We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3
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To put an end to.    [ audio ]


Opponents of slavery who wished to put an end to the institution.    [ audio ]


Limiting or reducing.    [ audio ]

adversary system

A system of justice in which court trials are essentially contests between accuser and accused that take place before an impartial judge or jury.    [ audio ]

advice and consent

The check on executive power granted to the U.S Senate in Article II of the U.S. Constitution giving it the right to review and nullify proposed treaties and presidential appointments. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required to approve treaties; a simple majority is needed for appointments.    [ audio ]

advisory opinion

In some judicial systems, a formal opinion on a point of law given by a judge or court when requested by a legislature or government official.    [ audio ]


A formally sworn statement.    [ audio ]

affirmative action

A plan or program intended to remedy the effects of past discrimination in employment, education, or other activity and to prevent its recurrence. Such programs may or may not include preferential policies in which group or groups are preferred over others in the award of some benefit.    [ audio ]


A foreign–born resident.    [ audio ]

Alien and Sedition Acts

Laws passed during the administration of President John Adams that made it a crime for editors, writers, or speakers to criticize the government and its policies.    [ audio ]


(1) Loyalty to a government, ruler, or nation. (2) Loyalty to a person, social group, or cause.    [ audio ]


A change in or addition to a legal document.    [ audio ]

American Revolution

The war fought by the American colonists to gain their independence from Great Britain. It took place from 1775 to 1781.    [ audio ]

American Revolutionary War

(1775-1783) The war fought by the American colonists and their allies to gain their independence from Great Britain.    [ audio ]


Opponents to ratification of the U.S. Constitution who believed that it gave excessive power to the federal government and failed to protect the rights and liberties of the people.    [ audio ]


People who were against ratification of the Constitution because they thought it gave too much power to the federal government and did not protect the political rights of the people.    [ audio ]


The bringing of a court case from a lower court to a higher court in an attempt to have the lower court's decision reversed. Grounds for appeal include errors of law, fact, or procedure.    [ audio ]

appellate court

A judicial body that hears cases appealed from a lower court. Appellate courts may be called courts of appeals, superior courts, or supreme courts.    [ audio ]

appellate jurisdiction

The legal authority of a court to hear appeals from a lower court.    [ audio ]


to choose or name someone for an office or duty    [ audio ]


To allocate legislative seats.    [ audio ]


People of the highest class of society who held inherited titles. They were often part of the ruling class in government.    [ audio ]

Article I

The part of the Constitution that describes the legislative branch of the government.    [ audio ]

Article II

The part of the Constitution that describes the executive branch of the government.    [ audio ]

Article III

The part of the Constitution that describes the judicial branch of the government.    [ audio ]

Articles of Confederation

(1781-1789) The first constitution of the United States, created to form a perpetual union and a firm league of friendship among the thirteen original states. It was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, and sent to the states for ratification.    [ audio ]


To meet with others to discuss one's beliefs, ideas, or feelings.    [ audio ]

assemble, right to

See right to assemble    [ audio ]


the right to meet with others to discuss your beliefs, ideas, or feelings.    [ audio ]


to join with others as a partner, member, or friend.    [ audio ]

associate, right to

See right to associate    [ audio ]


(1) An organized group of people joined for a common purpose. (2) A meeting or involvement of one person with others.    [ audio ]


The power or right to give orders and make decisions.    [ audio ]

autocratic government

A form of government in which a single ruler or group has unlimited power.    [ audio ]

autocratic or dictatorial government

A political system in which the ruler or rulers has unlimited power and which denies peoples' fundamental rights.    [ audio ]


Independence, freedom, or the right to self-governance.    [ audio ]


Money or other security given to obtain an arrested person's release from legal custody, which is forfeited if the individual subsequently fails to appear before the court for trial.    [ audio ]


A court officer who carries out legal orders, makes arrests, keeps order in court, or serves as a messenger and doorkeeper.    [ audio ]

balance of power

In American constitutional arrangements, the division of governmental power among different people or institutions in such a way that no one individual or group can dominate or control the exercise of power by others, See also checks and balances    [ audio ]

balancing powers

Balancing the powers of government means that no one branch is given so much power that it can completely control the other branches.    [ audio ]

basic rights

Fundamental rights such as those to life, liberty, and property. These are called basic rights because they are considered more important than other, non-basic rights, such as the right to dispute a parking ticket.    [ audio ]

Battle of Saratoga (1777)

An important battle of the Revolutionary War that lasted from June to October 1777, when the British surrendered in Saratoga, New York. The American victory prevented the British from splitting the colonies in two, increased American morale, and encouraged the French to sign a treaty with the Americans.    [ audio ]


A proposed law placed before a legislature for approval.    [ audio ]

bill of attainder

An act of the legislature that inflicts punishment on an individual or group without a judicial trial.    [ audio ]

Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights lists many basic rights that the federal government may not interfere with and must protect. Nearly all these rights are now also protected from violation by state governments.    [ audio ]

Black Codes

Regulations passed by Southern state governments during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting.    [ audio ]

Boston Massacre (1770)

The killing by British soldiers on March 5, 1770, of five members of a drunken mob of colonists who harassed and threatened the soldiers as they guarded the tax collector's office in Boston, Massachusetts. Six of the eight soldiers tried for murder were acquitted; two others received minor sentences.    [ audio ]

Boston Tea Party (1773)

An act of rebellion against British authority in response to the Tea Act (1773) in which a band of colonists boarded ships in Boston Harbor and destroyed thousands of dollars worth of tea by throwing it overboard. See also Tea Act (1773)    [ audio ]


To refuse to buy a manufacturer's product or make purchases from a merchant or company as an act of public protest.    [ audio ]

broad interpretation

The view that the First Amendment prevents government from providing any aid to any religion.    [ audio ]


a plan for how to spend the nation's money    [ audio ]

bully pulpit

An expression coined by Theodore Roosevelt to mean a position of visibility and influence, often a political office such as the presidency, from which to advocate a particular point of view. The word "bully," in this case, means "very good" or "excellent."    [ audio ]


Governmental departments and agencies and their staffs, principally civil service members and political appointees.    [ audio ]


The group of advisors to the president composed of the heads of the departments of the executive branch and certain other officials. Cabinet advice to U.S. presidents is not binding, as opposed to parliamentary systems, where the consensus of cabinets is said to bind prime ministers.    [ audio ]

capital punishment

The use of the death penalty by a judicial system.    [ audio ]


An economic system in which the means of producing and distributing goods are privately owned and operated for profit in competitive markets.    [ audio ]


A written document from a government or ruler that grants certain rights to an individual, group, organization, or to people in general. In colonial times, a charter granted land to a person or company along with the right to found a colony on that land.    [ audio ]

checking power

Limiting power.    [ audio ]

checks and balances

In American constitutional thought, distributing and balancing the powers of government among different branches so that no one branch or individual can completely dominate the others. See also balance of power    [ audio ]

chief justice

The head of a court or legal system. The Chief Justice of the United States is the highest-ranking judicial official in the nation and heads the U.S Supreme Court.    [ audio ]


A person who is a legal member of a nation, country, or other organized, self–governing political community, such as any of the fifty U.S. states.    [ audio ]


A politically independent community consisting of a city and its surrounding territory.    [ audio ]

civic life

The public life of citizens; that which is concerned with citizens' interests and the common affairs and interests of their community and nation.    [ audio ]

civic participation

Taking part in formal political processes as well as formal or informal community activities outside of government    [ audio ]

civic responsibilities

Obligations that each person has to society.    [ audio ]

civic virtue

The dedication of citizens to the common welfare of their community or country, even at the cost of their individual interests. Traditionally considered most relevant to republics, since republican citizens are responsible for the well-being of their country.    [ audio ]


(1) Related to citizens, particularly the relationship between citizens and government. (2) Polite: politeness is a principal virtue of civil society.    [ audio ]

civil discourse

Reasoned discussion as opposed to emotional display. See civility    [ audio ]

civil disobedience

The nonviolent refusal to obey laws that citizens regard as unjust or in protest of specific public policy.    [ audio ]

civil rights

The rights belonging to an individual by virtue of citizenship. In the United States, the term refers especially to the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and by subsequent acts of Congress. These include civil liberties, due process, equal protection of the laws, and freedom from discrimination. See civil rights movement    [ audio ]

Civil Rights Act of 1866

An act of Congress that attempted to protect the rights of African American following the Civil War. The act was ineffective because it was not enforced and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear cases about it.    [ audio ]

Civil Rights Act of 1964

An act of congress outlawing segregation in public places, including restaurant, movie theaters, and hostels. The law also stipulates that employers cannot unfairly discriminate against individuals because of their race, national origin, religion, or gender.    [ audio ]

civil rights movement

A social movement in the United States during the 1950s , 1960s, and 1970s in which concerned individuals and groups organized to demand equal rights for racial and ethnic minorities, especially African Americans in the South. Adherents to the movements sought to change unfair laws by making speeches, marching in the streets, and participating in economic boycotts, among other activities.    [ audio ]

civil service

Employment in federal, state or provincial, and local governmental agencies. The civil service was formed in an effort to reduce political patronage and promote professionalism in government.    [ audio ]

