A change in, or addition to, a constitution. Amendments are proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of the state legislatures and ratified by approval of three-fourths of the states.
Opponents to the ratification of the Constitution who valued liberty above all else and believed it could be protected only in a small republic. They emphasized states' rights and worried that the new central government was too strong.
Articles of Confederation
The document establishing a "league of friendship" among the American states in 1781. The government proved too weak to rule effectively and was replaced by the current Constitution.
A historian who argued that the Constitution was designed to protect the economic self-interest of its framers. Beard's view is largely rejected by contemporary scholars.
bill of attainder
A law that declares a person, without trial, to be guilty of a crime. The state legislatures and Congress are forbidden to pass such acts, Article 1, Sections 9 and 10, of the Constitution.
Bill of Rights
The first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, containing a list of individual rights and liberties, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press.
checks and balances
The power of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government to block some acts by the other two branches.
Part of a theory espoused by James Madison that hypothesized that different interests must come together to form an alliance in order for republican government to work. He believed that alliances formed in a large republic, unlike in small ones, would be moderate due to the greater variety of interests that must be accommodated.
A meeting of delegates in 1878 to revise the Articles of Confederation, which produced a totally new constitution still in use today.
ex post facto law
A law which makes criminal an act that was legal when in was committed, or that increases the penalty for a crime after it has been committed, or that changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier. The state legislatures and Congress are forbidden to pass such laws by Article 1, Sections 9 and 10, of the Constitution.
A term employed by James Madison to refer to interests that exist in society, such as farmers and merchants, northerners and southerners, debtors and creditors. Madison postulated that each interest would seek its own advantage and that the pulling and hauling among them would promote political stability on a national basis.
A political system in which ultimate authority is shared between a central government and state or regional governments.
Federalist No. 10
An essay composed by James Madison which argues that liberty is safest in a large republic because many interests (factions) exist. Such diversity makes tyranny by the majority more difficult since ruling coalitions will always be unstable.
A series of eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay that were published in New York newspapers to convince New Yorkers to adopt the newly proposed Constitution.
A term used to describe supporters of the Constitution during ratification debates in state legislatures.
The agreement that prevented the collapse of the Constitutional Convention because of friction between large and small states. It reconciled their interests by awarding states representation in the Senate on a basis of equality and in the House of Representatives in proportion to each state's population.
The power of courts to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional. It is also a way of limiting the power of popular majorities.
The power of an executive to veto some provisions in an appropriations bill while approving others. The president does not have the right to exercise a line-item veto and must approve or reject an entire appropriations bill.
A philosophical belief expressed in the Declaration of Independence that certain rights are ordained by God, are discoverable in nature and history, and are essential to human progress. The perception that these rights were violated by Great Britain contributed to the American Revolution.
New Jersey Plan
A plan of government proposed by William Patterson as a substitute for the Virginia Plan in an effort to provide greater protection for the interests of small states. It recommended that the Articles of Confederation should be amended, not replaced, with a unicameral Congress, in which each state would have an equal vote.
The form of government intended by the Framers that operates through a system of representation.
Separation of powers
An element of the Constitution in which political power is shared among the branches of government to allow self-interest to check self interest.
A rebellion in 1787 by ex-Revolutionary War soldiers who feared losing their property over indebtedness. The former soldiers prevented courts in western Massachusetts from sitting. The inability of the government to deal effectively with the rebellion showed the weakness of the political system at the time and led to support for revision of the Articles of Confederation.
Rights thought to be based on nature and providence rather than on the preferences of people.
A plan submitted to the Constitutional Convention that proposed a new form of government, not a mere revision of the Articles of Confederation. The plan envisioned a much stronger national government structured around three branches. James Madison prepared the initial draft.
writ of habeas corpus
A court order directing a police officer, sheriff, or warden who has a person in custody to bring the prisoner before a judge to show sufficient cause for his or her detention. The purpose of the order is to prevent illegal arrests and unlawful imprisonment. Under the Constitution, the writ cannot be suspended, except during invasion or rebellion.