HGov: Chapter 2 Constitutional Democracy – Promoting Liberty and Self Government

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This chapter describes how the principles of self-government and limited government are embodied in the Constitution and explains the tension between them. It also indicates how these principles have been modified in practice in the course of American history. The major ideas include:

  • America during the colonial period developed traditions of limited government and self-government. These traditions were rooted in governing practices, political theory, and cultural values.
  • The Constitution provides for limited government mainly by defining lawful powers and by dividing those powers among competing institutions. The Constitution, with its Bill of Rights, also prohibits government from infringing on individual rights. Judicial review is an additional safeguard.
  • The Constitution in its original form provided for self-government mainly through indirect systems of election of representatives. The framers’ theory of self-government was based on the notion that political power must be separated from immediate popular influences if sound policies are to result.
  • The idea of popular government—in which the majority’s desires have a more direct and immediate impact on governing officials—has gained strength since the nation’s beginning. Originally, the House of Representatives was the only institution subject to direct vote of the people. This mechanism has been extended to other institutions and, through primary elections, even to the nomination of candidates for public office.

Student Writing

Having read Chapter 2, you should be able to do each of the following:

  1. Describe the system of checks and balances on the powers of the three branches of American government, and assess its effectiveness in controlling the abuse of political power.
  2. Explain and analyze the roots of limited government in America.
  3. Compare separation of powers and separated institutions sharing power. Assess why the second, which characterizes the S. system, is the more substantial check on political power.
  4. Explain what is meant by the term judicial review, and assess its significance in a system based on limited government. Be sure to explain the constitutional significance of Marbury v. Madison.
  5. Discuss the distinction the framers made between the terms democracy and republic, and why they considered one preferable over the other.
  6. Describe how provisions for majority rule have changed and increased over time, and what role the Progressive movement played in this evolution.
  7. Summarize the arguments for and against direct democracy, as compared to an indirect, representative government.
  8. Detail the aspects of current American constitutional democracy for which it could be considered more democratic than other systems, and those aspects that make the S. system less democratic than some.

Chapters 2 & 3 Quiz I on Wednesday Sept. 16