Civil War

The war between the Northern and Southern states. It took place from 1861 to 1865 and ended slavery in the U.S.    [ audio ]

Civil War (1861-1865)

The war between the Federal Union, called "the Union" or "the North," and the states that had seceded from the Union and organized as the Confederate States of America, referred to as "the South"    [ audio ]

Civil War Amendments

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution ratified after the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, and Fourteenth Amendment granted full citizenship to African Americans, and the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited federal and state governments from denying or abridging the right of anyone to vote on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."    [ audio ]


The respectful treatment of others.    [ audio ]

classical republicanism

The ideals and practices of ancient Greek or Roman city-states that emphasized civic participation and the responsibility of citizens for the well-being of their polity, or country. Acts by citizens that placed the public good, or common welfare, above private interest were especially prized.    [ audio ]


A rule of the U.S. Senate stipulating that debate on a legislative proposal be cut off and the proposal voted upon by the full Senate if sixty members agree.    [ audio ]

collective security

A system formed to maintain peace among nations in which participant members agree that a military attack on one is an attack on all and will result in a united response by all members.    [ audio ]


A settlement or territory ruled by another country.    [ audio ]

commander in chief

Highest ranked person of the military forces. According to the U.S. Constitution, the president is commander in chief of the nation's armed forces.    [ audio ]

commerce clause

Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress the power "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." The clause has been used to regulate organizations engaged in interstate commerce by prohibiting them from engaging in racial discrimination.    [ audio ]

committees of correspondence

Originating as voluntary associations during the era of the American Revolution, the committees were organized to ensure that news and the views of legislatures were accurately portrayed among and between the colonies. At first temporary, they became permanent by 1773, and helped to unite the colonists against the British.    [ audio ]

common defense

Protection of the people from enemies.    [ audio ]

common good

The good of the community as a whole, as contrasted with private interests that may conflict with public interest. Also known as the public good.    [ audio ]

common law

The body of unwritten law developed in England from judicial decisions based on custom and earlier judicial decisions. Constitutes the basis of the English legal system and became part of American law, except in Louisiana, which inherited its civil law system from France.    [ audio ]


A self-governing state or nation whose members are expected to help serve the good of all.    [ audio ]


A formal contract or agreement between or among two or more parties or states. The Mayflower Compact of 1620 was such a formal agreement.    [ audio ]

compelling state interest

A public or common good claimed to take precedence over individual interests or, in some cases, rights.    [ audio ]


A way to settle differences by each side giving up some of its claims or demands.    [ audio ]


A form of political organization in which the sovereign states combine for certain specified purposes, such as mutual defense. Member states can leave a confederation at any time. The United States was a confederation from 1776 to 1789.    [ audio ]


A struggle among differing ideas.    [ audio ]


The national legislature of the U.S. Congress has two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.    [ audio ]

congressional oversight

The implied power of Congress to monitor, supervise, inspect, and review the operations of the executive branch, particularly the agencies it creates.    [ audio ]


The expressed agreement by the people to obey the laws and the government they create.    [ audio ]

consent of the governed

Agreement by citizens to obey the laws and the government they create. Consent is the foundation of government's legitimacy.    [ audio ]


A person represented by an elected official.    [ audio ]


A plan of government that sets forth the structures and powers of government. In democracies, a constitution is an authoritative law through which the sovereign people authorize a government to be established and grant it certain powers.    [ audio ]

Constitutional Convention

See Philadelphia Convention    [ audio ]

constitutional government

Limited government; the rule of law. A form of government in which a written, unwritten, or partly written constitution serves as a higher or fundamental law that everyone, including those in power, must obey. The rule of law is an essential feature of constitutional government.    [ audio ]

constitutional law

A form of law in which a constitution serves as a source of rights. Distinguished from statutory and common law, which relate to matters subordinate to the constitution.    [ audio ]

constitutional principle

An essential idea contained in the Constitution. For example, the idea that no branch of government should have a monopoly on power is principle of the U.S. Constitution.    [ audio ]


The use of written, unwritten, or partly written constitutions and the use of rule of law to empower and limit government. Constitutions are superior to statutes, treaties, and executive and judicial actions    [ audio ]

Continental Congress

See First Continental Congress and Second Continental Congress    [ audio ]


A formal assembly or meeting.    [ audio ]

counsel, right to

See right to counsel    [ audio ]


A binding agreement made by two or more persons or parties. In Protestant churches during the Reformation, a covenant was an agreement made in the sight of God. The Mayflower Compact was such a covenant.    [ audio ]

cruel and unusual punishment

A criminal sanction or penalty that is not in accord with the moral standards of a humane and compassionate society. The Eighth Amendment prohibits such punishments.    [ audio ]


Any form of money used in a nation.    [ audio ]

Daughters of Liberty

An organization formed by women prior to the American Revolution to protest British Policy.    [ audio ]

Dawes Act (1887)

An Act of Congress that granted American citizenship and small parcels of land to American Indians who would give up allegiance to their tribe, historical traditions, and ways of life.    [ audio ]

de facto segregation

Racial separation not mandated by law.    [ audio ]

de jure segregation

Racial separation mandated by law.    [ audio ]

Declaration of Independence

A proclamation passed by Congress on July 2, 1776, and issued on July 4, announcing the separation of the "United Colonies" from Britain and the formation of a new nation, the United States of America. The documents listed reasons for the separation and a philosophical argument in defense of the action.    [ audio ]

Declaratory Act (1766)

A British law that reaffirmed the right of Parliament to pass laws for the colonies in "all cases whatsoever." The purpose of the law was to remind the colonists that the authority of the king and Parliament was superior to colonial governments.    [ audio ]


To entrust to somebody else.    [ audio ]

delegate theory

The idea that a legislative representative should exactly mirror his or her constituents' views in deciding on public policy. See also trustee theory of representation    [ audio ]

delegate theory of representation

The idea that a legislative representative should exactly mirror his or her constituents' views in deciding on public policy. See also trustee theory of representation    [ audio ]

delegated powers

According to the natural rights philosophy, people always retain their basic rights, but provisionally entrust or assign certain powers to their government for certain, limited purposes. The powers of government are therefore "delegated powers" in that they are granted by the people, and the people can take them back if government fails to fulfill its purposes.    [ audio ]

deliberative body

A legislative assembly that meets to debate issues.    [ audio ]


Literally defined as "rule of the people," democracy is a form of government in which all citizens exercise political power, either directly or through their elected representatives. See also representative democracy    [ audio ]

Democratic-Republican Party

Also known as the Republican Party (not related to the present-day Republican Party), founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1792. It was the dominant American political party from 1800 until the 1820s, when it split into competing factions. One faction became the present-day Democratic Party.    [ audio ]


In the United States, a legal process by which native–born citizens may voluntarily divest themselves of citizenship or by which naturalized citizens found to have made fraudulent claims in applying for citizenship may be deprived of citizenship.    [ audio ]


A head of government who has unlimited power.    [ audio ]

dictatorial government

A political system in which rulers have unlimited power over the fundamental rights of the governed.    [ audio ]


The practice of carrying on formal relationships with governments of other countries through a corps of professionally trained persons known as diplomats.    [ audio ]

direct democracy

A type of government in which a citizens meet in person to make laws and decisions on public business.    [ audio ]


Unfair treatment of people based on such factors of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender.    [ audio ]

district court

The court of original jurisdiction for most federal cases and the only federal court that holds trials in which juries and witness are used. Each state has at least one district court.    [ audio ]


People of many different backgrounds.    [ audio ]


Variation among the members of community or society, such as age, geographical region, race, ethnicity, cultural origin, religion, and other factors that make people different from each other.    [ audio ]

divine right

The idea prevalent in early modern Europe that monarchs derive their authority directly from God. Adherents to this doctrine claimed that to disobey such monarchs, to attempt to replace them, or to limit their powers is contrary to the will of God. Also known as the divine right of kings.    [ audio ]

domestic tranquility

As used in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, peaceful conditions within the country.    [ audio ]

double jeopardy

The provision in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that a person may not be tried twice for the same crime.    [ audio ]

dual national citizenship

The status of a person who is a legal citizen of two or more nations.    [ audio ]

due process of law

A requirement stated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that treatment by state and federal governments in matters of life, liberty, or property of individuals be reasonable, fair, and follow known rules and procedures. See procedural due process and substantive due process    [ audio ]


In economics, a tax on goods that are either imported or exported. Also known as a tariff.    [ audio ]

E pluribus unum

Latin: Out of Many, One.    [ audio ]

economic reprisal

An act or policy that injures the economic well-being of someone or something, such as a nation or corporation; an economic punishment undertaken in response to a perceived harm.    [ audio ]

economic rights

Those rights essential to citizens that allow them to earn a living, to acquire and transfer property, and to produce, buy, and sell goods and services in free markets.    [ audio ]


