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American Government Essay

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The American Government
Reported by: Mariah Florence Czarah Pangilinan Cruz
Predominantly lifted from (unless stated otherwise): Holmes, Jack E., et al. American Government: Essentials and Perspectives. 3rd. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 1998.

Part 1: The Constitution
Part 2: The Federal System
Part 3: The Congress
Part 4: The Presidency
Part 5: The Judiciary
Part 6: Checks and Balances

The United States of America
* Capital: Washington, D.C. (federal district: District of Columbia) * centers of all three branches of the federal government of the United States * Largest City: New York

* Official language: None (at federal level)
* Government: Federal presidential constitutional republic, two-party system * President: Barack Obama (D), 44th president, assumed office January 20, 2009 * White House (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.): residence and workplace of the President - Oval Office (west wing); workplace of the Vice-President; executive residence * Vice-President: Joe Biden (D), 47th vice-president, assumed office January 20, 2009 * Number One Observatory Circle (northeast grounds of the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC): official residence of the U.S. Vice-President * U.S. Secretary of State: Hillary Clinton, since January 21, 2009 * Harry S. Truman Building (Washington, D.C.): residence * Chief Justice: John Roberts (17th Chief Justice), appointed George W. Bush – Sept. 29, 2005 * Legislature: Congress (112th Congress), January 3, 2011 – January 3, 2013 * United States Capitol (Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.): official meeting place of the U.S. Congress; houses the Senate Chamber (north wing) & House Chamber (south wing) * Senate (D): upper house, 100 members (53 Democrats, 47 Republicans); last election was November 2, 2010 * President: Joe Biden (D) – since January 2009 * President pro tempore: Daniel Inouye (D) – since June 2010 * Majority leader: Harry Reid (D) – since January 2007 * Minority leader: Mitch McConnell (R) – since January 2007

Party representation in the U.S. 112th Congress (Senate)
Blue: Democrat - 51
Red: Republican - 47
Light Blue: Independent (caucused with Democrats) - 2
* House of Representatives (R): lower house; 435 voting members & 6 non-voting members (241 Republicans, 191 Democrats); last election was November 2, 2010 * Speaker of the House: John Boehner (R)

* Majority Leader: Eric Cantor (R) – since January 2011 * Minority Leader: Nancy Pelosi (D) – since January 2011

Party representation in the U.S. 112th Congress (House)
Red: Republican - 241
Blue: Democrat – 191
* 50 U.S. States

 New Hampshire
 New Jersey
 New Mexico
 New York
 North Carolina
 North Dakota
 Rhode Island
 South Carolina
 South Dakota
 West Virginia
Part 1: The Constitution
“It appears that Americans know the Constitution is important and want to believe in it, but know very little about its origins, basic principles, or effect on the workings of government today. Before considering alternative perspectives, it is therefore worth exploring how the United States came to base its government upon this document.” (Holmes, Engelhardt and Elder)

I. Framing the Constitution

* “Ten of the 13 British colonies (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia) that came to make up the United States were granted written charters by the English crown, spelling out the relationship between the colony and the mother country.” * After the success of the Revolution [date], the need to make “new governments necessary for the newly independent states” emerged. * “The states adopted constitutions between 1776 to 1780” which resembled the old charters with a “governor and usually a bicameral legislature” but the states varied in their stipulations of people’s basic rights.

* Continental Congress
* “Composed of delegates appointed at first by provincial revolutionary conventions and later by state legislatures, assumed responsibility for conducting the war against the British.” * Declaration of Independence

* American proclamation of their independence from Great Britain * “Created the original confederation of 13 states in 1776” * Articles of Confederation
* Written from 1776 to 1777
* Ratified by al legislature by 1781
* Gave structure to the existing “alliance of free and independent states” * The Confederation Congress
* Powers: “to declare war and make peace, to conduct foreign relations, to coin and borrow money, to handle Indian affairs, and to establish a post office” though final authority rests on the states * The confederation emphasized the value of state sovereignty or “final authority to decide on political matters” * Each state had one vote in Congress regardless of population wherein two-thirds was required for legislation * Limitations: no power to tax people directly, just voluntary taxation. This proved to be one of its weaknesses especially in times of war.

* The apparent need for a strong central authority in dealing with crucial matters of indebtedness due to war, tax collection and import/export tariffs was the moving force behind the forging of the constitution.

* Annapolis Convention of 1786
* Delegates from 5 states agreed on the need to revise provisions on the Articles

* Shay’s Rebellion of 1786 - 1787
* Headed by Captain Daniel Shays, a revolutionary war veteran * Massachusetts
* Unfair tax burden “imposed by a merchant-dominated state legislature” * A “populist small farmer’s uprising”
* Resulted to clamors for a central government that will deal with internal as well as external threats

* Constitutional Convention of Philadelphia, May 1787
* All state legislatures (except Rhode Island) appointed delegates * Produced the present U.S. Constitution

II. Where They Agreed: The Nationalist Consensus

[Continuation of the Constitutional Convention]
* Thomas Jefferson called it “an assembly of the demigods.” * 55 prominent delegates: 8 signers of Declaration of Independence, 30 served the revolution, 42 had been in the Confederation Congress, and “nearly all held office at the state level.” * Expressed fear for the “tyranny of majority”

