Democracies are based on "rule of law." The ancient Greeks (particularly Aristotle) valued natural law, the notion that human societies should be governed by ethical principles found in nature.
Liberty and equality. These words represent basic values of democratic political systems, including that of the United States. Rule by absolute monarchs and emperors has often brought peace and order, but at the cost of personal freedoms. Democratic values support the belief that an orderly society can exist in which freedom is preserved. But order and freedom must be balanced.
So the freedom that the American Revolution sought to preserve proved to create a government under the Articles of Confederation that could not keep law and order. But the failure of the initial experiment helped the founders to find a more perfect balance between liberty and order in the Constitution they produced in 1787.
Democracy, liberty, equality, and justice. These values are not very controversial. But Americans have vastly divergent viewpoints on the meanings of these core values. Does assisting the poor represent a movement toward equality, or does it create an unfair burden on the middle and upper classes? Does the permission of abortion defend the liberty of American women or endorse the ending of a human life? Do elected officials really represent the people, or are they just out for themselves? These issues and many more reflect a wide range of political attitudes that shape how Americans participate in government and politics.
Famous events from American history åÑ the movement West, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, involvement in World Wars I and II, the New Deal and the Great Society åÑ have been expressions of American political culture. Many events have questioned and answered various interpretations of American values and beliefs. But most of all, the political culture defines political attitudes, institutions, and activities that are most cherished in American political life.
Given the challenges of accurate polling of public opinion, it is amazing that polls that follow the right steps almost always make the right predictions. They've come a long way since George Gallup helped his mother-in-law win her election in 1932.
Today many Americans take pride in their status as "independent voters," partly because they see parties as lacking vision for the country. Since many Americans have become disenchanted by partisan politics, they avoid identification as a "loyal Democrat" or a "staunch Republican." These negative attitudes toward parties are rooted in the roles that they play in American politics.
Elections form the foundation of the modern democracy, and more elections are scheduled every year in the United States than in any other country in the world. Campaigns åÑ where candidates launch efforts to convince voters to support them åÑ precede most elections. In recent years campaigns have become longer and more expensive, sparking a demand for campaign finance reform. No one questions the need for campaigns and elections, but many people believe that the government needs to set new regulations on how candidates and parties go about the process of getting elected to public office.
So, the election is over. How can the average American remain involved in politics without waiting for the next election? One chief means of influencing the American government is by joining an interest group an organization that pressures elected officials to enact legislation favorable to its causes.
The influence of the media is increased by the fact that campaigns today have become more focused on the individual than on the party. In order to win primaries, individual candidates seek media attention to gain attention from voters. As a result, do voters hold political power, or has the media simply replaced political parties as the primary force behind candidate selection?
Not since television has an innovation had the potential to impact politics greater than the Internet. With more and more Americans getting wired, the ability to reach millions of voters will be a lure which no politician can resist.
Committees help to organize the most important work of Congress considering, shaping, and passing laws to govern the nation. 8,000 or so bills go to committee annually. Fewer than 10% of those bills make it out for consideration on the floor.
The founders feared the masses. Cautious about granting powers to the general voting public, they created a safety valve against popular will. The American people do not technically elect their President. Electors do.
The Constitution painstakingly defines the structure and functions of the legislative (Congressional) branch of the government. It clearly (although less thoroughly) addresses the responsibilities and powers of the president. But, it treats the judicial branch almost as an afterthought. Article III specifically creates only one court (the Supreme Court), allows judges to serve for life and to receive compensation, broadly outlines original and appellate jurisdiction, and outlines the trial procedure for and limitations of congressional power against those accused of treason.
What is the difference between a liberty and a right? Both words appear in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The distinction between the two has always been blurred, and today the concepts are often used interchangeably. However, they do refer to different kinds of guaranteed protections.
The Declaration of Independence was a product of the Second Continental Congress. Two earlier intercolonial conferences had occurred, each building important keystones of colonial unity. The Stamp Act Congress and the First Continental Congress brought the delegates from differing colonies to agreement on a message to send to the king. Each successive Congress brought greater participation. Each time the representatives met, they were more accustomed to compromise. As times grew more desperate, the people at home became more and more willing to trust their national leaders.
Just as developing a coherent foreign policy is problematic in these post-Cold War days, so is the question of defending the country against possible danger from outside its borders. The avoidance of war, as indicated by the 1947 name change from "Department of War" to "Department of Defense" today holds the highest priority, and the hope that the United States can play a role in limiting violent upheavals around the world is reflected in both its foreign and military policies.
This site recounts the struggle for control of Hawaii between native Hawaiians and American business interests in the late 1800s. This 1897 petition and a lobbying effort by native Hawaiians convinced the U.S. Congress not to annex the islands. But months later the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana and the Spanish-American War began. The U.S. needed a mid-Pacific fueling station and naval base.
Primary source images, standards correlation, and teaching activities are included in this resource.