(1) One of the 538 members of the Electoral College chosen by the political parties in a state, (2) Any qualified voter.    [ audio ]

Electoral College

The group of presidential electors who cast the official votes for president and vice president after a presidential election. Each state has a number of electors equal to the total of its members in the Senate and House of Representatives. The functioning of the Electoral College is provided for in Article II of the U.S. Constitution and amended by the Twelfth and Twenty-third Amendments.    [ audio ]

eminent domain

The inherent power of the state to seize a citizen's private property or to expropriate property or rights in property without the owner's consent. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for "just compensation" for private property taken for public use, known as the "takings clause".    [ audio ]


To make people obey the law.    [ audio ]

enforcement powers

The power of Congress to enforce laws.    [ audio ]


Giving the right to vote to a person or category of persons.    [ audio ]

English Bill of Rights

An act passed by the English Parliament in 1689 that limited the power of the monarch. This document established Parliament as the most powerful branch of the English government.    [ audio ]

enlightened self-interest

A philosophy in ethics that states that persons who act to further the interests of others ultimately serve their own self–interest.    [ audio ]

enumerated powers

Those rights and responsibilities of the U.S. government specifically provided for and listed in the Constitution.    [ audio ]

enumerated rights

Those rights of U.S. citizens specifically provided for and listed in the Constitution.    [ audio ]


A specific listing of elements.    [ audio ]

equal protection clause

Section I of the Fourteenth Amendments providing for "the equal protection of the laws." It has been used to prevent states from treating individuals unfairly because of race, national origin, citizenship status, or gender. It prohibits laws that unreasonably and unfairly favor some groups over others or arbitrarily discriminate against persons.    [ audio ]

equal protection of the law

see equal protection clause    [ audio ]

equal protection of the laws

Treating all individuals or groups of people equally under the law, unless there is a good and fair reason for not doing so.    [ audio ]

equal representation

The idea that each state should have the same number of representatives in Congress. The number of representatives in the U.S. Senate is based on equal representation.    [ audio ]

equality of condition

Equality in all aspects of life, such as wealth, standards of living, medical care, and working conditions.    [ audio ]

equality of opportunity

A right guaranteed by both federal and many state laws against discrimination in employment, education, housing, or credit rights due to a person's race, color, sex and sometimes sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, or handicap.    [ audio ]


accept    [ audio ]

established church

An official, state-sponsored religion, such as those in dozens of countries that have official state religions, including Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Eastern Orthodox, Islam, Buddhism, and others. States with established churches include Argentina, Denmark, Indonesia, and Pakistan.    [ audio ]

establishment clause

The part of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from declaring an official religion.    [ audio ]


Ethnic classification or affiliation.    [ audio ]

ex post facto law

A law that criminalizes an act that was not a crime when committed, that increases the penalty for a crime after it was committed, or that changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier. Ex post facto laws are forbidden by Article I of the Constitution.    [ audio ]

ex post facto law

A law that criminalizes an act that was not a crime when committed, that increases the penalty for a crime after it was committed, or that changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier. Ex post facto laws are forbidden by Article I of the Constitution.    [ audio ]


A tax on goods produced within a certain country imposed by that country's government.    [ audio ]

exclusionary rule

The rule established by the U.S. Supreme Court that evidence unconstitutionally gathered by law enforcement officers may not be used against a defendant in a trial.    [ audio ]

executive branch

The branch of government that carries out the laws made by legislative branch and undertakes other constitutionally provided functions.    [ audio ]

executive departments

Cabinet-level agencies in the federal government, such as the Department of State, Defense, and the Treasury.    [ audio ]

executive orders

Directives issued by the president, including Presidential Directives, National Security Directives, and Homeland Security Presidential Directives. Presidents have issued such orders since 1789. Such orders are open to the public, except for National Security Directives.    [ audio ]

executive power

The authority to carry out and enforce the law.    [ audio ]


To make known your thoughts and feelings.    [ audio ]


(1) A small group within a larger group. (2) In its political sense, according to James Madison in Federalist 10, a faction is a "number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united...by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."    [ audio ]

federal courts

The courts of the national government that deal with problems between states, with the U.S. Constitution, and with laws made by Congress.    [ audio ]

federal district court

The court of original jurisdiction for most federal cases. This is the only federal court that holds trials in which juries and witness are used. Each state has at least one district court.    [ audio ]

federal government

Another name for the national government of the United States.    [ audio ]

federal system

See federalism    [ audio ]


A form of government in which power is divided and shared between a central government and state and local governments.    [ audio ]

federalism or federal system

A form of government in which power is divided and shared between a central government and state and local governments.    [ audio ]

Federalist Party

was a political party formed by Alexander Hamilton and his supporters in 1792. They supported a strong nationalistic government. John Adams was the only party member elected president.    [ audio ]

Federalist, The

A series of letters to the editor written in 1787-88 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, urging the adoption of the Constitution and supporting the need for a strong national government.    [ audio ]


Advocates for a strong central government who urged ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787?88. They flourished as a political party in the 1790s under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton. The party disappeared from national politics in 1816.    [ audio ]


A crime, such as murder or rape, considered more serious than a misdemeanor and subject to more severe punishment.    [ audio ]


A system of social, economic, and political organization in Europe from the ninth to about the fifteenth century in which a politically weak monarch shared power with the nobility. The nobility required work and services from the common people, known as serfs, in return for allowing them to live on and make use of the noble's land and benefit from the noble's protection.    [ audio ]

Fifteenth Amendment

An amendment to the Constitution, ratified after the Civil War in 1870, that forbids the denial of voting rights to any person based on race, color, or whether that person was previously a slave.    [ audio ]

Fifth Amendment

It states that no person shall have their life, liberty, or property taken away by the federal government without due process of law. This amendment protects your right to be treated fairly by the federal government.    [ audio ]


The practice of refusing to surrender the floor during a debate to prevent the Senate from voting on a proposal.    [ audio ]

First Amendment

An amendment to the Constitution that protects freedom of expression and the right of assembly.    [ audio ]

First Continental Congress

The body of colonial delegates that convened in Philadelphia from September 5, 1774, to October 26, 1774, to represent the interests of the colonists and to protest British rule. The Congress drafted the Articles of Association, on the basis of which the colonies agreed to a highly successful boycott of British goods. It also provided for a Second Continental Congress, which eventually declared independence from Britain, to meet the following May.    [ audio ]

forms of government

(1) Aristotle's idea of three forms of government based on the number of people exercising power. Each has a "right" form and a "corrupt" form. The right form of government by a single person is a "monarchy." The right form of government by a few people is an "aristocracy." And the right form of government by many people is called "polity." (2) Types of democratic governments. For example, parliamentary systems, such as those of Britain and India; separation of powers systems, such as that of the United States; and presidential systems, such as that of France. (3) General forms of government, such as monarchies, republics, and autocracies.    [ audio ]


The political leaders of the thirteen original colonies during the era of the American Revolution and its aftermath. They were key figures in the establishment of the United States of America and in framing and ratifying the U.S Constitution.    [ audio ]

Fourteenth Amendment

It states that no person shall have their life, liberty, or property taken away by state or local governments without due process of law. This amendment protects your right to be treated fairly by your state and local governments. It also defines a citizen as anyone born or naturalized in the United States. It was one of the Civil War amendments.    [ audio ]


The delegates to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. They are the group of men who wrote the U.S. Constitution.    [ audio ]


A right or privilege. In the context of American politics, it means the right to vote.    [ audio ]

free exercise clause

The part of the First Amendment stating that Congress shall make no laws that prevent people from holding whatever religious beliefs they choose or that unfairly or unreasonably limit the right to practice religious beliefs.    [ audio ]

freedom of assembly

See right to assemble    [ audio ]

freedom of belief or conscience

The right to believe or not to believe as one chooses, including freedom from being coerced to believe in something one does not.    [ audio ]

freedom of expression

As provided for in the First Amendment, the right to make known one's attitudes, thoughts, or feelings in a variety of contexts, such as speech, writing and the arts.    [ audio ]

freedom of religion

The right to hold whatever religious beliefs one wishes and to practice religious beliefs without unfair or unreasonable interference from governmemt.    [ audio ]

freedom of speech

The right to express one's beliefs, ideas, or feelings. In the United States, this right is limited by laws regarding slander and by "time, place, and manner" restrictions. See time, place, and manner restrictions.    [ audio ]

freedom of the press

The right to read, write, and publish what you wish without government interference. Laws regarding libel and obscenity limits this right.    [ audio ]

freedom to petition

The right to ask your government to correct things that you think are wrong or to do things you believe are needed.    [ audio ]

