A basic principle of traditional democratic theory that describes the relationship between the few leaders and the many followers; followers select the few who represent them through electoral processes.
A fundamental principle of traditional democratic theory. In a democracy, choosing among alternatives requires that the majority's desire be respected.
A belief in the importance of the individual; supports the associated belief that the government should not intrude on the lives of its people; keeps the scope of American government relatively small.
A theory of government that holds that open, multiple, and competing interest groups can check the asserted power by any one group.
A theory of government and politics that contends government is weakened by the existence of a multitude of competing interest groups.
A theory of government and politics contending that societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal structures of government.
Principle of traditional democratic theory that guarantees rights to those who do not belong to majorities and allows that they might join majorities through persuasion and reasoned argument
Single issue groups
Groups that have a narrow interest, tend to dislike compromise, and often draw membership from people new to politics, as opposed to traditional interest groups.
The system or form by which a community or other political unit is governed.
Goods, such as clean air and clean water, highways and public parks, that everyone must share and that governments (national, state, local) spend billions to provide and maintain.
The process by which we select our governmental leaders and what policies these leaders pursue. Politics produces decisions about public issues.
The process by which policy comes into being and evolves over time. People's interests, problems, and concerns create political issues for government policymakers. These issues shape policy, which in turn impacts people, generating more interests, problems, and concerns.
Channels through which people's concerns become political issues on the government's policy agenda. In the United States, linkage institutions include ELECTIONS, POLITICAL PARTIES, INTEREST GROUPS, and the MEDIA.
The issues that attract the serious attention of public officials and other people actually involved in politics at any given point in time.
Important questions that arises when people disagree about a problem and how to fix it
The branches of government charged with taking action on political issues. The U.S. Constitution established three policymaking institutions-the congress, the presidency, and the courts. Today, the power of the bureaucracy is so great that most political scientists consider it a fourth policymaking institution.
The course of action the government takes in response to an issue or problem.
A political system in which ultimate sovereignty lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them.
Condition that occurs when the body political is so fractured into competing interests that no coalition is strong enough to form a majority and establish policy. The result is that nothing may get done.
Gross domestic product
The sum total of the dollar value of all the goods and services produced in a nation within a given year. Of this total, about one-third is spent by government (national, state, and local) to fund its programs and services including wages for its 18 million employees.
Basic principle that government and those who govern must obey the law; the rule of law. A constitution establishes that law, creating the limits under which the government must operate.
Declaration of Independence
Document recording the proclamation of the second Continental Congress (4 July 1776) asserting the independence of the colonies from Great Britain; provided a foundation of political values that became the basis for the American approach to democratic government.
Rights that belong to all human beings by virtue of their birth; In America, due to the influence of English political philosopher John Locke, defined as life, liberty, and property.
Consent of the governed
Concept developed by John Locke and other natural rights philosophers that became the basis of America's constitutional government. Proposes that government obtains its authority to govern from its people; the people, in turn subject themselves to the authority to a government.
Basic principle of American government which states that government is restricted in what it may do, and each individual has rights that government cannot take away
Articles of Confederation
America's first constitution, adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1781during the revolution. Established a framework in which centralized authority was weak and most power was granted to the states which existed nationally as a loose confederation. The government had no executive and the Congress lacked the power to tax, regulate trade, or control coinage.
Conflict in Massachusetts that caused many to criticize the Articles of Confederation and admit the weak central government was not working. Involved an uprising led by Daniel Shays in an effort to prevent courts from foreclosing on the farms of those who could not pay the taxes. The confederation government could do little to control the rebellion.
The document written in 1787 and ratified in 1788 that sets forth the institutional structure of the U.S. government and the powers expressly granted to these institutions. It replaced the Articles of Confederation with a federal government of greater centralized authority to exercise expressed powers over policies in the national interest.
Defined by James Madison in Federalist 10 as interest groups that arise from the unequal distribution of property or wealth; Madison warned of the dangers of factionalism and defended the republic devised by the Founders in the Constitution as the best protection against the instability inherent in governments riven by factions.
