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The Great Depression



Table of Contents


The Context of US Politics               The US Constitution               Federalism

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The Context of US Politics


I. Government

...the legitimate use of force to control human behavior within territorial boundaries

...requires citizens to surrender some freedom to obtain its benefits

...the more citizens are willing to surrender, the less force necessary

...a government is legitimate when citizens recognize its right to rule


(click on the image to take the test)


Left and Right, although far from obsolete, are essentially a measure of economics and the Left-Right division between mainstream parties is increasingly blurred. Instead, party differences tend to be more about social issues. In an age of diminishing ideology, the very unique Political Compass helps a new generation in particular to get a better understanding of where they stand politically and the political company they keep. Click on the picture above and take the test to find your political ideology!



II. The Principal Purposes of Government

     A. maintain order

earliest function of government

preserve life and protect private propertyGOVERNMENT: LEAVE ME ALONE VS TAKE CARE OF ME

Without a sense of order man is completely responsible for preservation and living in their state of nature (with no government). The state of nature of man was studied by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke during the 17th century.

"Life without government is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

"But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself." John Madison, Federalist #51

John Locke: The fundamental purpose of government is protection of life, liberty and property.

     B. provide public goods

benefit all but are not likely to be produced by individual voluntary acts

the goods and services citizens have available to them that are not produced by private enterprise sources (i.e., education, highways, parks)

Can be very controversial in regards to government's role in providing food, shelter, health care, etc.

Abraham Lincoln: Government is to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Do you see any problems with this?

     C. promote equality

newest function of government

redistribute income and otherwise help disadvantaged in society

political equality vs. economic equality

Since the 1950s, the US has focused on social equality -- Women, African-Americans, Disabled, etc.

Efforts at social equality have come from both the legislative and judicial branches but those laws/rulings may clash with the social values held by citizens.

Since the 20th century, the focus of government has been promoting economic equality.

European nations pioneered policies of economic equality because of high poverty rates after WWI and WWII (from cradle to grave policies).

What should be the government's role in redistributing income?


Citizens differ on how much they want government to maintain order, provide public goods and promote equality.



III. The Values Pursued by Government

            A. order

the original purpose of government was to impose some order on the lawless -- sometimes referred to as government’s police power

people have always been willing to give up some freedom for some order

narrow interpretation:  protection of life and property (murder, rape, theft)

broad interpretation:  social order, using government power to enforce traditional modes of behavior (abortion, alternative medicine, homosexuality, drug use) or to provide certain public goods

            B. freedom

all government diminishes freedom to some extent

narrow interpretation:  liberty, freedom to ___

broad interpretation:  implies immunity from some type of deprivation and relates more closely to the concept of equality, freedom from ___

            C. equality

newest purpose of government

narrow interpretation:  political equality (one man, one vote)

broad interpretation:  equality of opportunity (capitalism) and, more recently, equality of outcome (socialism)


original dilemma of government: how much freedom to sacrifice for order

modern dilemma of government: how much freedom to sacrifice for equality

The National Archives Online ExhibitsDANCING STAR TO DENOTE GOOD SITE

Designs for Democracy: explore more than 100 designs highlighting 200 years of government drawings   

Every Fours Years: electing a president

Eyewitness: gripping eyewitness accounts chronicle dramatic moments in US history

The Way We Worked: the way we work went through enormous changes between the mid 19th and late 20th centuries

The Deadly Virus: the Influenza Epidemic of 1918

One Small Step for Democracy in a ‘Live Free or Die’ Town



IV. Political IdeologyThe Makeup of Pew's Nine Political ClassificationsThe Views of the Pew Groups on Three Issues

...a consistent set of values and beliefs about the purpose and scope of government

Pew Research Center’s Political Typology survey    DANCING STAR TO DENOTE GOOD SITE

Typology Test

World's Smallest Political Quiz



V. American Politics Can Be Classified in Two Ways:

            A. Scope of Government Activity: single dimension, broad positions without extremes

1. liberalism supports a larger role for government in the distribution of public goods and the regulation of private enterprise BUT opposes regulation of individual rights

2. conservatism favors the status quo or reduction in the size and role of government BUT favors controls over many social issues, e.g. abortion and porn

            B. Values Pursued by Government: two dimensions, broad positions but more useful method

1. libertarians favor freedom over order and equality, very limited scope of government

