Glossary

  • affirmative action. Policy or program designed to redress historic injustices committed against racial minorities and other specified groups by making special efforts to provide members of these groups with access to educational and employment opportunities.

  • alien. Anyone not a citizen of the country in which he or she lives.

  • amendment (constitutional). Changes in, or additions to, a constitution. Proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of the state legislatures. Ratified by approval of three-fourths of the states.

  • anarchy. Absence of formal legal order; also the social context in which legitimate political authority does not exist.

  • Articles of Confederation. First constitution of the United States, 1781. Created a weak national government, replaced in 1789 by the Constitution of the United States.

  • authority. Right to control or direct the actions of others, legitimized by law, morality, custom, or consent.

  • Bill of Rights. First ten amendments to the Constitution. Ratified in 1791, these amendments limit governmental power and protect basic rights and liberties of individuals.

  • Bill of Rights of 1689. See English Bill of Rights.

  • British constitution. Framework for running the British government. The British constitution is unwritten, consisting of common law, acts of Parliament, and political customs and traditions.

  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Supreme Court case which declared that "separate-but-equal" educational facilities are inherently unequal and therefore a violation of equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

  • bureaucracy. Organizations that implement government policies.

  • cabinet. Secretaries, or chief administrators, of the major departments of the federal government. Cabinet secretaries are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate.

  • caste system. Divisions in society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank, privilege, profession, or occupation.

  • chauvinism. Fanatical patriotism, blind devotion to and belief in the superiority of one's group.

  • checks and balances. Constitutional mechanisms that authorize each branch of government to share powers with the other branches and thereby check their activities. For example, the president may veto legislation passed by Congress, the Senate must confirm major executive appointments, and the courts may declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.

  • citizen. Member of a political society who therefore owes allegiance to and is entitled to protection by and from the government.

  • citizenship. Status of being a member of a state, one who owes allegiance to the government and is entitled to its protection and to political rights.

  • civil law. Body of law that deals with the private rights of individuals, as distinguished from criminal law.

  • civil liberties. Areas of personal freedom with which governments are constrained from interfering.

  • civil rights. Protections and privileges given to all U.S. citizens by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

  • civil rights laws. Laws passed by Congress or state legislatures designed to protect the rights of individuals to fair treatment by private persons, groups, organizations, businesses, and government.

  • civil rights movements. Continuing efforts to gain the enforcement of the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution.

  • Civil War Amendments. Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, passed following the Civil War. They freed the slaves, granted them citizenship, and guaranteed them the rights of citizens.

  • class system. System in which members of social classes are prevented from moving into other classes.

  • clear and present danger. Standard used to justify limitations on speech that will lead directly to harm to others.

  • colonial charters. Documents granting authority to the original colonies by the British.

  • common law. Body of unwritten law developed in England from judicial decisions based on custom and earlier judicial decisions. It constituted the basis of the English legal system and became part of American law.

  • common or public good. Benefit or interest of a politically organized society as a whole.

  • compact. See covenant.

  • concurrent powers. Powers that may be exercised by both the federal government and the state governments for example, levying taxes, borrowing money, and spending for the general welfare.

  • consent of the governed. Agreement by the people to set up and live under a government. According to the natural rights philosophy, all legitimate government must rest on the consent of the governed.

  • constitutionalism. Idea that the powers of government should be distributed according to a written or unwritten constitution and that those powers should be effectively restrained by the constitution's provisions.

  • covenant. Binding agreement made by two or more persons or parties; compact.

  • criminal law. Branch of law that deals with disputes or actions involving criminal penalties (as opposed to civil law), it regulates the conduct of individuals, defines crimes, and provides punishment for criminal acts.

  • delegated powers. Powers granted to the national government under the Constitution, as enumerated in Articles I, II, and III.

  • democracy. Form of government in which political control is exercised by all the people, either directly or through their elected representatives.

  • divine right. Theory of government that holds that a monarch receives the right to rule directly from God and not from the people.

  • domestic tranquility. Internal peacefulness; lack of disturbance within a country.

  • due process of law. Right of every citizen to be protected against arbitrary action by government.

  • English Bill of Rights. An act passed by Parliament in 1689 which limited the power of the monarch. This document established Parliament as the most powerful branch of the English government.

  • enumerated powers. Powers that are specifically granted to Congress by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

  • equal protection clause. Fourteenth Amendment provision that prohibits states from denying equal protection of the laws to all people - that is, discriminating against individuals in an arbitrary manner, such as on the basis of race.

  • equal protection of the law. Idea that no individual or group may receive special privileges from nor be unjustly discriminated against by the law.

  • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Placed before Congress in 1923, the ERA stated that "Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex." ERA passed Congress in 1972, but the required three-quarters of the states failed to ratify it. Time for its adoption expired in 1982.

  • equality of opportunity. An equal chance for all persons in such areas as education, employment, and political participation.