French Constitution of 1791

A constitution adopted during the French Revolution that established a constitutional monarchy in France. Power was concentrated in the legislative assembly, and the power of the king was limited.    [ audio ]

fugitive slave clause

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, which stated that slaves who escaped must returned to their owners. It was later abolished by the Thirteenth Amendments (1865).    [ audio ]

Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

A series of laws adopted in 1639 that formed the first written constitution in North America.    [ audio ]

fundamental principles

A method of constitutional interpretation that seeks to identify the fundamental principles embodied in the Constitution as a way to determine the meaning of particular words, phrases, or clauses.    [ audio ]

fundamental rights

See basic rights    [ audio ]

gag rule

Any rule restricting open discussion or debate on a particular issue.    [ audio ]

general warrant

A legal search warrant that does not describe in detail the places to be searched or the things or persons to be seized. Opposition to the British government's use of general warrants played a role in the era of the American Revolution. See also writ of assistance    [ audio ]

general welfare

That which contributes to the overall well-being of the nation.    [ audio ]

general welfare clause

Article I, Section 8, Clause I of the U.S. Constitution that authorizes Congress to provide for the common defense of the country and for the common good, described as the "general Welfare of the United States"    [ audio ]

George III

(1738-1820; reigned 1760-1820) King of Great Britain during the American Revolution; widely reviled by the colonists.    [ audio ]


Drawing the boundaries of an electoral district to favor a political party.    [ audio ]


The process of increasing interconnectedness and closer integration of the world's markets and businesses as a result of advances in transportation, communications, and information technologies. Such advances promote the flow of goods and services, ideas, capital, and people across borders.    [ audio ]

Glorious Revolution (1688)

The English Parliament's successful, bloodless overthrow of King James II, establishing Parliament's supremacy and independence from the monarchy.    [ audio ]


The people and institutions with authority to make and enforce laws and rules and manage disputes in a politically organized community.    [ audio ]

grand jury

A panel of jurors designated to inquire into alleged violations of the law in order to ascertain whether the evidence is sufficient to warrant trial. Contrasted with the "petite jury," usually composed of twelve people, of an ordinary trial.    [ audio ]

grandfather clause

The law stated that a person could vote if his grandfather had been allowed to vote. It made it possible for white people who could not pass a literacy test to vote because their grandfathers had the right to vote. It also made it impossible for African Americans to vote because their grandfathers had not been allowed to vote.    [ audio ]

Great Awakening

Religious revival in the American colonies from the 1730s to the 1750s during which a number of new Protestant churches were established. This religious movement formed part of the backdrop to the American Revolutionary period that began soon afterwards.    [ audio ]

Great Compromise

A plan accepted at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 that called for a Congress of two houses: in the upper house, or Senate, representation of the states would be equal, with each state having two senators; in the lower house, or House of Representatives, representation would be apportioned according to the population of each state, so that states with more people would have more representatives. Also called the Connecticut Compromise.    [ audio ]

habeus corpus

See writ of habeas corpus    [ audio ]


A meeting in which citizens present thier views to public officials.    [ audio ]


Organized or classified according to rank, capacity, or authority, so that some are higher than others; contrasted with "egalitarian," in which the equality of those being considered is emphasized.    [ audio ]

higher law

As used in describing a legal system, this term refers to the superiority of one set of laws to another. For example, the U.S. Constitution is a higher law than any federal law or state law. In the natural rights philosophy, "higher law" means that natural law and divine law are superior to laws made by human beings.    [ audio ]

House of Representatives

One house of Congress. The number of representatives from each state is based on its population.    [ audio ]

human rights

Basic rights and freedoms said to belong to all people everywhere. See Universal Declaration of Human Rights    [ audio ]


To have compassion and show concern for the pain and suffering of others.    [ audio ]


A person who leaves his or her native land to settle in another country.    [ audio ]


The movement of people into one place from another.    [ audio ]


In legal terms, exemption from prosecution.    [ audio ]


To accuse a public official of committing a crime while he or she is in office.    [ audio ]


Charging a public official with a crime while in office and bringing him or her to trial. Convicted officials are removed from office.    [ audio ]

implied powers

Those powers authorized by a legal document that are not expressly stated but can be inferred from expressly stated powers. The power of Congress to do all things "necessary and proper" to carry out the powers delegated to it by Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the U.S. Constitution. The "necessary and proper" clause is also known as the "elastic clause," because it greatly expands the Constitution's enumeration of the powers of Congress. Implied powers can be distinguished from "inherent powers," those that are expressly provided for in the Constitution.    [ audio ]


A tax or customs duty; a tariff.    [ audio ]

inalienable rights

Fundamental rights inherent to being human that every person therefore possesses that cannot be taken away by government or another entity. This phrase was used in the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Inalienable is sometimes spelled unalienable.    [ audio ]


The process through which the U.S. Supreme Court has applied the due process clause of the fourteenth Amendment to extend the reach of the Bill of Rights to include protection from interference by states.    [ audio ]

indentured servant

A person who voluntarily sold his or her labor for a set period of time in return for the cost of passage to the American colonies. Indentured servants provided the most important source of labor in the colonies in the seventeenth century and for a large part of the eighteenth century.    [ audio ]


Self-rule; not ruled by another country.    [ audio ]

independent agencies

Administrative organizations located outside the structure of executive departments.    [ audio ]

independent judiciary

An inviolate, or uncorrupted, judicial branch that serves to protect the U.S. Constitution and prevents the executive and legislative branches from disregarding it. An independent judiciary is necessary for the rule of law, because otherwise political interference could determine judicial decisions.    [ audio ]

Indian Citizenship Act (1924)

An Act of congress that recognized all American Indians as citizens of the United States and granted them the right to vote in federal elections.    [ audio ]


A formal charge by a grand jury accusing a person of having committed a crime.    [ audio ]

individual rights

Specific rights that belong to each person, such as those listed in the Bill of Rights.    [ audio ]


To have an effect on or to cause changes in something.    [ audio ]

inherent powers

Those powers ingrained so deeply in an institution that they need not be stated. For example, what the "inherent powers of the presidency" might be is a hotly contested subject in American national politics.    [ audio ]


A proposed law placed on the ballots of some states for voter decision. Initiatives that pass immediately become law.    [ audio ]

inquisitorial system

A trial system in which a judicial official or set of officials acts as both prosecutor and judge, questioning witnesses, examining evidence, and reaching a verdict.    [ audio ]


The structures of social order and cooperation that govern individuals.    [ audio ]


A method of interpreting the Constitution to help it adapt to changing circumstances and contemporary needs.    [ audio ]


Those things that are to your advantage or benefit.    [ audio ]

intermediate scrutiny

In U.S. constitutional law, the middle level of scrutiny applied by courts deciding constitutional issues through judicial review.    [ audio ]

international law

Rules, usually the result of treaties but also from custom, that regulate how countries are to behave toward one another. International law differs from municipal, or domestic law, in that, in many cases, there is no enforcement mechanism and no universal authoritative interpretation. The rulings of international tribunals are binding on states that have agreed to adhere to tribunal findings, but such rulings are not binding on others.    [ audio ]

international relations

The purposeful interactions among sovereign nations in which they attempt to advance national interests and values, especially security and economic well-being.    [ audio ]


To explain the meaning of something.    [ audio ]


The foreign policy of a nation that wishes to be inward–looking rather than involved with other countries. Historically, some cases of isolationism have combined a noninterventionist military policy with a protectionist economic policy.    [ audio ]

Jim Crow laws

Certain laws common in the American South from 1877 until the 1960s that required African Americans to use separate schools and other public facilities, prevented them from exercising the right to vote, and discriminated against them in public life.    [ audio ]


Ideas, beliefs, and practices that have their historical roots in Judaism and Christianity.    [ audio ]

judicial branch

The branch of government that interprets and applies the laws and settles disputes.    [ audio ]

judicial power

The authority to settle disagreements about laws. This includes the power to say what the laws mean.    [ audio ]

judicial review

The power of the courts to declare laws and actions of the local and state governments or the national government invalid if they are found to contradict the U.S. Constitution.    [ audio ]

Judiciary Act of 1789

A law passed by the first Congress to establish the federal courts system. The act determined the organization and jurisdiction of the courts.    [ audio ]


The power or authority to hear cases and make decisions.    [ audio ]

jus sanguinis

A right by which nationality or citizenship can be recognized to any individual born to a parent who is a national or citizen of that state.    [ audio ]

jus soli

The right by which nationality or citizenship can be recognized to any individual born in the territory of the related state.    [ audio ]


(1) Fair treatment according to law. (2) A member of the U.S. Supreme Court or a state supreme court.    [ audio ]


Members of the Supreme Court.    [ audio ]

landmark decision

A legal decision that constitutes a turning point or stage. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) is an example of a landmark decision.    [ audio ]

landmark legislation

A law that constitutes a turning point or stage. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 was landmark legislation.    [ audio ]


