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Topic 1B: The U.S. Constitution
Terms in this set (38)
A form of government or country in which power resides in elected individuals representing the citizen body and government leaders exercise power according to the rule of law. In modern times, the definition of a republic is commonly limited to a government which excludes a monarch
Articles of Confederation
The first written constitution of the United States. Stemming from wartime urgency, its progress was slowed by fears of central authority and extensive land claims by states before was it was ratified on March 1, 1781. Under these articles, the states remained sovereign and independent, with Congress serving as the last resort on appeal of disputes. Congress was also given the authority to make treaties and alliances, maintain armed forces and coin money. However, the central government lacked the ability to levy taxes and regulate commerce, issues that led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 for the creation of new federal laws.
Northwest Ordinance of 1787
Structured settlement of the Northwest Territory and creating a policy for the addition of new states to the nation. The members of Congress knew that if their new confederation were to survive intact, it had to resolve the states' competing claims to western territory. The Northwest Ordinance proposed that three to five new states be created from the Northwest Territory. Instead of adopting the legal constructs of an existing state, each territory would have an appointed governor and council. When the population reached 5,000, the residents could elect their own assembly, although the governor would retain absolute veto power. When 60,000 settlers resided in a territory, they could draft a constitution and petition for full statehood. The ordinance provided for civil liberties and public education within the new territories, but did not allow slavery. Pro-slavery Southerners were willing to go along with this because they hoped that the new states would be populated by white settlers from the South. They believed that although these Southerners would have no slaves of their own, they would not join the growing abolition movement of the North.
Shays' Rebellion (1786-1787)
Armed uprising in Massachusetts (mostly in and around Springfield) during 1786 and 1787. Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led four thousand rebels (called Shaysites) in rising up against perceived economic injustices by Massachusetts, and later on attempted to capture the United States' national weapons arsenal at the U.S. Armory at Springfield. Traditionally depicted as a revolt of poor farmers embittered by land seizures and bankruptcies, recent research into the lives of Shays Rebellion's participants suggests that Shaysites came from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and from different professions and states. Research shows that the Shaysites' grievances extended beyond the specifics of Massachusetts' economic situation to issues like: rule by a faraway elite; spoils system and corruption in government; and regressive tax policy (hurting the poor). Although Shays' Rebellion met with defeat militarily against a privately-raised militia, it prompted numerous national leaders (including George Washington, who came out of retirement to deal with issues raised by Shays' Rebellion) to call for a stronger national government to suppress future rebellions, resulting in the U.S. Constitutional Convention and according to historian Leonard L. Richards, "fundamentally altering the course of U.S. history."
Virginia Plan vs. New Jersey Plan
The New Jersey Plan was a proposal for the structure of the United States Government presented by William Paterson at the Constitutional Convention on June 15, 1787. The plan was created in response to the Virginia Plan, which called for two houses of Congress, both elected with apportionment according to population. The less populous states were adamantly opposed to giving most of the control of the national government to the more populous states, and so proposed an alternative plan that would have kept the one-vote-per-state representation under one legislative body from the Articles of Confederation. The New Jersey Plan was opposed by James Madison and Edmund Randolph (the proponents of the Virginia Plan).
The Great Compromise
Agreement that large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that in part defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution. It retained the bicameral legislature as proposed by Roger Sherman, along with proportional representation in the lower house, but required the upper house to be weighted equally between the states. Each state would have two representatives in the upper house.
Compromise reached between delegates from southern states and those from northern states during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention. The debate was over whether, and if so, how, slaves would be counted when determining a state's total population for legislative representation and taxing purposes. The issue was important, as this population number would then be used to determine the number of seats that the state would have in the United States House of Representatives for the next ten years. The effect was to give the southern states a third more seats in Congress and a third more electoral votes than they would otherwise have had, allowing the slaveholder interests to largely dominate the government of the United States until 1865. The compromise was proposed by delegates James Wilson and Roger Sherman.
