The Six Basic Principles
The Constitution sets out the basic principles that define the structure of American government and states the rights and duties of all American citizens. It is a fairly short document, but it holds great power and importance. The Constitution is organized into eight sections: the Preamble and seven articles, shown in the chart below. The original document is followed by 27 amendments. The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights, which explains the basic liberties of all American citizens.
1. Popular Sovereignty
Popular Sovereignty means that the people give the government its ability to govern. Without popular approval, the government can't do anything outside its boundaries. Like a public servant, the government must conform to public will. The Constitution says we have a right as citizens to revolt and remove an unfair government from power in order to protect our freedom.
2. Limited Government
The idea of limited government is that government is restricted in what it may do, and each individual has rights that government cannot take away.
A few examples of what the government can't do:
- Print too much money.
- Create jobs.
- Force beliefs on people.
- Control prices or wages.
- Fund massive social programs.
3. Separation of Powers
Separation of powers is the principle that breaks government into three separate but equal branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial. Each branch holds its own unique responsibilities and powers and works to keep the others in check.
4. Checks and Balances
Checks and balances is the system that allows the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to check the actions of one another, making it impossible for any one branch to overpower the others.
For example, the legislative branch checks on the executive branch by overriding vetoes and ratifying treaties. The executive branch checks on the judicial branch by appointing federal judges and granting pardons to federal offenders. The judicial branch checks on the legislative branch by declaring acts of Congress unconstitutional.
5. Judicial Review
Judicial review is of the power of a court to determine the constitutionality of government action. The Supreme Court is the head of judicial review. Whenever a new bill is written in Congress, it must first be approved by the President and determined constitutional by the Supreme Court before it is passed. The power of judicial review is also held by most federal and state courts across the nation.
Federalism is a system of government in which the powers of government are divided between a central government and several local governments. State constitutions must not contradict with the federal constitution. According to the Constitution, regional governments are responsible for taking care of their local communities. They write new state laws that must be approved by a court before being implemented.