A rule established by government or other source of authority to regulate people's conduct or activities. In the Unites Sates, a bill that is passed by the legislature and signed by the executive, or that is passed over his or her veto, becomes law.    [ audio ]

law of nature

In natural rights philosophy, moral rules found out by correctly applied reason or right reason, telling persons what they may and may not do in various circumstances. In philosophy, laws of nature have often referred to the rules that would prevail in the absence of man–made law. Natural law is conceived to contain standards of justice that apply to all people.    [ audio ]

legal permanent resident

A noncitizen living in a country with the permission of its government. Legal permanent residents of the United States enjoy most of the rights and obligations of citizens, though not the right to vote or the obligation to serve on juries. They have the same right to due process of law as citizens, must serve in th military, and pay taxes.    [ audio ]

legislative branch

The branch of government that makes the laws.    [ audio ]

legislative power

The authority to make laws and rules.    [ audio ]

legislative supremacy

A system of government in which the legislative branch has ultimate power. Parliamentary government is such a system.    [ audio ]


A group of elected government officials with authority to make and change laws.    [ audio ]

Letter from Birmingham City

A letter written to fellow clergymen by Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 16, 1963, after his arrest for violating a state court order against participating in protests. In his letter, King explains the reasons for his involvement in the civil rights movement and for his belief in nonviolent methods of protest.    [ audio ]

letter of marque and reprisal

A grant of authority from Congress to private citizens, not the president, to expressly authorize seizure and forfeiture of goods by such citizens in the context of undeclared hostilities with another country or countries.Without such authorization, citizens seizing such goods would be pirates in the eyes of international law.    [ audio ]


Published words or pictures that falsely and maliciously defame a person.    [ audio ]

liberty, right to

The right to be free, within certain limits, in political, personal, and economic affairs. Some examples of liberties are the rights to vote for whom you wish, believe what you wish, read what you want, speak freely, and travel. In liberal democracies, the boundaries of liberty or freedom are defined by law. Those living under such governments are therefore said to enjoy "freedom under law."    [ audio ]

life, right to

The right to live without fear of being injured or killed by others or by government.    [ audio ]

limited government

In natural rights philosophy, a system restricted to protecting natural rights that does not interfere with other aspects of life. More generally, limited government is constitutional government governed by the rule of law. Written or unwritten constitutions are used to empower and limit government.    [ audio ]


Restrictions or boundaries on governmental power.    [ audio ]

literacy test

A test to prove a person's abilities to read and write. Until 1964, such tests were used in various states to prevent minorities from voting.    [ audio ]

literal interpretation

The view that the First Amendment prohibits only the establishment of an official government religion.    [ audio ]


See strict construction    [ audio ]


A party involved in a lawsuit.    [ audio ]


The practice of attempting to affect legislation by influencing legislators.    [ audio ]

local government

Government of a specific local area, such as state subdivisions authorized by states or governments of cities, counties, and towns. Also includes special government units, such as water districts.    [ audio ]


Colonists opposed to American independence who remained loyal to Great Britain during the American Revolution.    [ audio ]


A lower-level judicial officer, usually elected in urban areas, who handles traffic violations, minor criminal offenses, and civil suits involving small amounts of money. More generally, magistrate means public official.    [ audio ]

Magna Carta

Also known as the Great Charter, King John of England agreed to this document in 1215 at the demand of his barons. The Magna Carta granted certain civil rights and liberties to English nobles and to all "freemen," such as the right to a jury of one's peers and the guarantee against loss of life, liberty, or property except in accordance with law. Some rights were guaranteed for all the king's subjects, free or not free. In doing so, the Magna Carta limited the power of the king, who agreed that his will could be bounded by law, and became a landmark in the history of constitutional government.    [ audio ]


More than half.    [ audio ]

majority rule

A doctrine by which a numerical majority of an organized group holds the power to make decisions binding on all in the group. Majority rule is a foremost principle of democracy, but is not always practiced in societies that value consensus.    [ audio ]

majority tyranny

A situation in which a majority uses the principle of majority rule but fails to respect the rights and interests of the minority. See also majority rule    [ audio ]

Marbury v. Madison (1803)

A landmark case in which the Supreme Court, for the first time in American history, struck down an act of Congress as unconstitutional, establishing the Court's power of constitutional judicial review.    [ audio ]

Massachusetts Body of Liberties

(1641) The first American document to describe the rights of individuals.    [ audio ]

Massachusetts Constitution

The state constitution ratified by Massachusetts voters in 1780. It is the oldest written constitution still in use in the world today.    [ audio ]

Mayflower Compact

An agreement to form a political body signed on November 21, 1620, by all adult males aboard the Mayflower before the ship landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The signers agreed to submit to "just and equal Laws" put into effect under the compact "for the general good of the Colony."    [ audio ]

melting pot

A term use to describe a society made up of diverse cultures or races that have merged or "melted" into each other. American society has often been called a melting pot.    [ audio ]

methods of constitutional interpretation

Interpretive methods employed by U.S. Supreme Court justices when considering constitutional issues of some cases. See strict construction, original intent, fundamental principles, and instrumentalism    [ audio ]

Middle Ages

A period of European history lasting roughly from the fifth to the fourteenth century during which the political, economic, and military structure of Europe was characterized by feudalism. The term medieval describes that which occurred during the Middle Ages.    [ audio ]


Civilian militias of the American Revolution, so called because of their readiness for battle.    [ audio ]


A minor criminal offense that is less serious than a felony. The punishment for a misdemeanor is a fine or imprisonment for up to one year.    [ audio ]

mixed constitution

Traditionally, constitutions that include elements of the rule of one (monarchy), the few (aristocracy or oligarchy), and the many (democracy). Aristotle first wrote of mixed constitutions, although not always about all three elements simultaneously, stating that they are more stable than simple forms. Some American writers have argued that a mixed constitution is a hallmark of a republic. The idea influenced the writing of the U.S. Constitution.    [ audio ]


See instrumentalism    [ audio ]


A form of government in which political power is held by a single ruler such as a king or queen. Historically, monarchies have been "absolute," or legally unlimited, or "constitutional," in which the powers of monarchs are limited by law.    [ audio ]


To keep watch over something.    [ audio ]

multinational corporation

An enterprise that operates in at least two countries.    [ audio ]

narrow interpretation

The view that the First Amendment prohibits only the establishment of an official government religion.    [ audio ]


As currently used, a country; the standard unit of political organization in the world. The nation-state received its name from the idea of a people, or "nation," organizing itself politically for self-rule. Many countries today, however, are composed of two or more distinct peoples.    [ audio ]

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

(NAACP) An interracial interest group founded in 1909 to advocate the rights of African Americans, primarily through legal and political action.    [ audio ]

national government

The organization having central political authority in a nation; the representative unit of political organization.    [ audio ]

natural law

See law of nature    [ audio ]

natural rights

The doctrine that people have basic rights, such as those to life, liberty, and property in a state of nature. Some writers, especially those influencing the American Founders, argued that certain of these rights are inalienable-inherent in being human-and that people create governments to protect those rights.    [ audio ]


The legal process by which a foreign citizen becomes a citizen of the United States, concluding with an oath of allegiance.    [ audio ]

naturalized citizen

Someone who is born elsewhere but who passes a citizenship test on the Constitution and the history of the United States.    [ audio ]

naturalized citizens

People who become citizens via the naturalization process rather than by birth. See naturalization    [ audio ]

necessary and proper clause

Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to make all laws that are "necessary and proper" to carry out the powers specifically delegated to it by the Constitution. It is also known as the "elastic clause" because of the vagueness of the phrase "necessary and proper."    [ audio ]

negative rights

Those rights that prohibit government from acting in certain ways; rights that are not to be interfered with.    [ audio ]

New Jersey Plan

The plan presented at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (1787) that called for a one-house national legislature, in which each state would have equal representation. This arrangement would favor small states. The New Jersey Plan followed the framework of the Article of Confederation and favored a weak national government.    [ audio ]

"new science of politics"

James Madison's term in The Federalist for a study of politics utilizing reason, observation, and history that would help the Founders construct a new government on a rational and informed basis.    [ audio ]

Nineteenth Amendment

Added to the Constitution in 1920, it gave women the right to vote.    [ audio ]

Ninth Amendment

This amendment states, in effect, that the Bill of Rights is only a partial listing of the rights of the people.    [ audio ]

nongovernmental organization (NGO)

An autonomous organization independent of direct governmental control that exists to perform any of a large variety of purposes, including those dealing with humanitarian, educational, or public policy problems and issues.    [ audio ]

nonviolent social action

Use of peaceful tactics, such as parades, demonstrations, rallies, and civil disobedience as means of furthering civil or political ends.    [ audio ]

Northwest Ordinance (1787)

Passed by Congress under the Articles of Confederation, the ordinance defined the process by which territories would become states, protected civil liberties in new territories, and was the first national legislation to set limits on the expansion of slavery.    [ audio ]

Northwest Ordinance of 1787

An important law passed by Congress under the Articles of Confederation. The law provided for settling the western lands and organizing new states.    [ audio ]