Federalists vs. Antifederalists
Public opinion about the Constitution quickly became separated into two camps, the Federalists and the Antifederalists. Most Federalists were wealthy, well-educated, and unified by the desire for a powerful, centralized government. Their leaders were usually influential men such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. They were proponents of an orderly, efficient government that could protect their economic status. The Federalists were well organized and in many states they often controlled the elections of ratifying conventions with their power and influence. Their opponents, the Antifederalists, were generally farmers, debtors, and other lower class people who were loyal to their state governments. Antifederalist leaders, including Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, typically enjoyed more wealth and power than the people they led. Henry was notorious for fighting for individual liberties, and one of the primary objections the Antifederalists had to the Constitution was the lack of a Bill of Rights, which would have afforded basic liberties to the public. They also feared the powers that would be assigned to a large central government, especially powers of taxation. Many Antifederalists believed a republican government could not rule a nation as large as America, since previously republics had only been successful in small regions like Switzerland and the Netherlands.
The Federalist Papers
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay stepped forward with a series of essays designed to alleviate the Antifederalists' fears. These essays came to be known as the Federalists Papers, and they were the most influential political writings of the time. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay argued that limitations on governmental power were built into the Constitution with a series of checks and balances. In these essays they also explained the need for centralized government so the United States could earn the respect of other countries. With the assistance of the Federalist Papers, the Federalists were able to break down resistance and gain enough support to ratify the Constitution.
On September 17, 1787 the new U.S. constitution, which created a strong federal government with an intricate system of checks and balances, was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates present at the conclusion of the convention. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states. Beginning on December 7, five states-Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut-ratified it in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve undelegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. In June, Virginia ratified the Constitution, followed by New York in July. On September 25, 1789, the first Congress of the United States adopted 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution-the Bill of Rights-and sent them to the states for ratification. Ten of these amendments were ratified in 1791. In November 1789, North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Rhode Island, which opposed federal control of currency and was critical of compromise on the issue of slavery, resisted ratifying the Constitution until the U.S. government threatened to sever commercial relations with the state. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island voted by two votes to ratify the document, and the last of the original 13 colonies joined the United States. Today the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world.
Bill of Rights (1791)
Collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed to assuage the fears of Anti-Federalists who had opposed Constitutional ratification, these amendments guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. Originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, however, most were subsequently applied to the government of each state by way of the Fourteenth Amendment, through a process known as incorporation.
The principle that the authority of the government is created and sustained by the consent of its people, through their elected representatives (Rule by the People), who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with social contract philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Popular sovereignty expresses a concept and does not necessarily reflect or describe a political reality. It is usually contrasted with the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, and with individual sovereignty. The people have the final say in government decisions. Benjamin Franklin expressed the concept when he wrote, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns". Americans founded their Revolution and government on popular sovereignty.
As discussed in The Federalist Papers, the idea of limited government originally implied the notion of a separation of powers and the system of checks and balances promoted by the U.S. Constitution. This understanding of limited government maintains that government is internally limited by the system of checks and balances as well as the Constitution itself, which can be amended, and externally through the republican principle of electoral accountability. Such an understanding of limited government, as explained by James Madison, does not place arbitrary and ideologically biased parameters on the actions of a government thus allowing government to change as time demands. "Limited government" stands in contrast to, among many things, the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. Under that doctrine, the King, and by extension his entire government, held unlimited sovereignty over its subjects. Limited government exists where some effective limits restrict governmental power. In Western civilization, the Magna Carta stands as the early example of a document limiting the reach of the king's sovereignty. While its limits protected only a small portion of the English population, it did state that the king's barons possessed rights which they could assert against the king. The English Bill of Rights associated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 established limits of royal sovereignty. In contrast, the United States Constitution of 1787 created a government limited by the terms of the written document itself, by the election by the people of the legislators and the executive, and by the checks and balances through which the three branches of government limited each other's power.
