The Framers of the Constitution knew exactly what kind of government they didn't want. They didn't want the British monarchy, a system of government that centralized so much power in the hands of one man (the King) and one institution (the Parliament) that tyranny became (in the Americans' thinking, at least) the inevitable result. But they also didn't want the Articles of Confederation, the system of government that the newly independent American states had cobbled together in 1781. That system had decentralized power so completely that the feeble national government wasn't able to do much of anything at all. As increasingly serious social and economic problems threatened the young United States over the course of the 1780s, many of America's leading statesmen came to believe that a complete overhaul of the government was needed.
The 55 leaders who met in Philadelphia in 1787 to frame a new Constitution thus had to walk a kind of tightrope. The new government they sought to create couldn't have too much power; that would risk a return of tyranny. But it also couldn't have too little power; that would risk national disintegration.
How could they solve this problem of power? How could they create a new system of government that would allow the new nation to meet its challenges without threatening the cherished freedoms of its people?
Influenced by the great Classical and Enlightenment philosophers of republicanism, but also inspired by their own real-world experiences as British colonial subjects and fledgling American nationalists, they devised a new scheme of government. The Constitution they created in Philadelphia created a new, much more powerful American government… but a government with powers carefully divided among different institutions that could keep each other in check, if necessary.
Four key principles, distinct but mutually reinforcing, are embodied in the Constitution:
- Limited government
- Separation of powers
- Checks and balances
THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF THE CONSTITUTION
Who Gives the Government Its Power?
“We the people of the United States . . .establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” These words from the Preamble, or introduction, to the Constitution clearly spell out the source of the government’s power: The People.
The American form of government emphasizes freedom, democracy, and the importance of the individual. The Constitution rests on the idea of popular sovereignty--a government in which the people rule. As the nation changed and grew, popular sovereignty took on new meaning. A broader range of Americans shared in the power to govern themselves.
How Are People’s Views Represented in Government?
The Framers of the Constitution (the people who created the constitution) wanted the people to have a voice in government. Yet the Framers also feared that public opinion might stand in the way of sound decision making. To solve this problem, they looked to republicanism as a model of government. In Republicanism, the people exercise their power by voting for their political representatives.
According to the Framers, these chosen lawmakers played the key role in making a republican government work. An important part of Republicanism is the idea that citizens stay informed about politics and participate in the process by voting.
How Is Power Shared?
The Framers wanted the states and the nation to become partners in governing. To build cooperation, the Framers turned to federalism. Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a central government and smaller political units, such as states.
In the early years of the United States, federalism was closely related to dual sovereignty, the idea that the powers of the federal government and the states were clearly defined, and each had exclusive power over their own spheres with little overlap. This view of federalism led to states’ rights conflicts, which were contributing factors in the Civil War. The Framers used federalism to structure the Constitution. The Constitution assigns certain powers to the national government. These are delegated powers. Powers kept by the states are reserved powers. An example of this would be that the national government set the minimum voting age for every state, and the states set the minimum driving age in their own state
How Is Power Divided?
The Framers were concerned that too much power might fall into the hands of a single group. To avoid this problem, they built the idea of separation of powers into the Constitution. This Separation of Powers means the division of basic government roles into branches. No one branch is given all the power. Articles 1, 2, and 3 of the Constitution detail how powers are split among the three branches.
How Is Power Evenly Distributed?
Baron de Montesquieu, an 18th-century French thinker, wrote, “Power should be a check to power.” His comment refers to the principle of checks and balances. In the principle of Checks and Balances each branch of government can exercise checks, or controls, over the other branches. Though the branches of government are separate, they rely on one another to perform the work of government.
The Framers included a system of checks and balances in the Constitution to help make sure that the branches work together fairly. For example, only Congress can pass laws. Yet the president can check this power by refusing to sign a law into action. In turn, the Supreme Court can declare that a law, passed by Congress and signed by the president, violates the Constitution.
How Is Abuse of Power Prevented?
The Framers restricted the power of government. This is known as the principle of Limited Government. Article 1, Section 9, of the Constitution lists the powers denied to the Congress. Article 1, Section 10, forbids the states to take certain actions. The principle of limited government is also closely related to the “rule of law”: In the American government everyone, citizens and powerful leaders alike, must obey the law. Individuals or groups cannot twist or bypass the law to serve their own interests.
How Are Personal Freedoms Protected?
The first ten amendments to the Constitution shield people from an overly powerful government. These amendments are called the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights guarantees certain individual rights, or personal liberties and privileges. For example, government cannot control what people write or say. People also have the right to meet peacefully and to ask the government to correct a problem. Later amendments to the Constitution also advanced the cause of individual rights.
Complete the following for each of the Seven Principles.
1. Describe what each principle means.
2. Give an example of how each principle works.
EQ: Why are the Seven Principles of the U.S. Constitution an effective way to guard against tyranny?
SEVEN PRINCIPLES RAP BY WILL RUPERT - DOWELL
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The 7 Principles keeps the Gov in Check
The 7 Principles all geared to protect
The 7 Principles was the resolution
The 7 Principles of the Constitution
Popular Sovereignty means the People Rule.
It starts from the jump with “We the People“.
You wanna Rock my Vote you better represent
Cause you can only govern with the Peoples consent
Republicanism is how we elect.
Officials carry out our Will, our vote keeps them in Check.
The people pick their Reps whether rich or poor.
It’s all laid out in Article 4 Section 4
Federalism says dividing Power is great
It’s power divided between the Nation and States
It gives the National Gov the power to Govern effectively
While reserving certain Powers to State Supremacy
Separation of Powers divides the power equally.
Between the 3 branches of Government in Articles 1, 2, and 3.
Each branches Power is specifically assigned
To Keep the Leg, Exec, and Judicial all in line
Checks and Balances give each branch the power to Check
On all the other branches so there’s no chance they wreck.
This power to check is laid out specifically
They’re told just how to do it in Articles 1, 2, and 3
Limited Government tells the Gov what it can and can’t do.
It’s designed to protect the rights of me and you.
It limits Gov Authority in the best interest of all
Assures Nobody in America is above the Law
Individual Rights is how we all have a role.
Protects our precious freedoms from Government control.
Freedom of Speech and Religion were worth the fight.
So they laid them out in the Bill of Rights.