Northwest Territory

A governmental region within the early United States that included all the land west of Pennsylvania and northwest of the Ohio River.    [ audio ]

null and void

Of no legal or binding force; invalid.    [ audio ]

opinion of the Court

A written explanation of the Supreme Court's decision in a particular case and its reasoning behind the decision.    [ audio ]


give official approval    [ audio ]


An order or law made by a government.    [ audio ]

Organization of American States

(OAS) A regional organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., composed of thirty-five North, South, and Central American nations, formed in 1948 to promote economic, political, military, and cultural cooperation among its members.    [ audio ]

original history

See original intent    [ audio ]

original intent

A method of constitutional interpretation that seeks to understand what the Founders meant when they wrote the words of the Constitution.    [ audio ]

original jurisdiction

In some cases, such as those in which a state is a party, the Supreme Court has the right to consider the facts and the law in a case without it having first been passed on by a lower court.    [ audio ]


The approved form of a belief or practice.    [ audio ]


To pass a bill after it has been vetoed. Congress may override the president's veto by a two-thirds vote of both houses.    [ audio ]


The British legislature, which consists of two houses: the House of Lords, which once represented the nobility, and the House of Commons, which formally represents the common people. Most members of the House of Lords are appointed for life by the government of the day and are not members of the hereditary aristocracy, who once dominated it.    [ audio ]

parliamentary government

A system that gives governmental authority to a legislature or parliament, which in turn selects the head of government, the prime minister, from among its members. Parliament has continuing power to remove prime ministers by passing a vote of no confidence.    [ audio ]


Taking part in or sharing in the activities of a group or organization.    [ audio ]

party system

A concept in political science that political parties control government.    [ audio ]


Those Americans who supported the war for independence against Great Britain.    [ audio ]


Support, often financial, given by a person or institution to a person, group, or institution in need.    [ audio ]


(1) a person of equal standing or rank. (2) In British government, a member of the House of Lords.    [ audio ]


To cause suffering to a person or group because of such things as their beliefs, gender, or race.    [ audio ]

personal respnsibilities

Obligations that each person assumes individually.    [ audio ]

personal rights

Those rights of individuals in their private capacity, such as the rights to life and liberty, as distinguished from the political rights of citizens, such as the rights to vote and to hold public office.    [ audio ]


A formal, written request.    [ audio ]

Petition of Right (1628)

A statute that limited the English monarch's power to tax people without the consent of Parliament and guaranteed certain rights to English subjects.    [ audio ]

petition, right to

See right to petition.    [ audio ]

petty offenses

Those crimes for which the maximum penalty for conviction is six months or less.    [ audio ]

Philadelphia Convention

The meeting held in Philadelphia from May to September 1787 at which the U.S. Constitution was written. Also called the Constitutional Convention.    [ audio ]


A large farm usually found in the Southern states.    [ audio ]


List of the policies and priorities of a political party; also known as a manifesto.    [ audio ]

plea agreement

Pleading guilty to a lesser crime than that charged by a prosecutor.    [ audio ]

plenary powers

Unlimited and undefined powers.    [ audio ]

pocket veto

A presidential practice that allows a bill to die if not signed within ten days and Congress is adjourned. The president is conceived as keeping the bill in his pocket rather than taking it out and signing it.    [ audio ]

police powers

The inherent authority of a government to impose restrictions on private rights for the sake of public welfare, order, and security within the boundaries of constitutional law.    [ audio ]

political action

Any organized attempt to influence the political process and affect public policy, from lobbying legislators to seeking the election or defeat of particular candidates.    [ audio ]

political legitimacy

Acceptance by the governed that the claim to authority by those who govern is justified. In democratic societies, legitimacy is achieved only when those who govern gain power through the free consent of the governed in free and fair elections.    [ audio ]

political parties

Any organization that seeks to achieve political power by electing members to public office so that their political philosophies can be reflected in public policies.    [ audio ]

political party

An organization seeking to achieve political power by electing members to public office so that its political philosophy is reflected in public policy.    [ audio ]

political philosophy

A set of ideas about government and politics, such as the nature of justice and the role and proper limits of government.    [ audio ]

political rights

All rights of a citizen in a free society that are clearly expressed and guaranteed by the Constitution and implied by natural laws.    [ audio ]


The processes by which groups of people make decisions. In politically organized societies, politics includes the processes of making authoritative rules known as law.    [ audio ]

poll tax

A tax that voters in many states were required to pay in order to exercise their right to vote. These barriers were used until 1964 to prevent African Americans from voting.    [ audio ]

popular sovereignty

The natural rights concept that ultimate political authority rests with the people.    [ audio ]


The number of people living in an area.    [ audio ]

positive rights

Those rights that require overt government action, as opposed to negative rights that require government not to act in specified ways. Examples of positive rights are those to public education and, in some cases, to medical care, old age pensions, food, or housing.    [ audio ]

power to investigate

The power of Congress to undertake formal inquiries into matters of public business and public policy.    [ audio ]


Preface or introduction to the U.S. Constitution stating that "the People of the United States" are establishing the Constitution and enumerating the purposes for doing so.    [ audio ]


Previous court decisions upon which legal issues are decided.    [ audio ]


Newspapers, magazines and other news media. Also, the reporters and people who produce them.    [ audio ]

prime minister

The highest-ranking member of government in a parliamentary system. Both Britain and Japan, for example, have prime ministers.    [ audio ]


The condition of being the firstborn child. In law, it refers to the right of the eldest son at some times and places to inherit all of his parents' estates rather than sharing it with his male siblings.    [ audio ]


Basic truth or underlying assumption regarding rules of conduct or behavior. Moral principles are statements of guiding ideas, often expressed in laws, of what is right and wrong, good and evil. Political principles are general statements of guiding ideas of what is right and wrong in matters of politics, government, and public policy.    [ audio ]

privacy, right to

See right to privacy    [ audio ]

private domain

Areas of a person's life that are not subject to governmental interference.    [ audio ]

private morality

An individual's ideas about right and wrong to be practiced in one's personal life. These are derived from religious, philosophical, familial, and other sources, including individual conscience.    [ audio ]

probable cause

Reasonable grounds for presuming that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed. Provided for in the Fourth Amendment.    [ audio ]

procedural due process

The principle that government must respect all, not some, of a person's legal rights. Government must not subject individuals to unreasonable, unfair, or arbitrary treatment.    [ audio ]


The steps taken to accomplish a task.    [ audio ]


The methods or steps taken to accomplish something.    [ audio ]

Proclamation of 1763

A British law that banned settlement in certain western lands to reduce tensions between the colonists and Native Americans. The law was unpopular among American Frontiersmen and traders.    [ audio ]

property, right to

See right to property    [ audio ]

proportional representation

In the context of American government, the electoral system in which the number of representatives for a state is based on the number of people living in the state. Proportional representation is used to determine the number of each state's representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives.    [ audio ]

public forum

Geographical places in a community, such as streets, parks, or virtual reality sites, where people can express and exchange their views.    [ audio ]

public good

See common good    [ audio ]

public morality

The values and principles of right and wrong pertaining to public policies and actions.    [ audio ]

purpose of government

To protect the natural rights that an individual cannot effectively protect in a state of nature.    [ audio ]

pursuit of happiness

An "unalienable" right stated in the Declaration of Independence. It is the right of Americans to pursue personal fulfillment in their own way, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.Within certain limits, this right denies the legitimacy of government to decide what kind of happiness one ought to seek.    [ audio ]

Quartering Act (1765)

Also known as the Mutiny Act, a British law authorizing colonial governors to requisition certain buildings, including parts of people's homes, for the housing, or quartering, of British troops.    [ audio ]

quasi–judicial powers

Actions of an agency, board, or other government entity in which there are hearings, orders, judgments, or other activities similar to those of courts.    [ audio ]

quasi–legislative powers

Having a partly legislative character by possession of the right to make rules and regulations having the force of law.    [ audio ]

Quebec Campaign (1775-76)

A military expedition that was an attempt by the Americans to protect the American north and persuade the Canadians to join their rebellion against Britain. American forces invaded Canada and captured Montreal in late 1774. The British forced the Americans to retreat in the spring of 1776.    [ audio ]


(1) Going to the root of things in philosophical or political analysis. (2) Advocating extreme or revolutionary changes, especially in politics or government.    [ audio ]


(1) Formal approval of some formal legal instrument such as a constitution or treaty. (2) In U.S. constitutional history, the approval of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 by the ratifying conventions held in each state, except for Rhode Island, which initially voted the Constitution down by popular referendum.    [ audio ]


To confirm and approve.    [ audio ]

ratifying conventions

Meetings held in the states to approve the Constitution.    [ audio ]

rational basis

In U.S. constitutional law, the lowest level of scrutiny applied by courts deciding constitutional issues through judicial review.    [ audio ]


Quality of what a rational and fair-minded person might say.    [ audio ]