Federalism (Division of powers)
The Framers of the Constitution were dedicated to the concept of limited government. They believed (1) that any governmental power threatens individual liberty, (2) that therefore the exercise of governmental power must be curbed, and (3) that to divide governmental power is to restrict it and thus prevent its abuse. Federalism is a system of government in which a written constitution divides the powers of government on a territorial basis. The division is made between a central, or national, government and several regional or local governments. Each level of government has its own area of powers. Neither level, acting alone, can change the basic division of powers the constitution makes between them. Each level operates through its own agencies and acts directly on the people through its own officials and laws. Quite simply, federalism allows local and state governments to make laws about certain things and the national government to make laws about other things. These laws can not conflict with each other (example: New York could not make a law forbidding women to vote because the national government has said it is a right for all citizens of this country). Hence, the national government has the power to make laws over a variety of things but the Constitution (10th amendment) says that state and local governments have power to make laws over everything else that the national government doesn't make laws about. For example, the national government has made a law saying that everyone has the right to vote at age 18 and it is no different in any state. However, the states have the power to determine the speed limit in their state and the national government has no say on what the speed limit should be in any of the states. Often, they share the power to make laws about certain issues. For example, there are national laws about gun rights and restrictions that all states must follow. However, Colorado also has laws that are more specific about what rights Colorado residents have concerning guns in Colorado, such as Colorado is the only state that doesn't require a permit for handgun owners.
To delegate means to specifically assign, in this case delegated powers are those powers specifically assigned to the Federal Government. The founding fathers feared a national government that would overstep its bounds, so they took care to only allow the national government very specific powers. These are also referred to as enumerated powers.
To reserve is to save, in this case all powers not specifically delegated the Federal Government are to be reserved or saved for the State Governments.
Concurrent means "at the same time", in this case concurrent powers are those that both the federal and state governments have simultaneously.
A list of items found in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution that set forth the authority of Congress. In summary, Congress may exercise the powers that the Constitution grants it, subject to the individual rights listed in the Bill of Rights. Moreover, the Constitution expresses various other limitations on Congress, such as the one expressed by the 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." Historically, Congress and the Supreme Court have broadly interpreted the enumerated powers, especially by deriving many implied powers from them. The enumerated powers listed in Article One include both exclusive federal powers, as well as concurrent powers that are shared with the states, and all of those powers are to be contrasted with reserved powers that only the states possess.
These are powers that are not specifically delegated in the Constitution, but are understood to be necessary or allowed. The elastic clause (necessary & proper clause) allows these by stating that Congress has the power "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers" (art. I, sec. 8). Examples include:
Hamilton's creation of the National Bank - no power to create banks is delegated the Federal Government, however it was deemed necessary and proper to form a bank to aid in Congress's power to coin money and regulate the economy. (see McCullough vs. Maryland 1819)
Regulation of Railroads, Shipping, Highways - Congress is delegated the power to regulate interstate trade and as such it is implied that Congress also has the power to regulate interstate transportation by which interstate trade is made possible. (see Gibbons vs. Ogden 1824)
The immediate problem faced by the Framers of the Constitution was that it was impossible to list ALL the powers of government. First off, there's just too many; and second, they wanted to build a government that would last, that would stand the test of time. They knew the world was going to change and they couldn't predict what the world would look like in even ten years' time, much less in a century. So they added a rule. Near the end of Section 8 of the Constitution, there's this: Congress has the power 'to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or any Department or Officer thereof'. What does this mean? Two things: first, don't think that the powers listed here are the government's ONLY powers. Second, Congress can make any law it needs to, in order to carry out its enumerated powers. This 'necessary and proper' clause, then, allows the government to stretch beyond its literal description; that's why the clause is often nicknamed the elastic clause, since its flexibility allows the government to change (and grow) over time.
Separation of powers
Political doctrine originating in the writings of Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws where he urged for a constitutional government with three separate branches of government. Each of the three branches would have defined abilities to check the powers of the other branches. This idea was called separation of powers. This philosophy heavily influenced the writing of the United States Constitution, according to which the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the United States government are kept distinct in order to prevent abuse of power. This United States form of separation of powers is associated with a system of checks and balances.
