U.S. GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE: THE CONSTITUTION : MAIN PRINCIPLES
Self-government is the most important principle in the Constitution of the United States. The Founding Fathers saw that they needed to have a system which would make sure that everyone had a voice in the local, state and national governments. They wanted to have a system that could be changed when necessary. They wrote this system into the Constitution of the United States in 1787. It has lasted more than 200 years, through many changes in the world and the country. To this day the Constitution provides the basis for the United States government. The Constitution is often called the supreme law for two reasons: • No other laws may contradict any of its principles;
• No person nor the government is exempt from following it. It also guarantees or pron-dses the freedom and rights of all people living in the United States, even if they are not citizens of this country. Everyone has the rights of freedom of religion and speech as well as the other rights listed in the Constitution. The Constitution has three main principles. They are:
• inherent rights, or rights that anyone living in America has; • government by the people; and,
• separation of powers, which gives each branch of the government different powers. These principles arc what has enabled the government to work so well in the United States. Everyone's rights are protected. If citizens believe the government needs to be changed, they can change it. The citizens control the government through their votes.
INHERENT RIGHTS The principle of inherent rights was first written in the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers believed that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was very important. This right is the basis for all of the rights listed in the Constitution and its amendments. These include: • right to freedom of religion;
• right to freedom of speech;
• right to bear arms, or to own weapons (a special permit is required); • right to a trial when accused of a crime, and to know of what crime one is accused; and, • right to own property and to expect the government to help protect private property. These are rights guaranteed by the Constitution to both citizens and non-citizens who live in the United States.
GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE The Articles of Confederation was an agreement between the states to support a federal, or national, government. (See chapter 11 of United States History book.) After only a few years, the Founding Fathers decided that the Articles of Confederation was not working. The Articles of Confederation was not binding, so many states did not pay taxes or support the federal government. The new federal government, established by the Constitution, was of the people, rather than of the states. That is why the United States has a government of and by the people. The people have the authority to: • vote for and delegate their authority to their representatives in the government; and, • elect different representatives, change the laws or the Constitution when they believe these changes need to be made.
SEPARATION OF POWERS The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that one person or group of people could not control the government alone. They worked out a careful plan of checks and balances. They set up three separate branches of the government, each with its own power. These branches are:
House of Representatives
Makes or passes laws
Explains and interprets laws
Each branch acts with much independence in its own area, with little constraint by the other branches. The Constitution, however, states very clearly the powers of each branch. The functions are almost completely separate. Because each branch has separate powers...
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