AP Government Review #2A: Constitutional Foundations of the United States Government
Welcome to the first post of the first unit of the AP US Government and Politics Review series. The posts that have the #2 on them will be about the first portion of the AP Government exam. The material I cover will be about 5-15% of the exam. I’m going to divide this unit into two different posts. The first one (this one) will be about the history of the US government and the key terms and social movements that occurred. The next post (#2B) will be about Federalism. Please note that in order to do well on the AP Government exam, you need to know your vocabulary. This is mostly a vocabulary exam! Okay, let’s get started!
- Democracy: A system of government in which ultimate political authority is vested in the people. Derived from the Greek words demos (“the people”) and kratos (“authority”)
- Direct Democracy: A system of government in which political decisions are made by the people directly, rather than by their elected representatives; probably possible only in small political communities
- Representative Democracy: A form of government in which representatives elected by the people make and enforce laws and policies; may retain the monarchy in a ceremonial role
- Constitutional Democracy: a system of government based on popular sovereignty, in which the structures, powers, and limits of government are set force in a constitution
- Majority Rule: A basic principle of democracy asserting that the greatest number of citizens in any political unit should select officials and determine policies
- Plurality: the outcome of an election that involves more than two candidates
- Bicameralism: two legislative chambers [Congress- HoR and Senate]
- Natural Rights: Rights held to be inherent in natural law, not dependent on governments. John Locke stated that natural law, being superior to human law, specifies certain rights of “life, liberty, and property.” These rights, altered to become “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” are asserted in the Declaration of Independence
- Separation of Powers: The principle of dividing governmental powers among the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government
- Checks and Balances: A major principle of the American government system whereby each branch of the government exercises a check on the actions of the others
- Direct Primary: where voters directly select the candidates who will run for office
- Judicial Review: The power of the Supreme Court or any court to declare unconstitutional federal or state laws and other acts of government (established in Marbury Vs. Madison 1803)
- Writ of Mandamus: A judicial order directing a government official to perform a duty of his or her office
- Executive Order: A rule or order issued by the president to an executive branch of the government and having the force of law
- Executive Privilege: The privilege, claimed by the president for the executive branch of the US government, of withholding information in the public interest
Important Court Cases of the Time:
- Marbury v. Madison: (1803) Adams appointed the “midnight judges;” Jefferson refused to honor Adams’ decisions—established judicial review. You need to know this. Don’t forget this.
- Gibbons v. Ogdens: (1824) NY granted Fulton and Livingston exclusive rights of steam boat navigation on NY waters. Ogden said his steamships were licensed under the Act of Congress—interestate commerce
- McCulloch v. Maryland: (1819) Maryland enacted a statute imposing taxes on all banks not chartered by the state; Maryland didn’t have power to do so; Congress can incorporate a bank pursuant to the Necessary and Proper Clause—division between national and state government
What You Need to Know:
Types of Government:
- Anarchy: no goverment (ana = no)
- Autocracy: rule by one (auto = by itself)
- Absolute Monarchy: type of autocracy; rule through inheritance; no restrictions on power
- Constitutional Monarchy: type of autocracy; rule through inheritance; restrictions on power; mostly ceremonial/figurehead
- Oligarchy: rule by few
- Aristocracy: type of oligarchy; rule by the elite—wealthy, powerful
- Theocracy: type of oligarchy; rule by religous people
- Democracy: rule by the people (see key terms above for more on democracy)
What Influenced the US Government:
- Greece and Rome: democratic government began in Greece and Rome; heavily influenced the ideas of America’s founding fathers
- Magna Carta: (1215) this was the first attempt to limit the British Monarchy and was forced upon the monarchs. It guaranteed certain rights, like trial by jury, due process of law, and protection against unfairly taking life, liberty, and property away from its citizens. Magna Carta = Great Charter
- Parliament: the parliament of Britain became the major lawmaking body of the government, limiting the monarchy
- Petition of Right: (1628) this extended the protection of the Magna Carta to commoners. It also further limited the monarchy by restricting its ability to tax without parliament’s consent, declaring marital law, military rule, or housing military in private homes during peace time without the owners consent was illegal. This challenged the divine rights of the King
- English Bill of Rights: (1689) an agreement between parliament and King William and Queen Mary to prevent future monarchs from abusing their powers. guaranteed free parliamentary elections, rights of citizens to a fair and speedy trial, freedom from excessive bails and fines, no cruel and unusual punishments, the right to petition the crown, and suspension of public laws was prohibited.