The legislative branch of US government is the US Congress, created by article I of the Constitution. The upper-house of Congress is the US Senate, the lower-house is the House of Representatives.
Main roles and powers:
To pass legislation (laws)
Impeach federal officials
Override presidential vetoes (2/3 vote in each house)
Special powers & Responsibilities:
Approve presidential nominations to the federal courts (including the Supreme Court, by majority vote)
Approve presidential appointments to federal positions (by a majority vote)
Approve treaties (by 2/3 vote)
Serve as jury in impeachment trials
Select a Vice-President if the electoral college fails to
House of Representatives:
Originate all spending ($$) bills
Serve as prosecution in impeachment trial
Select a President if the electoral college fails to
Requirements and terms of service:
Term: Senators serve unlimited 6 year terms, elected by popular vote*
*note: The original Constitution called for Senators to be elected by the state legislatures, the 17th amendment changed this to a popular vote)
Requirements: Senators must be over 30, 9 year citizens of the US and a resident of the state
House of Representatives:
Term: Representatives serve unlimited 2 year terms, elected by popular vote
Requirements: Representatives must be over 25, 7 year citizens of the US and a resident of the district which they represent
Representation: Each state has 2 Senators
House of Representatives:
Representation: Each state's number of representatives is proportional to population. The number of Representatives is fixed at 435 and division among the states is determined by the census (population count) conducted every 10 years as required by the Constitution.
The executive branch of US government is composed of the President, his advisors and all federal agencies and their heads. The executive was created by article II of the Constitution.
Main roles and powers:
Enforce the laws passed by Congress
Issue executive orders, enforcing the law
Act as the head of the federal bureaucracy and all federal agencies
Nominate judges (including those to the Supreme Court, requiring Senate confirmation)
Appoint government officials (some requiring Senate confirmation, some not)
Act a representative of the United States to foreign governments
Make treaties with foreign nations (require 2/3 vote in Senate for approval)
Extend or rescind diplomatic recognition of foreign nations
Propose a federal budget
Recommend proposed laws to Congress
Approve legislation passed by Congress
Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces
Supreme commander of all branches of US military
Authorize use of US military for up to 60 days (without approval of Congress or declaration of war)
Chief of State
Serve as ceremonial head of US Government
Special powers & Responsibilities:
Grant pardon (forgiving an individual of his/her crime(s))
Grant amnesty (forgiving a group of people of a specific class of crime)
Requirements and terms of service:
Terms: President serves a maximum of 2 terms of 4 years (**note: the original Constitution allowed of unlimited terms of service, this was revised by the 22nd amendment in 1951)
Requirements: President (or Vice-President) must over 35, a natural born citizen and a 14 year resident of the United States.
The judicial branch of US government is composed of the Supreme Court and all of the lower federal courts as created by Congress. The judicial branch was created by article III of the Constitution. The most significant power of the judicial branch is that of judicial review, first stated by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 1803 case of Marbury vs. Madison, but not expressly granted the court by the Constitution.
Main roles and powers:
Interpret the law
Exercise the power of judicial review
Chief Justice presides over trials of presidential impeachment
Determine if laws passed by Congress are allowable by the Constitution
Determine if treaties negotiated by the President and approved by the Senate are allowable by the Constitution
Determine if actions by the President in enforcing the law are allowable by the Constitution
Determine if laws passed by states are allowable by the Constitution
Jurisdiction (Supreme Court):
The Supreme Court hears cases of appeal from lower federal and state courts
The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction (may hear a case first) in cases involving a state vs. state matter or a branch vs. branch matter
Requirements and terms of service:
Terms: Judges serve for life, they are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate but may be removed by an impeachment proceeding
Requirements: There are no specific requirement for judgeship in the Constitution
Checks and Balances
With checks and balances, each of the three branches of government can limit the powers of the others. This way, no one branch becomes too powerful. Each branch "checks" the power of the other branches to make sure that the power is balanced between them. The process of how laws are made is a good example of checks and balances in action. First, the legislative branch introduces and votes on a bill. The bill then goes to the executive branch, where the President decides whether he thinks the bill is good for the country. If so, he signs the bill, and it becomes a law. If the President does not believe the bill is good for the country, he does not sign it. This is called a veto. But the legislative branch gets another chance. With enough votes, the legislative branch can override the executive branch's veto, and the bill becomes a law. Once a law is in place, the people of the country can test it through the court system, which is under the control of the judicial branch. If someone believes a law is unfair, a lawsuit can be filed. Lawyers then make arguments for and against the case, and a judge decides which side has presented the most convincing arguments. The side that loses can choose to appeal to a higher court, and may eventually reach the highest court of all, the Supreme Court. If the legislative branch does not agree with the way in which the judicial branch has interpreted the law, they can introduce a new piece of legislation, and the process starts all over again.
The bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States consisting of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election. Members are usually affiliated to the Republican Party or to the Democratic Party, and only rarely to a third-party or as independents. Congress has 535 voting members: 435 Representatives and 100 Senators.
House of Representatives
The lower house of the United States Congress (a bicameral legislature). The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the United States Constitution. The major power of the House is to pass federal legislation that affects the entire country, although its bills must also be passed by the Senate and further agreed to by the U.S. President before becoming law (unless both the House and Senate re-pass the legislation with a two-thirds majority in each chamber). The House has some exclusive powers: the power to initiate revenue bills, to impeach officials (impeached officials are subsequently tried in the Senate), and to elect the U.S. President in case there is no majority in the Electoral College. Each U.S. state is represented in the House in proportion to its population as measured in the census, but every state is entitled to at least one representative. The most populous state, California, currently has 53 representatives. On the other end of the spectrum, there are seven states with only one representative each (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming). The total number of voting representatives is fixed by law at 435. In addition there are six non-voting Representatives who have a voice on the floor and a vote in committees, but no vote on the floor. The Speaker of the House, who presides over the chamber, is elected by the members of the House, and is therefore traditionally the leader of the House Democratic Caucus or the House Republican Conference, whichever party has more voting members. The House meets in the south wing of the United States Capitol.
The upper house of the United States Congress (a bicameral legislature). First convened in 1789, the composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each state is represented by two senators, regardless of population, who serve staggered six-year terms. The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C. The House of Representatives convenes in the south wing of the same building. The Senate has several exclusive powers not granted to the House, including consenting to treaties as a precondition to their ratification and consenting to or confirming appointments of Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, other federal executive officials, military officers, regulatory officials, ambassadors, and other federal uniformed officers, as well as trial of federal officials impeached by the House. The Senate is widely considered to be both a more deliberative and more prestigious body than the House of Representatives, due to its longer terms, smaller size, and statewide constituencies, which historically led to a more collegial and less partisan atmosphere
The expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office. The actual trial on those charges, and subsequent removal of an official on conviction on those charges, is separate from the act of impeachment itself. At the federal level, Article II of the United States Constitution (Section 4) states that "The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeaching, while the United States Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments. The removal of impeached officials is automatic upon conviction in the Senate. Impeachment can also occur at the state level: state legislatures can impeach state officials, including governors, according to their respective state constitutions. At the Philadelphia Convention, Benjamin Franklin noted that, historically, the removal of "obnoxious" chief executives had been accomplished by assassination. Franklin suggested that a formal mechanism for removal—impeachment—would be preferable.
All legislation passed by both houses of Congress must be presented to the President. This presentation is in the President's capacity as Head of State. If the President approves of the legislation, he or she signs it into law. According to Article 1. Section 7 of the Constitution, when the President chooses, if he or she does not approve, he or she must return the bill, unsigned, within ten days, excluding Sundays, to the house of the United States Congress in which it originated, while the Congress is in session. The President is constitutionally required to state his or her objections to the legislation in writing, and the Congress is constitutionally required to consider them, and to reconsider the legislation. This action, in effect, is a veto.
