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John Locke

believed all people have a right to life, liberty, and property

Second Treatise in Civil Government

outlines a theory of political or civil society based on natural rights and contract theory

Declaration of Independence

the document recording the proclamation of the Second Continental Congress asserting the independence of the colonies from Great Britain

Thomas Jefferson

wrote the Declaration of Independence; second governor of Virgina; third president of the United States


one-house legislature


two-house legislature

Articles of Confederation

a written agreement ratified in 1781 by the thirteen original states

Strengths of Articles

1) declare war and peace;
2) coin and borrow money;
3) deal with foreign countries and sign treaties;
4) operate post offices

Weaknesses of Articles

no common currency; one vote per state; could not control trade; weak national government; no executive or judicial branch

Shays Rebellion

Rebellion of farmers in Mass. (1786-1787) protesting mortgage foreclosures; highlighted the need for a strong national government just as the call for the Constitutional Convention went out.

Virginia Plan

Initial proposal for a strong central government with a bicameral legislature dominated by the big states.

New Jersey Plan

Proposed a single-chamber congress in which each state had one vote. This created a conflict with representation between bigger states.

Great Compromise

Plan to have a popularly elected House based on state population and a state-selected Senate, with two members for each state.

Three-Fifths Compromise

the agreement by which the number of each state's representatives in Congress would be based on a count of all the free people plus three-fifths of the slaves

Electoral College

a group of people named by each state legislature to select the president and vice president


supporters of the constitution during the debate over its ratification; favored a strong national government


Opposed to a strong central government; saw undemocratic tendencies in the Constitution and insisted on the inclusion of the Bill of Rights (Jefferson, Monroe, Henry)

Federalist Papers

Series of essays that defended the Constitution and tried to reassure Americans that the states would not be overpowered by the federal government.

James Madison

father of the constitution; leading federalist; author of the Bill of Rights

Federalist #10

(Madison) how to guard against factions, special interest groups, by extending the sphere and making sure nobody gets too much power

Federalist #51

Separation of powers & checks & balances protects against tyranny

Federalist #78

(Hamilton) talks about the federal judiciary review; judiciary must depend on other two branches to uphold its decisions

Alexander Hamilton

Delegate to the Constitutional Convention and leader of the Federalists; first secretary of the treasury.

Judicial Review

the power of the Supreme Court to declare laws and actions of local, state, or national governments unconstitutional

Marbury v. Madison

This case establishes the Supreme Court's power of Judicial Review

Writ of Habeas Corpus

a court order that requires police to bring a prisoner to court to explain why they are holding the person

Ex Post Facto Law

Laws applied to acts committed before passage of the laws are unconstitutional

Bill of Attainder

a legislative act finding a person guilty of treason or felony without a trial

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

Presidential Veto

a president's authority to reject a bill passed by Congress, may be overridden only by a 2/3 majority in each house

Enumerated Powers

The powers explicitly given to Congress in the Constitution.

Necessary and Proper Clause

Constitutional clause that gives congress the power to make all laws "necessary and proper" for executing its powers

Elastic Clause

a clause that allows Congress to stretch the use of its powers

Implied Powers

Powers inferred from the express powers that allow Congress to carry out its functions

Amendment Process

step 1: amendment proposed by 2/3 vote of both houses of congress OR a constitutional convention called by congress on petition of 2/3 out of 50 states. THEN amendment ratified by 3/4 of the 50 state legislatures OR 3/4 of special constitutional conventions called by 50 states THEN the new amendment!

Supremacy Clause

The constitutional provision that makes the Constitution and federal laws superior to all conflicting state and local laws.

Establishment Clause

the First Amendment guarantee that the government will not create and support an official state church

Free Exercise Clause

a first amendment provision that prohibits government from interfering with the practice of religion

Lemon Test

The three-part test for Establishment Clause cases that a law must pass before it is declared constitutional: it must have a secular purpose; it must be neutral; and it must not cause excessive entanglement with religion.

Lemon v. Kurtzman

Law must be clearly secular, not prohibiting or inhibiting religion, and there should be no excessive entanglement

Clear and Present Danger

a standard for judging when freedom of speech can be abridged; "no one has a right to shout `fire' in a crowded theater when there is no fire because such an action would pose a clear and present danger to public safety"

Schenck v. United States

Supreme court decides that any actions taken that present a "clear and present danger" to the public or government isn't allowed, this can limit free speech


A yardstick for local obscenity judgments which evaluates an artistic work's literacy, artistic, political, or scientific values.

Prior Restraint

Censorship imposed before a speech is made or a newspaper is published; usually presumed to be unconstitutional.

New York Times v. United States

If the government wishes to censor information before it is printed or published, it must be proven in court that the information will endanger national security.

Pentagon Papers

A 7,000-page top-secret United States government report on the history of the internal planning and policy-making process within the government itself concerning the Vietnam War.