New Jersey Plan
Counter-proposal to Madison's Virginia Plan; it proposed a single-chamber Congress in which each state had one vote in order to protect the voice of smaller states from being overwhelmed by the interests of larger states. Larger states argued that this plan would allow the minority to thwart the will of the majority.
Virginia delegate James Madison's plan of government; states would be apportioned representatives in the new national Congress based on their population.
Also known as the "Connecticut Compromise"; Proposal by Roger Sherman of Connecticut that resolved the conflict between the New Jersey and Virginia plans. Created a bicameral (two-house) legislature with representation in the House to be based on population, and representation in the Senate limited to two Senators from each state.
Writ of habeas corpus
A court order that requires police to bring a prisoner to court to explain why they are holding the person; if no proof of probable wrong-doing is produced, the prisoner is released. One of only three protections of the people's liberty mentioned in the original wording of the Constitution (others - no bills of attainder; no ex post facto laws)
Separation of powers
Constitutional division of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, with the legislative branch making law, the executive applying and enforcing the law, and the judiciary interpreting the law. (Baron de Montesquieu)
Checks and balances
A system that allows each branch of government to limit the powers of the other branches in order to prevent abuse of power and tyranny. (Baron de Montesquieu)
Supporters of the Constitution that were led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. They firmly believed the national government should be strong and ardently advocated for ratification of the Constitution.
A political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them.
Opponents of a strong central government who campaigned against the ratification of the Constitution in favor of a confederation of independent states.
Series of 85 essays written by Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay published in New York newspapers; defended the form and structure of the Constitution to convince "laggard states" to ratify and adopt the new Constitution.
Bill of Rights
Statement of fundamental rights and privileges granted to citizens to protect them from abuse of power by their government; the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution.
A change in the wording of the Constitution that is adopted through one of four methods. These methods reflect the federal nature of the American government, requiring proposal at the national level and ratification at the state level. The most common method used (26 of 27 amendments) has been proposal by a 2/3 vote in Congress and ratification by 3/4 of state legislatures.
A change in the meaning, but not the wording, of the Constitution; happens via court decisions (judicial interpretation), changing political practice (e.g. political parties), technology (growth of bureaucracy and its services), demands on policymakers (e.g.Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; War Powers Resolution).
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
Demonstrates the challenge of adopting formal amendments to the Constitution. Proposed amendment designed to guarantee equal rights under the law for Americans regardless of gender. First proposed in 1923; finally passed by Congress in 1972; Failed during the state ratification process when most Southern states refused to approve it, thus falling short of the 3/4 state ratifications required for final adoption.
Marbury v. Madison
The 1803 case in which Chief Justice John Marshall and his associates first asserted the right of the Supreme Court to determine the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. The decision established the Court's power of judicial review over acts of Congress; in this case, the Judiciary Act of 1789.
The power of the courts to determine whether acts of Congress and, by implication, the executive are in accord with the U.S. Constitution. Judicial review was established by John Marshall and his associates in Marbury v. Madison.
Form of government in which power is divided between national and state governments, each of which have their own separate spheres of sovereignty. Only eleven nations, including the United States, have this form of government.
A way of organizing a nation so that all power resides in the central government; regional or local governments are established, and can be abolished, only by the central authority. Form of government adopted by most nations in the world today.
Model for government developed by Greek philosopher Aristotle who argued that the best government is one in which monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy (polity) are balanced. Knowledgeable and well-educated monarchs rule in the interest of the people as opposed to tyrants who rule in their own interest; aristocracy ("rule by the best") serves as a check on both the monarchy and majority voice of the people.
The constitutional framework developed by Madison; highly influenced by the Aristotilean model. Established a government of powers separated into three branches; the Executive (monarchic), Legislative (both aristocratic and democratic), Judicial (aristocratic). The separation of the three branches is maintained by a system of checks.
Constitutional declaration (Article VI) that the Constitution and laws made under its provisions are the supreme law of the land, placing all state laws in a subordinate position to the Constitution and all federal laws.
