized around six fundamental principles of American democracy.
Section 1: The Six Basic Principles
1. Popular sovereignty. Government derives its authority from the consent of the governed (John Locke's social contract).
2. Limited government. Government cannot expand its power beyond that which the Constitution authorizes without the legal permission of the people.
3. Separation of powers. The former power of the King is divided among three equal branches of government: the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches.
4. Checks and balances. To maintain the equality of the branches, legal limits give each branch some power over the other two.
5. Judicial review. Courts have the power to overturn laws they find unconstitutional.
6. Federalism. Power is specifically divided between the national government and the states.
Section 2: Formally Amending the Constitution
Over 12,000 proposals for constitutional amendments have been made since 1789, but only twenty-seven of them have become formal amendments. The most common method of amending the Constitution is by two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate, followed by simple majority approval of three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Having a process to amend the Constitution allows the government to expand and flex to fit the needs of a country that is much larger, wealthier, and more technically advanced than the original. The amendment process thus gives the Constitution room to "breathe."
Section 3: Informal Amendment
How the U.S. government operates has certainly changed more than a mere twenty-seven times, however. Informal amendments represent such changes. Informal amendments include the following:
- The passage of laws by Congress
- Presidential (Executive) orders
- Supreme Court rulings
- Process changes by political parties
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 345
Section 1: Federalism and the Division of Powers
American government is divided into two levels of authority: national and state. The national, or federal, government in Washington, D.C., has a set of specific powers detailed in the Constitution itself. There are three kinds of “delegated powers”: expressed, implied, and inherent.
Powers not given specifically to the national government automatically belong to the states. These are called “reserved" powers and include the authority to pass marriage, drinking, and licensing laws, among others.
When there is a dispute between the state and national governments, the Supreme Court is the ultimate referee between the two.
Section 2: The National Government and the 50 States
The national government protects U.S. borders from invasion, and if there is a riot or natural disaster, the national government may step in to provide aid and security to the states. This is essentially what happened during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The established states are protected from the federal government too in terms of their state borders. The territory that belongs to that state is sacred, and the government cannot confiscate territory without the state's permission. The national government does have the power to admit new states when a territory applies for admission to the Union.
The national government may also provide financial grants to help the states provide basic functions, while the states in turn run national elections and enforce federal laws.
Section 3: Interstate Relations
Only the national government can sign treaty agreements with foreign countries, but the states are allowed to make similar agreements, called "compacts," with other states and countries to cooperate on matters important to both parties.
The Constitution contains the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which means a legal contract in one state is legal in all states and must be recognized by state governments. For example, a person who is married in New York is also legally married in California, as marriage is a state contract. In addition, when a criminal flees across state lines, the states are required to return, or extradite, the criminal back to the original state.