Exclusionary Rule #4

legal principle in the United States, under constitutional law, which holds that evidence collected or analyzed in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights is sometimes inadmissible for a criminal prosecution in a court of law

Automobile Exception

NEED Probable Cause to believe contraband or evidence of crime is in car. must arise before search but not necessary at time pulled over. CAN Search the trunk.

Miranda Warning

Miranda v. Arizona; making sure that suspected criminals are brought before a magistrate and informed of their right to remain silent, right to an attorney

White Primary

the practice of keeping blacks from voting in the southern states' primaries through arbitrary use of registration requirements and intimidation

Poll tax

Tax required to vote; prohibited for national elections by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment (1964) and ruled unconstitutional for all elections in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966).

Literacy test

Literacy requirements some states imposed as a condition of voting, generally used to disqualify black voters in the South; now illegal.

Grandfather clause

an exemption based on circumstances existing prior to the adoption of some policy

De facto Segregation

Segregation resulting from economic or social conditions or personal choice.

Seneca Falls

July, 1848 - first modern women's rights convention; Staton read a Declaration of Sentiment listing the many discrimination against women, and adopted eleven resolutions (suffrage)

Equal Rights Amendment

Supported by the National Organization for Women, this amendment would prevent all gender-based discrimination practices. However, it never passed the ratification process.

Age Discrimination

treating people differently (e.g., in hiring and firing, promotion, and compensation decisions) because of their age

Americans with Disabilities Act

Passed by Congress in 1991, this act banned discrimination against the disabled in employment and mandated easy access to all public and commercial buildings.

Affirmative Action

a policy designed to redress past discrimination against minority groups and women through measures to improve their economic and educational opportunities

Reverse Discrimination

Using race or sex to give preferential treatment to some people.

Agenda Setting

The constant process of forming the list of issues to be addressed by government


federal benefit payments to which recipients have a legal right, e.g., social security

Discretionary Spending

federal spending on programs that are controlled through the regular budget process (military spending)

Mandatory Spending

spending on certain programs that is mandated, or required by existing law (entitlements)

Office of Management and Budget

Executive office responsible for helping the President write and repair the federal budget and monitoring federal spending.

Double Jeopardy

the Fifth Amendment right providing that a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime

Self Incrimination

the situation occurring when an individual accused of a crime is compelled to be a witness against himself or herself in court (Fifth Amendment)

Eminent Domain

allows the govt to take property for public use but also requires the govt to provide just compensation for that property (hospital, school, football field?) (5th)

Reversed Powers

(10th), those powers that the Constitution does not grant to national gov't and doesn't deny to states

Tenth Amendment

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.

Line Item Veto

Presidential power to strike, or remove, specific items from a spending bill without vetoing the entire package; declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

War Powers Act

Notify Congress within 48 hours of deploying troops; had to gain congress' approval to stay longer than 90 days; designed to curtail President's power

Commerce Clause

The section of the Constitution in which Congress is given the power to regulate trade among the states and with foreign countries.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

This act made racial, religious, and sex discrimination by employers illegal and gave the government the power to enforce all laws governing civil rights, including desegregation of schools and public places.


division of power between the national and state governments

Concurrent Powers

Powers that the Constitution gives to both the national and state governments, such as the power to levy taxes.

Full Faith and Credit Clause

Constitution's requirement that each state accept the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state


The legal process by which a fugitive from justice in one state is returned to that state

Interstate Compact

An agreement among two or more states. Congress must approve most such agreements

Dual Federalism

(Layer Cake) a system of government in which both the states and the national government remain supreme within their own spheres, each responsible for some policies.

Cooperative Federalism

(Marble Cake) a system of government in which powers and policy assignments are shared between states and the national government; may also share costs, administration, and even blame for programs that work poorly.

New Federalism

System in which the national government restores greater authority back to the states (Reagan; devolution)

General Revenue Sharing

Federal government gives money back the states

Fiscal Federalism

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.

Categorical Grants

Federal grants to states or local governments that are for specific programs or projects.

Block Grants

Federal grants given more or less automatically to states or communities to support broad programs in areas such as community development and social services


the process of reassigning representation based on population, after every census


The redrawing of congressional and other legislative district lines following the census, to accommodate population shifts and keep districts as equal as possible in population.


Process of redrawing legislative boundaries for the purpose of benefiting the party in power.

Franking Privilege

The right of senators and representatives to send job-related mail without paying postage

Pork Barreling

legislation designed to make government benefits, including jobs and projects used as political patronage, flow to a particular district or state

President of Senate

the presiding officer of a senate; in Congress, the vice president of the United States; in a state's legislature, either the lieutenant governor or a senator

Speaker of the House

An office mandated by the Constitution. The Speaker is chosen in practice by the majority party, has both formal and informal powers, and is second in line to succeed to the presidency should that office become vacant.

President Pro Tem

Unofficial head of the Senate; next in line of succession after the Speaker of the House

Secretary of State

The head of the Department of State and traditionally a key adviser to the president on foreign policy

Standing Committee

A permanent committee established in a legislature, usually focusing on a policy area.