* Hesitated to trust the “greedy and avaricious” upper classes * Solution to the tensions and fears towards the creation of a central government as aided by nationalism or the bond “they felt that made them want a strong national government”: * Republicanism – “government run by the delegates elected by the people” * Separation of Powers – towards a “balanced government”; led to the unanimous vote of crafting 3 branches of government: the executive branch (law-enforcing), the legislative branch (lawmaking), and judicial branch (law-interpreting) * Checks and Balances – “powers of each branch are constrained by the powers of the others” * Enumerated or Delegated Powers – “intended to address the weakness of the Articles of Confederation” and “limit the national government to those powers specifically granted in the constitution” * Federalism – “division of power between the states and the central government” III. Where They Disagreed: A Bundle of Compromises

* The triumph of the Framers was the establishment of the “three fundamental principles, ‘compromise, compromise, compromise’”

* Conflict #1: Composition of the Legislative Branch
* 2 opposing plans
* Virginia Plan by James Madison
* “National legislature consisting of a House and a Senate, the House to be elected by the people and the Senate to be elected by the House” * Representation apportioned by population

* Greater representation for larger states like Virginia * New Jersey Plan by William Paterson
* Giving Congress the power to tax and regulate trade * Creation of Executive and Judicial Branch
* Congress should remain unicameral with members elected by state legislatures. One vote, one state. * Solution: Great Compromise (or the Connecticut Compromise) * Solution forwarded by the committee appointed by the Connecticut delegation in search for a compromise * “Two-house Congress with proportioned representation in the lower house and state equality in the upper house” (although the 1917 Seventeenth Amendment “replaced election of senators by their state legislature with direct popular vote”)

* Conflict #2: Taxation (North vs. South)
* 2 opposing factions/views
* North
* Development of its new manufacturing industries * Wanted Congress to “tax imports, goods coming into the country from foreign countries” * South
* Exportation of agricultural products
* “Opposed to any federal tax on either imports or exports” * Solution: Commerce Compromise
* The South agreed to vest Congress with the power “to tax imports on the condition that no export taxes be levied”

* Conflict #3: Black Slave counting for purposes of Representation and Taxation (North vs. South) * 2 opposing factions/views
* North
* Slaves should only be counted for purposes of taxation because they are regarded as property under the law * South
* “Slaves be counted as people”
* “Would have given Southern States much more representation” * Solution: Three-fifths Compromise
* “Counting each slave as three-fifths of a free white person for both representation and taxation”

IV. The Ratification Struggle and the Bill of Rights

* “The Constitution was entangled in controversy as soon as its contents became known.” Two opposing parties emerged: * Federalists: supported the ratification of the constitution * Anti-Federalists: “opposed the ratification of the constitution on the grounds that it vested too much authority in centralized government, opposed amendments with populist flavor (more frequent elections, more power for juries in the federal court system and ban on monopolies)”; absence of bill of rights

V. The U.S. States Constitution at a Glance

* Created: September 17, 1787
* Ratified: June 21, 1788
* Current location: National Archives, Washington, D.C. * Authors: Philadelphia Convention (the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia) * Signatories: 39 of the 55 delegates
* Purpose: To replace the Articles of Confederation (1777) * “Defines the fundamental law of the United States federal government, setting forth the three principal branches of the federal government, outlining their jurisdictions, and propounding the basic rights of U.S. citizens.” (Cornell Law School) * “Oldest written national constitution currently in effect.” (Cornell Law School) * “The essential principle of the document is that government must be confined to the rule of law.” (Cornell Law School) * Its principles are applied in courts of law by judicial review (see Judiciary)

* Preamble: “lists the reasons that the 13 original colonies separated from their mother country, and became an independent nation”

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, make good government & laws insure domestic Tranquility, peace in our homes provide for the common defense, national security promote the general Welfare, healthy communities and secure the Blessings of Liberty freedom to ourselves and our Posterity, family & friends do ordain and establish give authority this Constitution the supreme law of the land for the United States of America.”

* The Seven Articles of the Constitution (Summary of the US Constitution) 1. Article 1: Legislative Branch: the U.S. Congress makes the laws for the United States. Congress has two parts, called "Houses," the House of Representatives and the Senate 2. Article 2: Executive Branch: the President, Vice-President, Cabinet, and Departments under the Cabinet Secretaries carry out the laws made by Congress. 3. Article 3: Judicial Branch: the Supreme Court decides court cases according to US Constitution. The courts under the Supreme Court decide criminal and civil court cases according to the correct federal, state, and local laws. 4. Article 4: States' powers: States have the power to make and carry out their own laws. State laws that are related to the people and problems of their area. States respect other states laws and work together with other states to fix regional problems. 5. Article 5: Amendments: The Constitution can be changed. New amendments can be added to the US Constitution with the approval by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress (67, 281) and three-fourth vote by the states (38). 6. Article 6: Federal powers: The Constitution and federal laws are higher than state and local laws. All laws must agree with the US Constitution. 7. Article 7: Ratification: The Constitution was presented to George Washington and the men at the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, Representatives from twelve out of the thirteen original states signed the Constitution. From September 1787 to July 1788, the states meet, talked about, and finally voted to approve the Constitution.

* 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
1. People have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the Government. 1791. 2. People have the right to have a weapon to protect themselves. 1791. 3. Soldiers cannot take or live in a person's house. 1791. 4. The government cannot arrest a person or search their property unless there is "probable cause." 1791. 5. The government must follow the law (due process) before punishing a person. 1791. 6. A person has the right to a fair and speedy trial by a jury. 1791. 7. A person has the right to a jury trial for civil cases. 1791. 8. The government cannot demand excessive bail or fines, or any cruel and unusual punishment. 1791. 9. The Constitution does not include all of the rights of the people and the states. 1791. 10. Any powers that the Constitution does not give to the federal government belong to the states. 1791. 11. Citizens cannot sue states in fed...

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