A process of using special or general elections for removing elected officials from office.    [ audio ]

redress of grievances

The correction of complaints. The First Amendment protects the right of the people to petition government to obtain remedies for claimed wrongs.    [ audio ]


Placing a measure approved by a legislature on a ballot for popular approval.    [ audio ]


Sixteenth century religious movement aimed at reforming the Roman Catholic Church and resulting in the establishment of Protestant churches.    [ audio ]


To enroll one's name officially as a requirement for voting.    [ audio ]

religious test

A requirement that a person swear to a belief in God or belong to a particular religion in order to qualify for a political office or to vote.    [ audio ]


The great revival of art, literature, and learning in Europe during the fourteenth , fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, based on classical sources and leading to a new confidence in powers of human beings and in the potential of the individual. Attitudes formed in the Renaissance were later important in the development of democratic ideas and practices.    [ audio ]


To take the place of or to stand in for someone.    [ audio ]


A person elected to act and speak for others.    [ audio ]

representative democracy

A system of government in which citizens elect officials to make and administer laws for their country; often combined with elements of direct democracy, such as the use of initiative and referendum elections. Involves free, fair, and regular competitive elections and requires freedom of speech, political associations, and the rule of law. Because the citizenry is considered sovereign (See popular sovereignty), civilian control of the military is also required. Liberal versions of representative democracy further require protection of a full panoply of basic rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and economic freedom.    [ audio ]


People elected to act for others.    [ audio ]


According to James Madison, a form of government that derives its powers directly or indirectly from the people, is administered by officials holding power for a limited time, and incorporates representative institutions.    [ audio ]

republican government

See republic    [ audio ]

Republican Party

The first political organization formed in opposition to the Federalist Party by the supporters of Thomas Jefferson. It evolved into the Democratic Party in 1828 and has no connection to the present-day Republican Party.    [ audio ]


See republic    [ audio ]

reserved powers

Those powers referred to in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments that are reserved to the states or to the people.    [ audio ]

resident alien

A noncitizen legally residing in a country other than his or her birth country.    [ audio ]


A formal statement of a decision or expression of opinion put before or adopted by an assembly such as the U.S. Congress.    [ audio ]


Duty or obligation.    [ audio ]

reverse discrimination

The argument that preferential policies found in certain affirmative action programs discriminate against majority groups.    [ audio ]

revolution, right to

See right to revolution    [ audio ]

right against self-incrimination

A guarantee found in the Fifth Amendment against being compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against oneself.    [ audio ]

right of revolution

The right of the sovereign people of any democratic state or regime to depose a government after it has attacked citizens' basic rights for a significant period of time. This right, espoused by English philosopher John Locke, was asserted in the Declaration of Independence to justify separation from Britain and the overturning of the authority of King George III.    [ audio ]

right to assemble

The right or legal claim provided for in the First Amendment that allows people to meet to discuss and express their beliefs, ideas, or feelings, especially in a political context.    [ audio ]

right to associate

The freedom to meet with others for political or any other lawful purposes.    [ audio ]

right to counsel

Part of the right to a fair trial, allowing for the defendant to be assisted by an attorney, and if the defendant cannot afford counsel, requiring that the state appoint an attorney or pay the defendant's legal fees.    [ audio ]

right to petition

The legal claim that allows citizens to urge their government to correct wrongs and injustices or to take some other action.    [ audio ]

right to privacy

The constitutional right, founded upon U.S. Supreme Court decisions, that requires that people be free from unwarranted intrusion into their private lives by government officials.    [ audio ]

right to property

The right or legal claim that allows a person to own things and to transfer them to others.    [ audio ]

right to revolution

The right of the sovereign people of any democratic state or regime to depose a government after it has attacked citizens' basic rights for a significant period of time. This right, espoused by English philosopher John Locke, was asserted in the Declaration of Independence to justify separation from Britain and the overturning of the authority of King George III.    [ audio ]


Moral or legal claims justified in ways that are generally accepted within a society or the international community.    [ audio ]

rights of Englishmen

Term prevalent in seventeenth-century England and America referring to certain historically established rights, beginning with the rights of the Magna Carta, that all English subjects were understood to have. These included the right not to be kept in prison without a trial, the right to trial by jury, security in one's home from unlawful entry, and no taxation without consent, among others.    [ audio ]

rule of law

The principle that both those who govern and those who are governed must obey the law and are subject to the same laws. This principle is contrasted to the "rule of men," in which those in power make up the rules as they please. The rule of law requires an independent judiciary that is immune from political or other manipulation.    [ audio ]


In the context of American constitutional law, intrusion into someone's privacy.    [ audio ]


Formal withdrawal by a constituent member from an alliance, federation, or association.    [ audio ]


In U.S. history, the act of states leaving the Union in 1861 following the election of President Abraham Lincoln; precipitated the Civil War.    [ audio ]

Second Amendment

Part of the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution in 1791. The Amendment says "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."    [ audio ]

Second Continental Congress

The body of delegates representing the colonies that met in 1775 shortly after the start of the Revolutionary War. The Congress organized the Continental Army, selected by George Washington to lead it, appointed a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, and adopted the Articles of Confederation.    [ audio ]


The heads of the departments in the executive branch who act as advisers to the president.    [ audio ]


Incitement to rebellion.    [ audio ]

Sedition Act of 1798

Endorsed by the Federalists administration of John Adams, the legislation provided penalties for writing, printing, or uttering "false, scandalous, or malicious" statements against the government or Congress.    [ audio ]

seditious libel

Written language that seeks to convince others to engage in the overthrow of a government.    [ audio ]


To separate people in schools and other public places according to things such as their race.    [ audio ]


The separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group from the rest of society, whether or not by a deliberate policy.    [ audio ]


In the context of U.S. constitutional law, interference with a person's property or freedom of movement.    [ audio ]

selective incorporation

The application of some parts but not others of the federal Bill of Rights to state law. This process is also known as absorption.    [ audio ]


See right against self-incrimination    [ audio ]


Easy for anyone to see; obvious.    [ audio ]


Personal benefits; contrasted with the public interest or common good.    [ audio ]


Able to provide for most of one's own needs.    [ audio ]


One house of Congress. Each state has two members in the Senate.    [ audio ]


Length of service. In the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, certain powers and responsibilities of congressional members, such as committee chairmanships, are granted on the basis of their time in office.    [ audio ]

separate but equal

The argument, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) but later reversed, that racially segregated public facilities are constitutional if those facilities are of equal quality.    [ audio ]

separated powers

The division of the powers of government among the different branches. Separating powers is a primary strategy of promoting constitutional or limited government by ensuring that no one individual or branch has excessive power that can be abused. See checks and balances    [ audio ]

separation of church and state

A basic principle of American government that no single religion should be favored by government over other religions, nor should government interfere with the right to practice or not practice religious beliefs. This term was used in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson to explain his understanding of the protection of religious freedom afforded by the Constitution.    [ audio ]

separation of powers

The division of powers among the different branches of government. In the United States, powers are divided among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.    [ audio ]


A peasant under the medieval system of manorialism, which enforced the labor of serfs in the fields of landowners in return for protection and the right to work on their leased fields. Serfs were not free to leave the area in which they worked.    [ audio ]

Seven Years' War

A series of wars between England and France fought both in Europe and in North America. The American phase, fought between 1754 and 1763, is known as the French and Indian War. Cost of fighting the war and protecting the American colonies afterwards led to Britain to levy taxes on the colonists that eventually led to the American Revolution.    [ audio ]

shared powers

Legislative powers not completely separated between the branches of government.    [ audio ]

Shays' Rebellion

An armed revolt by Massachusetts farmers seeking relief from debt and mortgage foreclosures. The rebellion fueled support for amending the Articles of Confederation.    [ audio ]


Nonviolent civil disobedience actions in which people protesting certain conditions, laws, or public policies occupy an appropriate place and refuse to move until their demands are considered or met.    [ audio ]


A person under the complete control of a master, with no legal rights, forced to work without compensation.    [ audio ]

slave trade

The commercial practice of forcibly taking people from their homes in Africa and selling them into slavery in the New World.    [ audio ]

social action

Attempts by groups or individuals to change society using a variety of means.    [ audio ]

social contract

An agreement among the people to set up a government and obey its laws. The theory was developed by the natural rights philosopher John Locke to explain the origin of legitimate government.    [ audio ]

social contract theory

Presumption of an imaginary or actual agreement among people to set up a government and obey its laws. The theory was developed by the English natural rights philosopher John Locke, among others, to explain the origin of legitimate government.    [ audio ]

Sons of Liberty

A secret organization of American colonists that originated in 1765 to express colonial opposition to the Stamp Act. The organization, or those using its name, existed in nearly every colony and was active in attacking British interests throughout the Revolutionary period.    [ audio ]


A person or group having the highest authority or power in a country or state.    [ audio ]


The ultimate, supreme power in a state. Democratic theory states that the people as a whole are sovereign (See popular sovereignty); the citizens of the United States constitute the sovereign people.    [ audio ]

speech, freedom of

See freedom of speech    [ audio ]