  • established church or established religion. Official, state-sponsored religion.

  • establishment clause. Clause in the First Amendment that says the government may not set up, or establish, an official religion.

  • ethnicity. Group of people that can be identified within a larger culture or society on the basis of such factors as religion, ancestry, or language.

  • European Union (EU). Successor organization to the "European Community," itself successor to the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the European "Common Market."

  • excise taxes. Taxes on the manufacture, sale, or consumption of a manufactured article within a country.

  • exclusionary rule. Judicial doctrine based on the Fourth Amendment's protection against illegal searches and seizures, which provides that evidence obtained illegally may not be used in a trial.

  • executive power. Power of the president to implement and enforce laws.

  • federal judiciary. Nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court and approximately five hundred judges appointed by the president and approved by the Senate for the federal courts created by Congress. The judges are divided among ninety-four district courts and twelve courts of appeal (the "constitutional courts") and a number of specialized courts, such as tax and military courts (the "legislative courts").

  • federal supremacy clause. Article VI of the Constitution providing that the Constitution and all federal laws and treaties shall be the "supreme Law of the Land." Therefore, all federal laws take precedence over state and local laws.

  • federal system (or federalism). Form of political organization in which governmental power is divided between a central government and territorial subdivisions - in the United States, among the national, state, and local governments.

  • federalists. Advocates of a strong national government and supporters of adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

  • feudalism. Political and economic system in which a king or queen shared power with the nobility who required services from the common people in return for allowing them to use the noble's land.

  • foreign policy. Policies of the federal government directed to matters beyond U.S. borders, especially relations with other countries. Much domestic policy has foreign policy implications.

  • Founders. People who played important roles in the development of the national government of the United States.

  • Framers. Delegates to the Philadelphia Convention held in 1787 and those who wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights.

  • franchise. Right to vote.

  • free exercise clause. Clause in the First Amendment that says the government shall make no law prohibiting the free practice of religious beliefs.

  • freedom of assembly. Freedom of people to gather together in public.

  • freedom of conscience. Freedom of belief. Many consider freedom of conscience an absolute right, one that has no limitations.

  • freedom of expression. Refers to the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and petition that are protected by the First Amendment.

  • freedom of petition. Freedom to present requests to the government without reprisal.

  • freedom of the press. Freedom to print or publish without government interference.

  • freedom of religion. Freedom to worship as one pleases.

  • freedom of speech. Freedom to express oneself, either verbally or non-verbally, that is, symbolically.

  • fundamental rights. Rights considered to be essential.

  • general welfare. Good of society as a whole; common or public good.

  • general welfare clause. Clause in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that gives Congress power to provide for "the general welfare of the United States."

  • government. Institutions and procedures through which a territory and its people are ruled.

  • habeas corpus. Court order demanding that the individual in custody be brought into court and shown the cause for detention. Habeas corpus is guaranteed by the Constitution and can be suspended only in cases of rebellion or invasion.

  • "hate" speech. Speech that is intentionally deeply offensive to a racial, ethnic, religious, or other group, seeking to condemn or dehumanize members of such a group.

  • higher law. In describing a legal system, refers to the superiority of one set of laws over another. For example, the Constitution is a higher law than any federal or state law. In natural rights philosophy, it means that natural law and divine law are superior to laws made by human beings.

  • House of Commons. One of two houses of the English Parliament; represents the common people.

  • House of Lords. One of two houses of the English Parliament; represents the nobility.

  • ideology. Combined doctrines, assertions, and intentions of a social or political group that justify its behavior.

  • impeachment. Power of Congress to remove the president, vice president, federal judges, and other federal officers from office.

  • incorporation. Process by which the Supreme Court interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to extend the Bill of Rights to include protections against actions of the state governments.

  • individual rights. Rights possessed by individuals as opposed to those rights claimed by groups.

  • institution (political). Organizations such as Congress, the presidency, and the court system that play a significant role in the making, carrying out, and enforcing laws and managing conflicts about them.

  • interest group. Organized body of individuals who share some goals and try to influence public policy to meet those goals.

  • international law. Customs, treaties, agreements, and rules that govern relations among nations.

  • judicial power. Power to manage conflicts about the interpretation and application of the law.

  • judicial review. Doctrine that permits the federal courts to declare unconstitutional, and thus null and void, acts of the Congress, the executive, and the states. The precedent for judicial review was established in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison.

  • junta. Group of persons controlling a government, especially after a revolutionary seizure of power.

  • justice. Fair distribution of benefits and burdens, fair correction of wrongs and injuries, or use of fair procedures in gathering information and making decisions.

  • law of nature (or natural law). As used by natural rights philosophers - a moral rule discovered by the use of reason, which everyone should obey at all times and places.

  • legislative power. Power to make laws.

  • legitimacy. Acceptance as right and proper.