2. conservatives favor freedom over equality BUT favor order over freedom

3. liberals favor freedom over order BUT favor equality over freedom

4. populists favor order and equality over freedom



VI. Conflict within Values

A. Created by:

different preferences and intensity

incompatible values

limited resources

            B. Major Sources of Domestic Conflict

freedom vs. order: Why can’t I let my dog run loose?

freedom vs. equality: Why can’t schools limit their athletes to men?

order vs. equality: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights



VII. Connecting Government, Values and Ideologies

libertarians value

liberals value 

conservatives value 

populists value 







equality and order


equality and order











Review Values Pursued by Government above and be certain you understand what we mean by the values of order, freedom and equality -- in both a narrow sense and a broad sense. Look again at the definition of a political ideology -- a consistent set of values and beliefs about the purpose and scope of government. We can take those values pursued by government and, by ranking them based on their values to the individual, we can create four basic political ideologies as represented above. (Please note that this is NOT a definition of political parties. All four ideologies are represented to some extent in both major parties.)

This does NOT imply that conservatives don't care about equality or that liberals don't care about order. The rankings refer to the extent government should be involved in shaping society's adoption of that value. So ...

Libertarians may value equality and order as much as anyone but they do not believe government should pursue and enforce equality and order and they are not willing to give up individual freedom for either.

A libertarian may believe society would be better off without recreational drugs (order) or if there were no discrimination in the workplace (equality) and may work privately to bring those things about. However, a libertarian would never approve of government taking away individual freedom (by dictating what individuals may or may not put in their bodies or by telling employers who they may or may not hire) to force others to stop using drugs or discriminating.FREEDOM VS ORDER CARTOON

Liberals may value order as much as anyone but they do not believe government should pursue and enforce order and they are not willing to give up individual freedom for order. On the other hand, liberals value equality to such an extent that they do believe government should pursue equality and are willing to give up individual freedom to increase equality as a value of society.

A liberal may believe society would be better off without recreational drugs (order) but he would never approve of government taking away individual freedom (by dictating what individuals may or may not put in their bodies) to force others to stop using drugs. However, liberals value equality so highly that they would approve of government taking away individual freedom (by telling employers who they may or may not hire) to force others to stop discriminating.

Conservatives may value equality as much as anyone but they do not believe government should pursue and enforce equality and they are not willing to give up individual freedom for equality. On the other hand, conservatives value order to such an extent that they do believe government should pursue order and are willing to give up individual freedom to increase order as a value of society.

A conservative is the opposite of a liberal. He may believe society would be better off without discrimination in the workplace (equality) but he would never approve of government taking away individual freedom (by telling employers who they may or may not hire) to force others to stop discriminating. However, conservatives value order so highly that they would approve of government taking away individual freedom (by dictating what individuals may or may not put in their bodies) to force others to stop using drugs.

In recent decades, the divides in political campaigns have raised a critical question as to whether contemporary conservative segments of the population are increasingly motivated mainly by economic anxiety or by racial anxiety. There is ample evidence that racial isolation and resentment are strongly predictive of conservative voting patterns. A Washington Post article reports that racism has motivated conservative voters more than authoritarianism.

Populists value equality and order to such an extent that they are willing to give up individual freedom to increase both equality and order as values of society.

A populist believes so strongly that there is a correct social order by which society should operate (no drugs) and that equality is such an important part of that social order (no workplace discrimination) that they believe government should pass laws to force individuals to live by those values and so are willing to give up individual freedom for both.

We seldom see populists in a party or movement that we can identify in current times. However, many crusaders - such as Ralph Nader - seem to fit the ideology very well. They are crusaders that we often confuse as liberals because they champion economic equality and the "little guy." However, if you pay attention you will see that they also have a vision of what the correct social order of society should be and are willing to use governmental power to enforce that order as well as equality.

I used recreational drugs and workplace discrimination as examples in all four ideologies above so you could make a straight comparison. Keep in mind, though, that those are only one example each of order and equality. Order, in the broader sense of social order, might include issues dealing with drugs, homosexuality, premarital sex, alcohol, cigarettes, big business, unions, air/water quality, education, child-raising, religion and so on. Equality might include issues dealing with race, ethnicity, religion, gender, income, social status, country of origin, immigration status and so on.


Liberal Philosophy

Conservative Philosophy

Libertarian Philosophy

Political Compass


Democrats Helped Build The Social Safety Net. Why Are Many Now Against Expanding It?














