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U.S.

Government and Politics


From 13 British colonies to United States
Mid 18-th century 13 British colonies – each having a governor appointed by the king
and a legislature appointed by landholding voters.

Continues clashes between each colony and the colonial power in London over
issues of power and policy.

1763 – British government enforced commercial taxes on the colonies, alienating


powerful interests: “No taxation without representation” – the Stamp Act crisis.

Benjamin Franklin, postmaster of the British government for the colonies developed a
system of post roads linking the colonies (the role of newspapers)

1765 – the Stamp Act Congress sent a petition to the king convincing British
authorities to annul the taxes.
1773 – British government awarded the East India Company a monopoly on
importing and selling tea to the American colonies, hurting the interests of
traders and merchants in the colonies. Rebellion in Boston, raiding the East
India Company’s ships. The British closed Boston’s harbor, deported rebels to
England for trial, restricted trade to the west of the country.
Delegates from the 13 colonies met in what is known as the Continental
Congress, addressing the strains with Britain. As repressive policies were kept
in place, the Congress launched a boycott of British products, leading to the
Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Paine author of the two most influential pamphlets (“Common Sense”,
1977) at the start of the American Revolution, and inspired the rebels in 1776 to
declare independence from Britain
On Common Sense:

“It was a clarion call for unity against the corrupt British court, so as to realize
America’s providential role in providing an asylum for liberty. Written in a direct
and lively style, it denounced the decaying despotisms of Europe and pilloried
hereditary monarchy as an absurdity. At a time when many still hoped for
reconciliation with Britain, Common Sense demonstrated to many the
inevitability of separation”.

Philip Mark & Edward Zalta


“Thomas Paine”, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2013.
The Declaration of Independence
Issued on July 4, 1776, announcing that the 13 colonies were independent
of Britain (Thomas Jefferson, principal author)
Read aloud in public, sent to international audiences, denouncing the
British rule that damaged America’s economic interests.
A democratic document: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men are created equal” and have inviolable right to “life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness”.
It concludes: the people are free to “alter or abolish” repressive forms of
government”.
The Articles of Confederation
Drafted in 1777 (and ratified by the Continental Congress in 1781), they
were the first constitution for the government of the United States – a
confederation of states (a political system in which government acts as a
unit superior to the states but is dependent on their consent).
The Continental Congress took over the king’s power to make war and
peace, send and receive ambassadors, enter into treaties and alliances,
coin money, regulate Indian affairs, run a post office. It could not raise taxes
and relied on revenues from each of the states.
There was no president to enforce the laws and no judiciary to hear
disputes between and among the states.
The Articles of Confederation
Each state delegation cast a single vote in the Continental Congress.
Nine states were needed to enact legislation, hence few laws were passed.
The weakness of the Articles the Confederation was due to the widespread
distrust of central authority.
E restricted central government meant that the American could rule themselves in
towns and states, believing that self-government works best in small
communities.
The Articles could not address serious foreign threats (In the late 1780s Britain
denied American ships access to British ports; Spain threatened to close the
Mississippi River to American vessels).
The Constitutional Convention
Convened in full secrecy in Philadelphia, from June to September 1787,
with the participation of delegates from 12 of the 13 states (Rhode Island
did not attend).

Originally authorized by the Continental Congress to consider amendments


to the Articles of Confederation, the delegates ultimately drafted an entirely
new document—the Constitution of the United States that replaced.

The driving force and chief strategists: James Madison (4), Alexander
Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson (3), George Washington (1)
(presided the Convention)
The Structure and Main Principles
of the U. S. Constitution
The Constitution contains a Preamble, 7 articles, and 27 amendments. Its
main principles include:
• Popular Sovereignty
• Limited government
• Federalism
• Separation of powers in to three branches of government
• Checks and balances
• Individual rights
The Preamble
1776
We the people
In order to form a more perfect union,
Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,
Provide for the common defense,
Promote the general welfare and
Secure the blessings of liberty
To ourselves and our posterity
Do ordain and establish this Constitution
for the United States of America.
Popular Sovereignty
The belief that the legitimacy of the state (nation) is
created by the will or consent of its people, who are the
source of all political power
Closely associated to the Enlightenment philosophers: Thomas
Government has no power
Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau unless “We the People”
give it to them
Limited Government
The few and limited powers of the United
States government are defined in the
people's fundamental law— the
Constitution, as amended.
Governments derive “their
This is the basis of Rule-of-Law just powers from the
consent of the governed”
Federalism
The 10th Amendment to the Constitution allows for
the doctrine of Federalism:
“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.