  • loyal opposition. Idea that opposition to a government is legitimate; organized opponents to the government of the day.

  • Magna Carta. Document signed by King John of England in 1215 A.D. that guaranteed certain basic rights. Considered the beginning of constitutional government in England.

  • majority rule. Rule by more than half of those participating in a decision.

  • Marbury v. Madison (1803). Case in which the Supreme Court held that it had the power of judicial review over acts of Congress.

  • Marshall Plan. U.S. foreign policy, named after Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, which gave substantial aid to Western European countries after World War II (1948-52) to rehabilitate their economies, ensuring the survival of democratic institutions.

  • Mayflower Compact. Document drawn up by the Pilgrims in 1620 while on The Mayflower before landing at Plymouth Rock. The Compact provided a legal basis for self-government.

  • minority rights. Rights of any group less than a majority.

  • monarchy. Government in which political power is exercised by a single ruler under the claim of divine or hereditary right.

  • national security. Condition of a nation's safety from threats, especially threats from external sources.

  • natural rights. Belief that individuals are naturally endowed with basic human rights; those rights that are so much a part of human nature that they cannot be taken away or given up, as opposed to rights conferred by law. The Declaration of Independence states that these natural rights include the rights to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

  • Nineteenth Amendment. Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1920, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

  • Ninth Amendment. This amendment states, in effect, that the Bill of Rights is only a partial listing of the people's rights.

  • nobility. Group of persons having legally recognized titles, usually of a hereditary nature, who compose the aristocracy in a society. In Great Britain, the nobility is represented in the House of Lords.

  • OAS. Organization of American States, an international governmental organization formed by the states of North and South America for the protection of mutual security and interests.

  • political culture. Fundamental beliefs and assumptions of a people about how government and politics should operate.

  • political efficacy. Belief that one can be effective and have an impact on public affairs.

  • political ideology. Organized, coherent set of attitudes about government and public policy.

  • political party. Any group, however loosely organized, that seeks to elect government officials under a given label.

  • political philosophy. Study of ideas about government and politics.

  • political rights. Rights to participate in the political process.

  • preamble. Introduction to a formal document that explains its purpose.

  • principle. Basic rule that guides or influences thought or action.

  • private (or personal) domain. Areas of an individual's life that are not subject to governmental control.

  • private property. Property belonging to a particular person or persons as opposed to the public or the government.

  • public good. See common good.

  • public service. Service to local, state, or national communities through appointed or elected office.

  • Puritan ethic. Belief in the primacy of religious duty, work, conscience, and self-restraint in the life of the individual. Traditionally associated with economic individualism.

  • representative democracy. Form of government in which power is held by the people and exercised indirectly through elected representatives who make decisions.

  • republican government. System of government in which power is held by the voters and is exercised by elected representatives responsible for promoting the common welfare.

  • revolution. Complete or drastic change of government and the rules by which government is conducted.

  • Roman Republic. Society whose origins were in Rome, dating from 509 B.C. to 27 B.C. Rome served as the model for the theory of classical republicanism.

  • royalty. Kings, queens, and members of their families. Royalty can also refer to that part of the government that represents the monarch.

  • rule of law. Principle that every member of a society, even a ruler, must follow the law.

  • "rule of men." Ability of government officials and others to govern by their personal whim or desire. Opposed to the "rule of law."

  • separation of church and state. Concept that religion and government should be separate; basis for the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

  • separation of powers. Division of governmental power among several institutions that must cooperate in decision making.

  • social contract (compact). Agreement among all the people in a society to give up part of their freedom to a government in return for protection of their natural rights. A theory developed by Locke to explain the origin of legitimate government.

  • social equality. Absence of inherited or assigned titles of nobility or of a hierarchical caste or class social system.

  • sovereignty. Ultimate, supreme power in a state; in the United States, sovereignty rests with the people.

  • suffrage. Right to vote.

  • supremacy clause. Article VI, Section 2, of the Constitution, which states that the Constitution, laws passed by Congress, and treaties of the United States "shall be the supreme law of the land," binding on the states.

  • time, place, and manner restrictions. Government regulations which 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.

  • treaty. Formal agreement between sovereign nations to create or restrict rights and responsibilities. In the U.S. all treaties must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

  • "unalienable" (inalienable) rights. Fundamental rights of the people that may not be taken away. A phrase used in the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

  • unenumerated rights. Rights which are not specifically listed in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, but which have been recognized and protected by the courts.

  • unitary government. A government system in which all governmental authority is vested in a central government from which regional and local governments derive their powers. Examples are Great Britain and France, as well as the American states within their spheres of authority.

  • United Nations. International organization comprising most of the nations of the world, formed in 1945 to promote peace, security, and economic development.

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights. International declaration of rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

  • veto. Constitutional 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.

  • World Court. Court in The Hague, the Netherlands, set up by the United Nations Treaty to which nations may voluntarily submit disputes.

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