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
Case in which the Marshall Court ruled that the power of the federal government took precedence over state laws; when state laws are in conflict with federal law, the Court can declare them unconstitutional. By upholding the consitutionality of the Bank of the United the Supreme Court denied the right of the state of Maryland to tax the federal bank out of existence. The Court's broad interpretation of the necessary and proper clause used to establish the Bank, paved the way for later rulings upholding expansive federal powers.
Cornerstone of the federal system; "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."
Powers specifically given to Congress in the Constitution; including the power to collect taxes, coin money, regulate foreign and interstate commerce, and declare war.
Full faith and credit
A clause in Article IV, Section 1, of the Constitution requiring each state to recognize the official documents and civil judgments rendered by the courts of other states.
Powers not enumerated in the Constitution, but are reasonably inferred from those powers that are expressly enumerated.
Necessary and proper clause
Known informally as the "elastic clause"; Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution which states that Congress, in addition to its expressed powers, has the right to make all laws "necessary and proper" to carry out all powers the Constitution vests in the national government.
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
Case before the Supreme Court that involved the state of New York trying to grant a monopoly for waterborne trade between New York and New Jersey. Chief Justice John Marshall and the Court ruled that the Constitution gives Congress alone control of interstate commerce. The decision was a major blow to states' rights and opened the door for use of the commerce clause as an avenue to extend federal authority into the states.
The surrender of an accused or convicted person by one state or country to another (usually under the provisions of a statute or treaty).
Privileges and immunities
Clause in Article IV, Section 2, of the Constitution according to citizens of each state most of the privileges of citizens of other states.
Doctrine holding that the national government is supreme in its sphere, the states are supreme in theirs, and the two spheres should be kept separate; "layer cake" metaphor
A system of government in which powers and policy assignments are shared between states and the national government. They may also share costs, administration, and even blame for programs that work poorly; "marble cake" metaphor
The pattern of spending, taxing, and providing grants in the federal system; it is the cornerstone of the national government's relations with state and local governments.
Federal grants that can be used only for specific purposes or "categories," of state and local spending. They come with strings attached, such as nondiscrimination provisions.
Federal categorical grants given to states for specific purposes and awarded on the basis of the merits of applications.
Federal categorical grants based on a specific funding formula for the distribution of the funds. Quantifiable elements can include population, amount of tax effort, proportion of population unemployed or below poverty level, etc. The specified formula tells recipient governments (states or municipalities) the quantity of aid to which they are entitled.
Federal grants given to states or communities to support broad programs in areas such as community development and social services; replaced many of the categorical grants that had too many provisions, regulations, and strings attached.
Orders from the federal government that states must meet whether or not they accept federal grants; e.g. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Federal legislation and or regulations established by federal agencies that compel or prohibit specific actions by state and local governments or private entities; such actions or prohibitions incur expenditures not funded by the federal government; e.g. Medicaid; No Child Left Behind
When the federal government uses grant dollars attached to one program to influence state and local policy in another (example: linking the grant of federal highway funds to states passing laws raising the legal drinking age).
The transfer of powers and responsibilities from the federal government back to the states in response to what many consider federal over-reach into state affairs via grants-in-aid, federal mandates, and the commerce clause.
Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. (1964)
Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and use of the commerce clause to impose federal enforcement of Title II of the act banning racial discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; a marked example of the evolution of federalism from a dual "layer cake" system of authority to a cooperative "marble cake" of intermingled state and federal authority.
U.S. v. Lopez (1995)
Supreme Court decision that held Congress had exceeded its authority under the commerce clause power to impose gun control on schools via the Gun Free School Zones Act (1990); a marked example of devolution back toward separation of the national and state spheres of authority.
Federalist Paper written by James Madison; argued that the separation of powers embedded in the Constitutional framework would effectively prevent the concentration of power in the hands of one person or a single group within the national government.
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (1995)
Amendment to the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974; Requires due consideration by Congress of costs that will be incurred by states, local governments, and private entities before federal unfunded mandates can be imposed.
Money and resources provided by the federal government to the states; can be classified as categorical, formula, or block grants; the foundation of fiscal federalism.