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Constitutional Democracy: Promoting Liberty and Self Government

This chapter describes how the principles of self- and limited government are embodied in the Constitution and explains the tension between them. The chapter also indicates how these principles have been modified in practice in the course of American history, then closes with a brief analysis of the contemporary situation. The main points that are discussed in the chapter are these:
  • America during the colonial period developed traditions of limited government and self-government. These traditions were rooted in governing practices, philosophy, 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 of limited government.
  • The Constitution in its original form provided for self-government mainly through indirect systems of popular 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.

After reading this chapter students should be able to
  1. Explain the importance of self-government and limited government to Americans.
  2. Compare the concepts of "separation of power" and "separated institutions sharing power" as limits on concentration of power.
  3. Describe the significance of the Declaration of Independence.
  4. Explain the major differences between the Virginia and New Jersey plans.
  5. Differentiate between the Federalist and Antifederalist positions on the ratification of the Constitution.
  6. Define the purpose of a constitution.
  7. Describe the checks and balances on the powers of the three branches of American government.
  8. Explain the significance of the Marbury v. Madison law case and the concept of judicial review.
  9. Discuss the difference between the use of the terms "republic" and "democracy" by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution.
  10. Summarize the arguments for and against direct democratic government, as compared to an indirect, representative government.
  11. Contrast between presidential and parliamentary systems of government.

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