If the Congress overrides the veto by a two-thirds majority in each house, it becomes law without the President's signature. Otherwise, the bill fails to become law unless it is presented to the President again and he or she chooses to sign it. Historically, the Congress overrides the Presidential veto less than 10% of the time. A bill can also become law without the President's signature if, after it is presented to him or her, he or she simply fails to sign it within the ten days noted. If there are fewer than ten days left in the session before Congress adjourns, and if Congress does so adjourn before the ten days have expired in which the President might sign the bill, then the bill fails to become law. This procedure, when used as a formal device, is called a pocket veto.
The institution that elects the President and Vice President of the United States every four years. The President and Vice President are not elected directly by the voters. Instead, they are elected by "electors" who are chosen by popular vote on a state-by-state basis. Electors are apportioned to each state and the District of Columbia (also known as Washington, D.C.), but not to territorial possessions of the United States. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members of Congress to which the state is entitled, while the Twenty-third Amendment grants the District of Columbia the same number of electors as the least populous state, currently three. In total, there are 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 senators, and the three additional electors from the District of Columbia. Electors are almost always pledged to particular presidential and vice presidential candidates, though unpledged electors are possible. Except for the electors in Maine and Nebraska, electors are elected on a "winner-take-all" basis. That is, all electors pledged to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in a state become electors for that state. Maine and Nebraska use the "congressional district method", selecting one elector within each congressional district by popular vote and selecting the remaining two electors by a statewide popular vote. Although no elector is required by federal law to honor a pledge, there have only been very few occasions when an elector voted contrary to a pledge. The Twelfth Amendment, in specifying how a President and Vice President are elected, requires each elector to cast one vote for President and another vote for Vice President. The candidate that receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) for the office of President or of Vice President is elected to that office. The Twelfth Amendment provides for what happens if the Electoral College fails to elect a President or Vice President. If no candidate receives a majority for President, then the House of Representatives will select the President, with each state delegation (instead of each Representative) having only one vote. If no candidate receives a majority for Vice President, then the Senate will select the Vice President, with each Senator having one vote. Critics argue that the Electoral College is inherently undemocratic and gives swing states disproportionate influence in electing the President and Vice President. The Electoral College gives a numeric advantage in the election of the president to the smaller states, as the minimum number of electors for the small states is three compared to one for the election of representatives. On the other hand, the winner-take-all method of voting favors the larger states. On four occasions, most recently in 2000, the Electoral College system has resulted in the election of a candidate who did not receive the most popular votes in the election. A number of constitutional amendments have been proposed seeking to alter the Electoral College or replace it with a direct popular vote.
According to Article II, Section 2, Clause I of the Constitution, the President of the United States is Commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. The amount of military detail handled personally by the President in wartime has varied dramatically. The structure of U.S. ranks has its roots in British military traditions, with the President taking the highest military rank. George Washington was the first President to firmly establish military subordination under civilian authority. In 1794, Washington used his constitutional powers to assemble 12,000 militia to quell the Whiskey Rebellion—a conflict in western Pennsylvania involving armed farmers and distillers who refused to pay excise tax on spirits. According to historian Joseph Ellis, this was the "first and only time a sitting American president led troops in the field." However, James Madison briefly took control of artillery units in defense of Washington D.C. during the War of 1812. Abraham Lincoln was deeply involved in overall strategy and in day-to-day operations during the American Civil War, 1861-1865; historians have given Lincoln high praise for his strategic sense and his ability to select and encourage commanders such as Ulysses S. Grant. On the other extreme, Woodrow Wilson paid very little attention to operational military details of World War I and had very little contact with the War Department or with General John J. Pershing, who had a high degree of autonomy as commander of the armies in France. As President in World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt worked closely with his generals, and admirals, and assigned Admiral William D. Leahy as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief. Harry S. Truman believed in a high amount of civilian leadership of the military, making many tactical and policy decisions based on the recommendations of his advisors—including the decision to use atomic weapons on Japan, to commit American forces in the Korean War, and to terminate Douglas MacArthur from his command. Lyndon B. Johnson kept a very tight personal control of operations during the Vietnam War, which some historians have sharply criticized. In 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing Gulf War in 1991, saw George H.W. Bush assemble and lead one of the largest military coalitions of nations in modern times. Confronting a major constitutional issue of murky legislation that left the wars in Korea and Vietnam without official declarations of war, Congress quickly authorized sweeping war-making powers for Bush. The leadership of George W. Bush during the War in Afghanistan and Iraq War achieved mixed results. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks by al-Qaeda, the subsequent War on Terror that followed, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq due to the alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (among other causes), the speed at which the Taliban and Ba'ath Party governments in both Kabul and Baghdad were toppled by an overwhelming superiority of American and allied forces defied the predictions of many military experts. However, rebuilding those nations proved to be a much more difficult task.