Stamp Act (1765)

A British law that required the payment of a tax through th purchase of stamps for documents such as newspapers, magazines, and legal and commercial papers of all kinds.    [ audio ]

Stamp Act Congress

A meeting in New York in 1765 of twenty-seven delegates from nine colonies. The congress was the first example of united colonial action in the developing struggle against Great Britain. The congress was successful in bringing about a repeal of the Stamp Act.    [ audio ]

stare decisis

Latin: "Let the precedent (decision) stand." The doctrine that a court should follow the previous decisions of other courts on cases in which the facts are substantially the same. This principle plays a key role in common law systems such as those of Britain and the United States.    [ audio ]

state of nature

The condition of people living in a situation without government; anarchy. Natural rights philosophy inquired about what rights, moral rules, or laws applied in such circumstances and what rights, if any, people retained after agreeing to leave the state of nature to form a politically organized society or state.    [ audio ]

statutory law

The body of law passed by legislature; contrasted with common law in which the law is derived from court decisions.    [ audio ]

strict construction

A method of constitutional interpretation that focuses on the plain meaning of the words of the Constitution.    [ audio ]

strict scrutiny

Under U.S. constitutional law, the second highest level of scrutiny used by courts reviewing federal law for constitutional legitimacy. "Super strict scrutiny" is the highest level.    [ audio ]


A person who is said to owe allegiance to a government or ruler but does not necessarily have a voice in choosing those in power. Often contrasted with citizens, who do have such a voice.    [ audio ]

substantive due process

Judicial interpretations of the due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution requiring the content of law to be fair and reasonable.    [ audio ]


The right to vote. See franchise    [ audio ]

supremacy clause

Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that the U.S. Constitution, laws passed by Congress, and treaties of the United States "shall be the supreme Law of the Land" and binding on the states.    [ audio ]

Supreme Court

The highest court in the United States.    [ audio ]


A tax on imported or exported goods. Also known as a duty.    [ audio ]

Tea Act (1773)

The British law that granted the East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea into the colonies, thus eliminating the profits of colonial importers and shopkeepers. See also Boston Tea Party    [ audio ]

Tenth Amendment

This Amendment holds that the "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or the people." The Tenth Amendment embodies the principle of federalism, which reserves for the states the residue of powers not granted to the federal government or withheld from the states, and the principle of popular sovereignty, which reserves other rights to the people.    [ audio ]


Give information or evidence, as at a hearing or trial.    [ audio ]


See strict construction    [ audio ]

The Federalist

See Federalist, The    [ audio ]

"the shot heard 'round the world"

A line in a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson describing the effect of the outbreak of the American Revolution in April 1775. The American Revolution and its principles became extremely influential around the world. It was the first of many rebellions by countries against their colonial rulers.    [ audio ]

Thirteenth Amendment

This Amendment abolished slavery. It was adopted after the Civil War in 1865.    [ audio ]

three-fifths clause

The Framers? compromise about slavery that became part of the Constitution. It counted each slave as three-fifths of a person to determine how many representatives a state would have in Congress.    [ audio ]

Three-Fifths Compromise

Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, later eliminated by the Fourteenth Amendment. The clause provided that each slave should be counted as three–fifths of a person in determining the number of representatives a state might send to the House of Representatives. It also determined the amount of direct taxes Congress might levy on a state.    [ audio ]


The choice of candidates of a political party for president and vice president.    [ audio ]

time, place, and manner restrictions

Government regulations that place restrictions on free speech. These regulations, specifying when, where, and in what way speech is allowed, are applied when unrestricted free speech will conflict with the rights of others.    [ audio ]


To be willing to let other people be different from yourself in such areas as religion, lifestyle, and political opinion.    [ audio ]


Colonists who opposed American independence and remained loyal to Great Britain during the American Revolution, also known as Loyalists.    [ audio ]


A form of government in which one person or party exercises absolute control over all aspects of life, demanding devotion to an official ideology and using terror and modern technology to ensure that no independent organizations, especially political opposition, can function.    [ audio ]


The buying and selling of goods.    [ audio ]


Betrayal of one's country. In American constitutional law, treason consists of making war on the United States or in giving aid and comfort to its enemies. Treason is carefully defined in the U.S Constitution, and requirements for conviction are spelled out to ensure against government abuse of its power.    [ audio ]


An agreement under international law between states or international organizations.    [ audio ]

Treaty of Paris

The agreement signed on September 3, 1783, between Great Britain and the United States that ended the Revolutionary War. With the treaty, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States. Also called the Peace of Paris.    [ audio ]

trustee theory of representation

The idea that a legislative representative should use his or her best judgment in making decisions on public policy, regardless of constituent opinion. See also delegate theory of representation    [ audio ]

Twenty-fourth Amendment

It states that the right to vote in a national election shall not be denied because a person fails to pay a poll tax, or any other tax.    [ audio ]

Twenty-second Amendment

The Amendment that prohibits any person from being elected president more than twice.    [ audio ]

Twenty-sixth Amendment

It gave citizens 18 years of age or older the right to vote in all elections.    [ audio ]


A government in which a ruler or rulers possess and abuse absolute power.    [ audio ]

unalienable rights

See inalienable rights    [ audio ]


Not allowed by or contradicting the U.S. Constitution; illegal.    [ audio ]

unitary government

A centralized form of government in which states or local governments exercise only those powers delegated to them by the central or national government. Contrasted with federal government, such as in the United States. See federalism    [ audio ]

United Nations

An international organization created in 1945 to maintain peace through the collective security of its members.    [ audio ]

United States Supreme Court

The highest court in the United States.    [ audio ]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

An advisory declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, consisting of thirty articles outlining the views of the General Assembly on those rights conceived as guaranteed to all people.    [ audio ]

unwritten constitution

The body of political practices developed through custom and tradition. Only three of the world's major democracies have constitutions that are not single, written documents: Britain, Israel, and New Zealand. In each of these nations, the constitution is a combination of written laws and precedents.    [ audio ]

use immunity

A guarantee government prosecutors give to a witness to not use the witness's self-incriminating compelled testimony as evidence against the witness in a subsequent criminal prosecution. A witness who receives use immunity may still be prosecuted, but based only on evidence not gathered from the protected testimony.    [ audio ]


In feudal times, a person granted the use of land by a feudal lord in return for military or other services.    [ audio ]


The right of a branch of government to reject a proposed law that has been passed by another branch in an effort to delay or prevent its enactment. Under the U.S. Constitution, it is the power of the president to refuse to sign a bill passed by Congress, thereby preventing it from becoming a law. The president's veto may be overridden by a two–thirds vote of both the Senate and House of Representatives.    [ audio ]

Virginia Declaration of Rights

The first state declaration of rights, adopted on June 12, 1776, which served as a model for other state declarations of rights and the Bill of Rights and influenced the Declaration of Independence.    [ audio ]

Virginia Plan

The plan presented at the Philadelphia Convention that provided for a national government composed of three branches. It proposed a Congress of two houses, both of which would be based on proportional representation. The Virginia Plan favored a strong national government.    [ audio ]

voluntary associations

Autonomous organizations founded and administered by private citizens, not elected officials, devoted to any number of purposes. Voluntary associations form an essential element of the social basis of democracy, especially American democracy.    [ audio ]

voter registration

The requirement in some democracies for citizens to enroll in voting rolls before being allowed to participate in elections.    [ audio ]

Voting Rights Act

The Act passed in 1965 that further protected the right to vote for all U.S. citizens. It forced the states to obey the Constitution. It made it clear that the right to vote could not be denied because of a person?s color or race.    [ audio ]

Voting Rights Act (1965)

An act to strengthen the protections of the right to vote for all U.S. citizens. It compels the states to obey the U.S Constitution and makes clear that the right to vote cannot be denied because of a person's color or race.    [ audio ]


An order by a judge authorizing a police officer to make an arrest or search or perform some other designated act.    [ audio ]


A person who is called to give evidence before a court.    [ audio ]

writ of assistance

A document giving a governmental authority the power to search and seize property without restrictions. Abolished in American law, the use of such writs by the British government was a major issue during some phases of the American Revolution.    [ audio ]

writ of certiorari

A type of writ seeking judicial review of a legal decision.    [ audio ]

writ of habeas corpus

Latin: "You shall/should have the body." A court order directing that a prisoner be brought to court before a judge to determine whether that prisoner's detention is lawful.    [ audio ]

writs of assistance

Documents giving a governmental authority the power to search and seize property without restrictions.    [ audio ]

written constitution

A written plan of government that sets forth the structures and powers of government. See constitution    [ audio ]

Yorktown Surrender

The final military act that ended the Revolutionary War. In October 1781, American and French forces blocked a British escape from the Yorktown Peninsula in Virginia. On October 17-19, 1781, the British forces under Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown to the American army under George Washington.    [ audio ]
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