15 Glossary

The Pre-Revolutionary Period and the Roots of the American Political Tradition

Declaration of Independence a document written in 1776 in which the American colonists proclaimed their independence from Great Britain and listed their grievances against the British king

natural rights the right to life, liberty, and property; believed to be given by God; no government may take away

social contract an agreement between people and government in which citizens consent to be governed so long as the government protects their natural rights

The Articles of Confederation

Articles of Confederation the first basis for the new nation’s government; adopted in 1781; created an alliance of sovereign states held together by a weak central government

confederation a highly decentralized form of government; sovereign states form a union for purposes such as mutual defense

republic a form of government in which political power rests in the hands of the people, not a monarch, and is exercised by elected representatives

The Development of the Constitution

bicameral legislature a legislature with two houses, such as the U.S. Congress

checks and balances a system that allows one branch of government to limit the exercise of power by another branch; requires the different parts of government to work together

enumerated powers the powers given explicitly to the federal government by the Constitution (Article I, Section 8); power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, raise and support armies, declare war, coin money, and conduct foreign affairs

federal system a form of government in which power is divided between state governments and a national government

Great Compromise a compromise between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan that created a two-house Congress; representation based on population in the House of Representatives and equal representation of states in the Senate

New Jersey Plan a plan that called for a one-house national legislature; each state would receive one vote

reserved powers any powers not prohibited by the Constitution or delegated to the national government; powers reserved to the states and denied to the federal government

separation of powers the sharing of powers among three separate branches of government

supremacy clause the statement in Article VI of the Constitution that federal law is superior to laws passed by state legislatures

Three-Fifths Compromise a compromise between northern and southern states that called for counting of all a state’s free population and 60 percent of its slave population for both federal taxation and representation in Congress

unicameral legislature a legislature with only one house, like the Confederation Congress or the legislature proposed by the New Jersey Plan

veto the power of the president to reject a law proposed by Congress

Virginia Plan a plan for a two-house legislature; representatives would be elected to the lower house based on each state’s population; representatives for the upper house would be chosen by the lower house

The Ratification of the Constitution

Anti-Federalists those who did not support ratification of the Constitution

Federalists those who supported ratification of the Constitution

The Federalist Papers a collection of eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in support of ratification of the Constitution

Constitutional Change

Bill of Rights the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution; most were designed to protect fundamental rights and liberties


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