A nation's basic law. It creates political institutions, assigns or divides powers in government, and often provides certain guarantees to citizens. Constitution can either be written or unwritten.
Declaration of Independence
The document approved by representatives of the American colonies in 1776 that stated their grievances against the British monarch and declared their independence.
Rights inherent in human beings, not dependent on governments, which include life, liberty and property. The concept of natural rights was central to English philosopher John Locke's theories about government and was widely accepted among America's Founders.
Consent of the governed
The idea that government derives its authority by sanction of the people.
The idea that certain restrictions should be placed on government to protect the natural rights of citizens.
Articles of Confederation
The first constitution of the United States, adopted by Congress in 1777 and enacted in 1781. The Articles established a national legislature, the Continental Congress, but most authority rested with the state legislatures.
The document written in 1787 and ratified in 1788 that sets forth the institutional structure of U.S. government and the tasks these institutions perform. It replaced the Articles of Confederation.
Interest groups arising from the unequal distribution of property or wealth that James Madison attacked in Federalist No. 10. Today's parties or interest groups are what Madison had in mind when he warned of the instability in government caused by factions.
The compromise reached at the Constitutional Convention that established two houses of Congress: the House of Representatives, in which representation is based on a state's share of the U.S. population, and the Senate, in which each state has two representatives.
Writ of Habeas Corpus
A court order requiring jailers to explain to a judge why they are holding a prisoner in custody.
Separation of Powers
A feature of the Constitution that requires each of the three branches of government - executive, legislative, and judicial - to be relatively independent of the others so that one cannot control the others. Power is shared among these three institutions.
Checks and Balances
Features of the Constitution that limit government's power by requiring that power be balanced among the different governmental institutions. These institutions continually constrain one another's activities.
A form of government in which the people select representatives to govern them and make laws.
Supporters of the U.S. Constitution at the time the states were contemplating its adoption.
Opponents of the American Constitution at the time when the states were contemplating its adoption.
A collection of 85 articles written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison under the name "Publius" to defend the Constitution in detail.
Bill of Rights
The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, drafted in response to some of the Anti-Fedralist concerns. These amendments define such basic liberties as freedom of religion, speech, and press and guarantee defendants' rights.
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
A constitutional amendment passed by Congress in 1972 stating that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." The amendment failed to acquire the necessary support from three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Marbury v. Madison
The 1803 case in which Chief Justice John Marshall and his associates first asserted the right of the Supreme Court to determine the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. The decision established the Court's power of judicial review over acts of Congress, in this case the Judiciary Act of 1789.
The power of the courts to determine whether acts of Congress and, by implication, the executive are in accord with the U.S. Constitution. Judicial review was established by John Marshall and his associates in Marbury v. Madison.
A way of organizing a nation so that two or more levels of government have formal authority over the same land and people. It is a system of shared power between units of government.
A way of organizing a nation so that all power resides in the central government. Most national governments today are unitary goverments.
Article VI of the Constitution, which makes the Constitution, national laws, and treaties supreme over state laws when the national government is acting within its constitutional limits.
The constitutional amendment stating, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Holy grail of Federalism.
McCulloch v. Maryland
An 1819 Supreme Court decision that established the supremacy of the national government over state governments. In deciding this case, Chief Justice John Marshall and his colleagues held that Congress had certain implied powers in addition to the enumerated powers found in the constitution.
Powers of the federal government that are specifically addressed in the Constitution; for Congress, these powers are listed in Article I, Section 8, and include the power to coin money, regulate its value, and impose taxes.
Powers of the federal government that go beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. The Constitution states that Congress has the power to "make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution" the powers enumerated in Article I.
The final paragraph of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, which authorizes Congress to pass all laws "necessary and proper" to carry out the enumerated powers.
Gibbons v. Ogden
A landmark case decided in 1824 in which the Supreme Court interpreted very broadly the clause in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, encompassing virtually every form of commercial activity.
Full Faith and Credit
A clause in Article IV, Section I, of the Constitution requiring each state to recognize the official documents and civil judgments rendered by the courts of other states.
A legal process whereby an alleged criminal offender is surrendered by the officials of one state to officials of the state in which the crime is alleged to have been committed.
Those already holding office. In congressional elections, imcumbents usually win.
Activities of members of Congress that help constituents as individuals; cutting through bureaucratic red tape to get people what they think they have a right to get.
The mighty list of federal projects, grants, and contracts available to cities, businesses, colleges, and institutions available in a congressional district.
A legislature divided into two houses. The U.S. Congress and every American state legislature except Nebraska's are bicameral.
House Rules Committee
An institution unique to the House of Representatives that reviews all bills (except revenue, budget and appropriations bills) coming from a House committee before they go to the full House.
A strategy unique to the Senate whereby opponents of a piece of legislation try to talk it to death, based on the tradition of unlimited debate. Today, 60 members present and voting can halt a filibuster.
Speaker of the House
An office mandated by the Constitution. The speaker is chosen in practice by the majority party, has both formal and informal powers, and is second in line to succeed to the presidency should that office become vacant.
The principal partisan ally of the Speaker of the House or the party's manager in the Senate. The majority leader is responsible for scheduling bills, influencing committee assignmets, and rounding up votes in behalf of the party's legislative positions.
Party leaders who work with the majority leader or minority leader to count votes beforehand and lean on waverers whose votes are crucial to a bill favored by the party.
The principal leader of the minority party in the House of Representatives or in the Senate.
Separate subject-matter committees in each house of Congress that handle bills in different policy areas.
Congressional committees on a few subject-matter areas with membership drawn from both houses.
Congressional committees formed when the Senate and the House pass a particular bill in different forms. Party leadership appoints members from each house to iron out the differences and bring back a single bill.
Congressional committees appointed for a specific purpose, such as the Watergate investigation.
Congress's monitoring of the bureaucracy and its administration of policy, performed mainly through hearings.
The most important influencers of the congressional agenda. They play dominant roles in scheduling hearings, hiring staff, appointing subcommittees, and managing committee bills when they are brought before the full house.
A simple rule for picking committee chairs, in effect until the 1970s. The member who had served on the committee the longest and whose party controlled the chamber became chair, regardless of party loyalty, mental state, or competence.
A group of members of Congress sharing some interest or characteristic. Most are composed of members from both parties and from both houses.
A proposed law, drafted in legal language. Anyone can draft a bill, but only a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate can formally submit a bill for consideration.