Joint Committee

A committee of the House and the Senate that usually acts as a study group and reports its findings back to the House and the Senate

Select Committee

A temporary legislative committee established for a limited time period and for a special purpose.

Conference Committee

temporary joint committee created to reconcile any differences between the two houses' versions of a bill

General Accounting Office

reviews spending activities of federal agencies, studies programs, and recommends ways to spend taxpayers' dollars wisely

Congressional Budget Office

Congressional agency of budget experts who assess the feasibility of the president's plan and who help create Congress's version of the federal budget.

Log rolling

a legislator supports a proposal favored by another in return for support of his or hers

Library of Congress

-Established by Congress in 1800 to function as a research library for the legislative branch of the federal government, it eventually became the unofficial national library of the United States. Contains over 120 million books.


A meeting of local party members to choose party officials or candidates for public office and to decide the platform.

How a state becomes a law



A tactic for delaying or obstructing legislation by making long speeches


a procedure that allows each senator to speak only 1 hour on a bill under debate

Divided Government

Governance divided between the parties, as when one holds the presidency and the other controls one or both houses of Congress.

Recess Appointment

presidential appointment made without Senate confirmation during Senate recess

Implied power

powers that are not directly stated in the Constitution but belong to the national government

Executive privilege

The power to keep executive communications confidential, especially if they relate to national security.

Executive agreement

A formal agreement between the U.S. president and the leaders of other nations that does not require Senate approval.

Government corporations

A government organization that, like business corporations, provides a service that could be provided by the private sector and typically charges for its services. The U.S. Postal Service is an example.

Independent regulatory agencies

Federal regulatory agencies that are independent, thus not fully under the power of the president. Ex. Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission.

Independent executive agencies

Federal agencies not under the cabinet; congress authorizes them, defines their goals, and sets their powers; rules by commissions, boards, and panels; appointed by the president, approved by the senate.

Spoils system

the system of employing and promoting civil servants who are friends and supporters of the group in power

Office of personal management

the office in charge of hiring for most agencies of the federal government, using elaborate rules in the process.

Standard Operating Procedure

A set of rules established in a bureaucracy that dictate how workers respond to different situations so that all workers respond in the same way.

Freedom of Information Act

citizens have the right to inspect all government records except those containing military, intelligence, or trade secrets or revealing private personnel actions

Writ of Certiorari

a common law writ issued by a superior court to one of inferior jurisdiction demanding the record of a particular case

Amicus Curiae

an adviser to the court on some matter of law who is not a party to the case; offers information on topics beneficial to cause

Majority opinion

a statement that presents the views of the majority of supreme court justices regarding a case

Concurring opinion

An opinion that agrees with the majority in a Supreme Court ruling but differs on the reasoning.

Dissenting opinion

an opinion disagreeing with the majority decision in a Supreme Court ruling

Stare decisis

The rule of precedent, whereby a rule or law contained in a judicial decision is commonly viewed as binding on judges whenever the same question is presented.


created by statute or legislative action; regulated by statute; Ex. statutory age limit

Judicial restraint

Philosophy proposing that judges should interpret the Constitution to reflect what the framers intended and what its words literally say.

Judicial activism

A judicial philosophy in which judges make bold policy decisions, even charting new constitutional ground. Advocates of this approach emphasize that the courts can correct pressing needs, especially those unmet by the majoritarian political process.

Straw polls

polls that attempt to determine who is ahead in a political race

Margin of error

a measure of the accuracy of a public opinion poll

Exit poll

Public opinion surveys taken directly after voting, used by major media pollsters to predict electoral winners with speed and precision.

Political socialization

Complex process by which people get their sense of political identity, beliefs, and values (family, school, media, religion, national events-all help to socialize)

Yellow journalism

Journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers

Equal access rule

Corporation purchasing shares from majority/controlling shareholder must make same pro-rata offer to minorities

Equal time rule

an FCC rule that if a broadcaster sells time to one candidate, it must sell equal time to other candidates.

Fairness doctrine

An FCC rule, abolished in 1987, that required broadcasters to give time to opposing views if they broadcast one side of a controversial issue.

Party realignment

the displacement of the majority party by the minority party, usually during a critical election period

Nonpartisan election

A local or judicial election in which candidates are not selected or endorsed by political parties and party affiliation is not listed on ballots.

Straight ticket

a ballot cast by a voter who votes for all the candidates of one party

Split ticket

a ballot cast by a voter who votes for candidates from more than one party

National committee

Delegates who run party affairs between national conventions.

National Voter Registration (Motor Voter)

requires states to allow people to register to vote when applying for driver's licenses applications or completing license renewal forms

Blanket primary

a primary election in which each voter may vote for candidates from both parties


Petition for an issue


The name given to the political process in which the general public votes on an issue of public concern.


the act of removing an official by petition


Journalists who attempted to find corruption or wrongdoing in industries and expose it to the public

Political Action Committee

A committee set up by a corporation, labor union, or interest group that raises and spends campaign money from voluntary donations

Front Loading

The recent tendency of states to hold primaries early in the calendar in order to capitalize on media attention.

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