- John Locke: was a philosopher during the Enlightenment; supported the concept of social contract: a voluntary agreement between the government and governed; argued that people were born with natural rights and that governments had to support those rights. (Think Declaration of Independence)
- Montesquieu: not as major as Locke but did argue for the need for branches of government (Think early checks and balances/ separation of powers)
- I’m not going to cover this in -depth, since it’s not emphasized on the exam. Most of you should have a good background on this from US History, World History, Law Studies, etc. If you don’t, it’s not that big of a deal!
- Basically, the colonies were founded on the basis of a charter from the King. This charter was the legal prof needed to establish a colony and have protection under the crown.
- Virginia established the first representative legislature in America. The House of Burgesses was a rudimentary legislature and only allowed property owning white males to hold positions.
- Mayflower Compact: (1620) was a social contract that established a government that relied on the consent of the governed
- As time went on, colonists developed tensions with Britain. Until the French and Indian War, Britain let the colonies run themselves mostly. However, post-war, Britain relied on the colonies to help pay war debts by inflicting taxes and levies on trade. Major ones include the Sugar Act (1764). Stamp Act (1765) and the Townshend Acts (1767).
Independence and Creating a New Government:
- Eventually, in 1774, the colonists held the Continental Congress in Philadelphia which sent a Declaration of Rights to the kind. They met again in May 1775 to have the Second Continental Congress, which had delegates from all 13 colonies. Major ones included George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock. There, they wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.
- The Articles of Confederation (1781-89) created a league of friendship among the states. It had a weak national government, because the founding fathers feared tyranny and rule by few. However, without a central government, the states taxed each other, printed their own money, and refused to uphold the laws of the central government. Here’s a handy little chart I made for you guys to remember the major differences between the Articles and the Constitution.
- Shay’s Rebellion: (1786) was an armed uprising in Massachusetts and occurred due to economic problems and financial instability. The Rebellion proved that the Articles were too weak and that the US needed a strong central government. Shay’s Rebellion led to the Constitutional Convention.
Creating a Better Government:
- The Constitutional Convention occurred in May 1787 in Philadelphia.
- The Virginia Plan: proposed by Government Edmund Randolph; favored the larger states; included a bicameral legislature with the lower one chosen by the people and the upper one selected by the lower one’s nominees—number of representatives were dependent on state population (which included slaves).
- The New Jersey Plan: proposed by William Peterson (a lawyer) who believed that all states were equal under the Articles of Confederation—one state; one vote. Congress would regulate and impose taxes, and all acts by congress would be the supreme law of the land.
- The Connecticut Compromise (The Great Compromise): had a bicameral legislature, in which the lower chamber-the House of Representatives- would be proportioned by state population including 3/5 of slaves (the 3/5 Compromise); the upper level-Senate- would have two from each state, regardless of population.
- Ratifying the Constitution: 9/13 states had to ratify the Constitution at the Federal Convention. However, anti-federalists still wanted a weak central government. Federalists supported the constitution and wrote the Federalist Papers, which defended the new government created under the Constitution. I will be covering more on federalism in my next post. This information focuses on the history of federalism.
- Constitution: details the structure of a government
- What the US Constitution Has: The Constitution included a belief of a limited government, popular sovereignty, separation of powers, and checks and balances. (See Key Terms above for definitions).
- The Legislative Branch: (article I) passes laws.
- The Executive Branch: (article II) enforces laws.
- The Judicial Branch: (article II) interprets laws.
Amending the Constitution:
- The Constitution can be amended formally or informally.
- Formally: There are four methods. The two that have been used are: 1)Proposed by 2/3 of each house in Congress and ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures [most frequent; 26 times]. 2)proposed by 3/4 vote of each house in Congress and ratified by special conventions in 3/4 of the states [one time; ratified 21st].
- Informally: Congress can pass legislative actions that alter or clarify the Constitution. The president can also use h powers to create informal amendments, expanding his power through executive actions. The Supreme Court can also use judicial review to interpret the constitutionality of a law.
The Bill of Rights: MEMORIZE THEM
- freedom of speech, petition, religion, assembly, and press
- right to bear arms
- sets conditions for quartering troops
- regulates searches, seizures, and warrants
- no double jeopardy, protection against self-incrimination, due process, eminent domain
- right to a public, speedy trial with impartial jury and attorney
- right to a jury in civil cases
- no cruel and unusual punishment or excessive fines or bails
- enumerated rights of people
- reserved powers of the states
Electing and Impeaching the President:
- the Electoral College; the process made it possible for a candidate who came in second in popular vote become president with the electoral college; insulated the president from direct popular contr
- Who Presides Over an Impeachment: The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
- Who Has Sole Power of impeachment: The House of Representatives
- Who Has Sole Power to Try an Impeachment: US Senate
- Has any President been Removed from Office?: No
- What Presidents have Gone Through the Impeachment Process?: Andrew Johnson; Bill Clinton