The American Political System

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 572
  • Published : November 7, 2010
Open Document
Text Preview
The Constitution
The Presidency
Presidential Primaries
The House Of Representatives
The Senate
The Supreme Court
Political Parties & Elections
The Federal System
Recent Trends
A Divided Democracy
American Exceptionalism

Unlike Britain but like most nation states, the American political system is clearly defined by basic documents. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the Constitution of 1789 form the foundations of the United States federal government. The Declaration of Independence establishes the United States as an independent political entity, while the Constitution creates the basic structure of the federal government. Both documents are on display in the National Archives and Records Administration Building in Washington, D.C. which I have visited several times. The US Constitution has proved to be a remarkably stable document. If one accepts that the first 10 amendments were in effect part of the original constitutional settlement, there have only been 17 amendments in over 200 years. One of the major reasons for this is that - quite deliberately on the part of its drafters - the Constitution is a very difficult instrument to change. First, a proposed amendment has to secure a two-thirds vote of members present in both houses of Congress. Then three-quarters of the state legislatures have to ratifiy the proposed change (this stage may or may not be governed by a specific time limit). At the heart of the US Constitution is the principle known as 'separation of powers', a term coined by the French political, enlightenment thinker Montesquieu. This means that power is spread between three institutions of the state - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary - and no one institution has too much power and no individual can be a member of more than one institution. This principle is also known as 'checks and balances', since each of the three branches of the state has some authority to act on its own, some authority to regulate the other two branches, and has some of its own authority, in turn, regulated by the other branches. Not only is power spread between the different branches; the members of those branches are deliberately granted by the Constitution different terms of office which is a further brake on rapid political change. So the President has a term of four years, while members of the Senate serve for six years and members of the House of Representatives serve for two years. Members of the Supreme Court effectively serve for life. The great benefit of this system is that power is spread and counter-balanced and the 'founding fathers' - the 55 delegates who drafted the Constitution - clearly wished to create a political system which was in sharp contrast to, and much more democratic than, the monarchical system of absolute power then in force in Britain. The great weakness of the system is that it makes government slow, complicated and legalistic which is a particular disadvantage in a world - unlike that of 1776 - in which political and economic developments are fast-moving. THE PRESIDENCY

Although the 'founding fathers' wanted to avoid a political system that in any way reflected the monarchical system then prevalent in Britain and for a long time the Presidency was relatively weak, the vast expansion of the federal bureaucracy and the military in the 20th century has in current practice given a greater role and more power to the President than is the case for any single individual in most political systems. The President is both the head of state and the head of government, as well as the military commander-in-chief and chief diplomat. He presides over the executive branch of the federal government, a vast organisation numbering about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. Within the executive branch, the President has broad constitutional powers to manage national affairs...
tracking img