When our founding fathers created the Constitution they realized that any document meant to frame a government needed flexibility. They wanted the Constitution to be able to stand for generation after generation without having to create a brand new constitution. In recognizing this they incorporated two important features: the Elastic Clause & the amendment process. A third feature developed providing flexibility which was judicial review.
The most important power of the Supreme Court, which is deciding on the constitutionality of laws or government actions, is not in the Constitution. Judicial review sometimes results in the Supreme Court declaring a law or action unconstitutional and therefore void. The power of Judicial Review was a precedent set in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision. Regardless, it has become one of the most fundamental concepts in American government. It also serves a check and balance on the laws passed by Congress and the actions and treaties of the President.
One of the most important features of the Constitution is the ability to amend or change the document in order to adapt it to changing times and conditions (flexibility). Amending the Constitution should rightly be a difficult task, there are however a few methods to accomplishing these significant changes.
Step One - Proposal
Must pass 2/3 the House of Representatives and the Senate - OR -
Must pass 2/3 of states at a National Constitutional Convention if one is called.
Step Two - Ratification
3/4 of the state legislatures must vote yes - OR -
3/4 of state held conventions.
A group of rights that have been recognized by the Supreme Court as requiring a high degree of protection from government encroachment. These rights are specifically identified in the Constitution (especially in the Bill of Rights), or have been found under Due Process. Laws limiting these rights generally must pass strict scrutiny to be upheld as constitutional. Examples of fundamental rights not specifically listed in the Constitution include the right to interstate travel, the right to intrastate travel, the right to parent one's children, protection on the high seas from pirates, the right to privacy, and the right to marriage.
Refers to the ideas and processes that are accepted as a needed part of American government, regardless of the fact that they are not actually in the Constitution. These ideas and processes came about through the custom and precedent. Many aspects of the unwritten Constitution are so ingrained into our system that many do not even realize that they are not laws or provisions of the Constitution.
George Washington was the first to have a cabinet of advisors to aid him in making decisions for the nation. Today, the president's cabinet consists of the secretaries/heads of the 14 major departments of the executive branch (a few examples include: The Attorney General of the Justice Department, The Secretary of Defense of the Defense Department and The Secretary of State of the State Department).
Political parties are as old as the Constitution itself, however the document makes no rules to govern them. The first political parties arose from the debates over Constitutional ratification (the Federalists Party lead by Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic-Republicans headed by Thomas Jefferson). It quickly became clear that political parties were to be the major forces in shaping American politics and by necessity rules and laws were established for their regulation, with no basis in the Constitution.
Congressional committees have been referred to as the "backbone of Congress". However, the system by which the majority of the work in Congress is accomplished is not defined in the Constitution. The work of Congress soon became so vast, that it became essential to the governing of the nation, to divide the work of legislating into specialized committees. These committees in both the House and the Senate serve to first consider specific legislation on topics such as the military (armed services committee), foreign policy (foreign relations committee) or spending (appropriations committee) before passing bills onto the entire House or Senate for consideration.
The most important power of the Supreme Court, that of Judicial Review or the ability to declare laws unconstitutional, is not in the Constitution. The power of Judicial Review was a precedent set in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision. Regardless, it has become one of the most fundamental concepts in American government. It also serves a check and balance on the laws passed by Congress and the actions and treaties of the President.
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