The Constitution

Basic Principles

The purpose of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States is to state the general goals of the system of government set up under the Constitution.
The sources of the Constitution are popular sovereignty, limited government, federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances.

Popular Sovereignty

It is the principle that allows the United States to be called a republic - a country in which the power is held by people who elect representatives to act for them.
Limited Government
Government may act on only those powers granted to it by the people. No government has unlimited power.
Popular sovereignty and limited government are related. Popular sovereignty suggests that power rests with the people. It follows that the people give government only those powers they wish it to have.


The division of power between a central government and a number of state governments.
Separation of Powers
Framers divided the powers of government on two levels - federal and state - and also separated the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of the national government among three branches.

Checks and Balances

Each branch could restrain the power of the other branches.
The principles of separation of powers and checks and balances are related because checks and balances work because powers are separated among the three branches of government. Each checks and balances the other.

Other Principles

Judicial Review

The judicial branch has the power of judicial review.
It is the power of the courts to decide if acts of Congress or actions of the President are unconstitutional.

Supremacy of National Law

National law is considered supreme over state law.

Supremacy of Civilian Authority

Civilian authority is stronger than military authority under the Constitution.
Additional Principles
The obligation of the majority is to respect and protect the rights of the minority.

Branches of Government

The most important duty of government is to make the people's will into public policy by means of law.


Bicameral Legislature: The Senate and House of Representatives are the two houses that form Congress.
Congressional Qualifications: To qualify members of the House must be at least 25 years old, citizens of the United States for 7 years, and residents of the states from which they were elected. Senators must be at least 30 years old, citizens for 9 years, and residents of the states from which they are elected.
Specific Powers: All revenue bills, or tax bills for raising money and bills authorizing the spending of money, must be started in the House of Representatives. Only the Senate accepts treaties and confirms presidential appointments. Only the House can impeach, and only the Senate tries and removes a person from office upon impeachment conviction.

The Presidency

Powers and Duties: Carries out and enforces federal laws.
Presidential Qualifications: To qualify the President must be at least 35 years old, a resident of the United States for 14 years, and a native-born citizen.
Electoral College System: The electoral college elects the President of the United States.

The Courts

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States.
The term of office for a federal judge is they are appointed for life.

Division of Powers

Delegated Powers- Three kinds of delegated powers given to the federal government under the Constitution are: expressed, implied, and inherent powers.
Expressed Powers: Powers formally stated in the Constitution.
Implied Powers: Powers not stated directly in the Constitution but are suggested or implied by the wording of the document.
Inherent Powers: Powers that belong to the government simply because it is a national government.

Reserved Powers- The Constitution reserves to state governments those powers not given to the federal government or denied to the states.
"Police powers" are used to protect the well-being of individuals.
Powers held only by the state governments are reserved powers, such as the power to set up rules for the operation of schools.

Shared Powers- Powers held by both the federal government and the state governments are shared or concurrent powers, such as the power to tax, to try accused criminals, and to provide money to build roads.

Limitations on Power

National and state governments can't tax each other.

The Changing Constitution

The Amending Process

It is necessary to change the Constitution as changing interpretations and changes in society resulting from new knowledge and new social and economic developments may make it necessary to change the Constitution.
For example: The Twelfth Amendment altered the Electoral College system.

Informal Change

The role of the Supreme Court in changing the Constitution of the United States is to interpret the Constitution and to decide if laws or other acts are constitutional.

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