Federalism around the world


Separation of Powers
Guarantees that no part of the government becomes
too powerful.
The legislative branch is in charge of making laws.
The executive branch can veto the law, making it
harder for the legislative branch to pass the law.
The judicial branch may also say that the law is
unconstitutional and thus make sure it is not a law.
Checks and balances
The structure of the national government
The national government is composed of three branches:
• Legislative branch (Congress) – House of Representatives
(435) and the Senate (100), chosen through direct election.
• Judicial branch (Court system) – The Supreme Court and
state courts. The Supreme Court determines what federal laws
mean and can overturn them if they are unconstitutional. Each
state has its own supreme court, which interprets that state’s
constitution and laws.
• Executive branch (Presidency) – President, Vice President,
Cabinet, various regulatory agencies that enforce laws
The structure of the state government
– The Constitution divide power between the national and state
governments, because the national government is based on the
concept of federalism, a system in which the power is divided between
the national and state governments
– The Constitution gives the national government certain specified
powers. All other powers are reserved to the states or to the people.
– Like the federal government, every state government has three branches:
• Legislative (bicameral State Congress)
• Executive (Governor)
• Judicial (Supreme Court)
The three branches share, check,
and balance power
Each branch has governmental powers that are unique to them:
• Congress can pass bills
• President can sign them into law
• Judiciary (Supreme Court) can rule the law unconstitutional

– The President nominates judges but they must be approved by the


Senate as do treaties entered into and signed by the President.
– Congress can also override a veto and impeach a President.
The process for amending the Constitution
There are two ways to amend the U.S. Constitution:
• Proposing an amendment by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate;
• Propose an amendment by having two-thirds of the states ask Congress to
call a convention to debate and then vote on the proposed amendment.
– After proposal, Congress chooses one of the two methods for ratifying it: (a)
the legislatures in 3/4 of the states can ratify it, or (b) the states can hold
special conventions and then 3/4 of the conventions approve it.
– Amendments have changed the Constitution structurally. They have extended
more power to government, and individual rights have been extended
– Each state has its own constitution. There are multiple methods for amending
state constitutions. The methods vary from state to state.
The Bill of Rights
The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, defining civil liberties to which
individuals are entitled, were ratified by the states in 1791;
• The freedom to worship as one pleases
• The freedom of speech
• The freedom of press
• The right to bear arms
• The right to not shelter soldiers
• The right to privacy
• The right to not incriminate oneself when accused of a crime
• The right to a speedy trial by a jury
• The right to a jury trial in federal courts to settle disputes about property worth more than $20
• The right not to have excessive bail
The process for amending the Constitution
Many crucial clauses of the Constitution are in the amendments.
13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary
servitude, except as punishment for a crime. It was passed by the Senate on April
1864, and by the House on January 1865.
14th amendment (1868): “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state
wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the
privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive
any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”
The understanding of the Constitution
has changed over time

• Modern presidents often conduct foreign affairs by executive


agreement rather than treaty, as specified in the Constitution;
• Presidents also request legislation more aggressively than in the past;
• Courts have also interpreted the Constitution differently over the years.
National government vs. State governments
The national government guarantees every state:
• Territorial integrity
• A democratic form of government
• Protection from invasion
• Protection against domestic violence
State and local governments:
• Conduct and pay for elections of all national government officials;
• Play a key role in the process of amending the Constitution, as 3/4 of the states
must approve an amendment.
• Have the power to regulate and promote business, protecting life and property,
promoting education, health, and welfare. States also protect the environment,
and have the freedom to settle its own laws, regulations, taxes, criminal codes,
and budget priorities
The Supreme Court has held that when the national government and a state
government come into conflict, the national government is supreme.
Executions in the United States

Fatos Tarifa, PhD


Washington, D.C.
The signing of the Resident Act, on July 1790, approved the creation of a capital district, located along
the Potomac River. The U.S. Constitution provided for a federal district under the executive
jurisdiction of the Congress and the District is therefore not a part of any state. Founded in 1791. It
has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams in 1800.
Political parties’ views on the proper balance of
power between national and state governments?

The Republican Party and Libertarians believe the


Constitution sets clear limits on the power of the national
government.

The Democratic Party and progressives believe that the


Constitution confirms the Founders’ belief in the need for
a strong national government.