Friday, June 11, 2010

Unit 4: Constitution and Government

New York State Constitution
• When the U.S. declared independence, New York wrote its own constitution.
• A constitution describes the basic structure, functions, and powers of a government.
• The New York Constitution eventually became a model for the U.S. Constitution.

Articles of Confederation
• When the United States declared its independence, it needed to set up a new government.
• The first structure of U.S. government was called the Articles of Confederation.
• The Articles of Confederation had many weaknesses:
o The national government was weak; the states had most of the political power.
o Congress could not collect taxes.
o There was no president or national court system.

Constitutional Convention: 1787
• American leaders realized the A.O.C. was too weak, so they met in Philadelphia in 1787 to write a new constitution.

Great Compromise
• The delegates (those who attended the convention) disagreed over representation.
o New Jersey Plan: Small states wanted each state to have an equal vote in Congress.
o Virginia Plan: Large states wanted states to have votes in Congress based on their population—the larger the state, the more votes it would have.
• In the Great Compromise, delegates agreed to create a two-house (bicameral) legislature. In the House of Representatives, votes would be determined by population. In the Senate, each state would have two votes.

Three-Fifths Compromise
• The delegates also disagreed over how slaves should be represented in Congress.
• The Three-Fifths Compromise stated that three-fifths of a state’s slave population would count towards its population based on the House of Representatives.

Ratification Debate: Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists
• The delegates at the convention agreed on a proposed constitution. Then, the states were required to ratify (approve) the Constitution.
• People who favored ratification were called Federalists.
• People who opposed ratification were called Anti-Federalists.
• Anti-Federalists believed that the Constitution gave too much power to the national (federal) government.
• As a compromise, Federalists agreed to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution in order to gain approval of Anti-Federalists.

Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances
• The Constitution includes the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances.
• Separation of Powers: the U.S. government’s powers are separated into three branches: (1) legislative—makes laws, (2) executive—carries out laws, (3) judicial—interprets laws
• Checks and Balances: One branch of government can check another branch’s power.
o The president appoints new members to the Supreme Court.
o The Senate must approve presidential appointments to the Supreme Court.
o The Supreme Court can declare laws made by Congress unconstitutional.

• The constitution also includes the principle of federalism. Federalism is the idea that some powers are given to the national (federal) government, while others are given to state government.

Bill of Rights
• The Bill of Rights is the name for the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
• The First Amendment protects individuals’ civil liberties: freedom of speech, press, etc.

Electoral College
• The president isn’t directly elected by popular vote. There’s an electoral college system.
• Each state has a set of electoral votes based on the state’s population. All of the state’s electoral votes go to the candidate who earns the most votes in that state.

Other Details
• The Constitution can only be changed through the amendment process.
• Judicial review, created in the case of Marbury v. Madison, gives the Supreme Court the ability to declare laws unconstitutional.
• The powers of the presidency were made clear by George Washington when he worked as president.
• A president can be impeached if he commits crimes.

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