Gov: Principles of the Constitution


Priciples of Constitution

The framers’ main goal in crafting the Constitution was to create a system of limited government. They knew that absolute power often leads to the abuse of rights. On the other hand, they also knew that a lack of governmental power could result in chaos and instability. The limited government envisioned in the Constitution is based on six guiding principles: (1) popular sovereignty, (2) the rule of law, (3) separation of powers and checks and balances, (4) federalism, (5) an independent judiciary, and (6) individual rights.

Popular Sovereignty is the principle that lies at the heart of democratic rule. It means that power resides not with the government or its leaders, but with the people. The framers understood that making the people the source of power is the best assurance that government will act in the people’s interest. The principle of popular sovereignty is expressed in the opening phrase of the Preamble: “We the people.” Another provision ensures representative government in the states. By guaranteeing republican government in the states, the Constitution extends the principle of popular sovereignty to the states.

The rule of law is the principle which requires that the American people and their government abide by a system of laws. This is another way to ensure that power is limited and not used in an arbitrary manner.

The Constitution divides power in the national government among the three separate branches. This separation of powers was a key component in the framers’ vision of limited government. In the framers’ view, separating the powers of government among the three branches would ensure that no one branch could dominate. The framers took this principle a step further by inserting provisions in the Constitution that would allow each branch to check, or limit, the power of each of the other branches.

The fourth guiding principle, federalism, divides power between the central government and the various state governments. In creating a federal system of government, the Constitution also established three types of powers: delegated, reserved, and concurrent. Delegated powers are those powers granted to the national government. Delegated powers may be either enumerated or implied in the Constitution. The delegated powers of the federal government include regulating immigration, making treaties, and declaring war. Reserved powers are those powers kept by the states. Reserved powers allow states to set marriage and divorce laws, issue driver’s licenses, and establish public schools, among many other things. Under the Constitution, much of the exercise of day-to-day power affecting citizens is carried out by the states. Concurrent powers are those that are shared by the federal and state governments. Examples of concurrent powers include taxation and law enforcement.

The fifth guiding principle, an independent judiciary, was considered essential by the framers to support the rule of law and preserve limited government.

The sixth guiding principle, individual rights, played a major role in the struggle to ratify the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists argued that the Constitution did not offer adequate protection for individual rights. The Bill of Rights was added to address their concerns.

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