THE US CONSTITUTIONSocial Contract Theory


The Constitution was rooted in revolution.

British valued order, while the colonists valued freedom.

taxation (order) without representation (freedom)

Social Contract Theory


John Locke:

Government is a contract between the ruled and the rulers.

Government exists for the benefit of the people.

Government doesn't exist for the benefit of those who govern nor is it divinely given.

Rebellion is the ultimate sanction against the abuse of government power.


Declaration of Independence


Thomas Jefferson:

based Declaration on social contract theory

expressed the reasons for the colonies’ act of  independence

1. major premise: people have the right to revolt when they determine their government is destructive of legitimate rights

2. minor premise: list of deliberate acts committed by king offered as proof of destruction of government’s legitimate ends

3. conclusion: therefore, the people have a right to revolt





I. Defining Government Based on How Levels of Government Interact


A. unitary government: national government is supreme over any other units of government

national government has supreme power (sovereignty) over all other units of government within its borders

Great Britain


B. confederation: a loose association of independent states that agree to cooperate on certain matters but each state has supreme power (sovereignty) within its borders

state governments are supreme over the national government

colonies under the Articles of Confederation, CSA

C. federation: system in which both national and state governments have their own separate spheres of influence which the other cannot infringe upon

In the US, the Constitution is the supreme power (sovereignty) and gives powers to each level of government.


The Articles of Confederation did not work.

A Constitutional Convention was called to try to come up with a new plan.


The single most important factor leading to a constitutional convention was
the inability of the national or state governments to maintain order under the Articles of Confederation.


Virginia Plan              divided power among 3 branches

                                         2-house legislature for lawmaking

                                         1-person executive for law enforcing

                                         judicial for law interpreting

New Jersey Plan       single-chamber legislature

                                        states would have equal representation in the legislature

                                        multi-person executive would be elected by the legislature

Great Compromise   2-house leg with population represented in one and the states represented equally in the other

                                        1-person executive chosen by an electoral collegeCONSTITUTION WORD CLOUD



II. The US Constitution’s Political Principles

A. republicanism                   power resides in the people and is exercised through elected reps

B. federalism                          division of sovereignty among two levels of government

C. separation of powers     lawmaking, law enforcement and law interpretation are assigned to separate and independent branches so one branch doesn’t dominate

D. checks and balances     each branch has some means of checking and controlling the others



III. The Structure of the US Constitution

            Article I         Congress

                                   enumerated powers

                                   implied powers: the necessary and proper clause

            Article II        President

            Article III       Supreme Court

                                   right of Congress to create lesser federal courts

            Article IV       state-state relations

                                                full faith and credit

                                                privileges and immunities


                                    protect state from invasion

            Article V         amendment procedures

                                                formal procedures, ex/ 26 amendments

                                                judicial review, ex/ right to privacy

                                                political practice, ex/ electoral college

            Article VI       constitution as supreme law of land

            Article VII      ratification process



IV. Checks and Balances

The Constitution creates a system of separate institutions that share powers. Because the three branches of government share powers, each can (partially) check the powers of the others. This is the system of checks and balances. The major checks possessed by each branch are listed below.


A. Congress

1.      Can check the president in these ways:

a. By refusing to pass a bill the president wants

b. By passing a law over the president's veto

c. By using the impeachment powers to remove the president from office

d. By refusing to approve a presidential appointment (Senate only)

e. By refusing to ratify a treaty the president has signed (Senate only)

2.      Can check the federal courts in these ways:

a. By changing the number and jurisdiction of the lower courts

b. By using the impeachment powers to remove a judge from office

c. By refusing to approve a person nominated to be a judge (Senate only)

B. President

1.    Can check Congress by vetoing a bill it has passed.

2.    Can check the federal courts by nominating judges.

C. Courts

1.    Can check Congress by declaring a law unconstitutional.

2.    Can check the president by declaring actions by him or his subordinates unconstitutional or not authorized by law.

D. In addition to these checks provided for in the Constitution, each branch has informal ways of checking the others. For example, the President can withhold information from Congress (on the grounds of executive privilege) and Congress can try to get information from the President by mounting an investigation.


1600 Penn: links to the three branches of national government and to most independent agencies under the control of the president



V. The Bill of Rights: Ratified on December 15, 1791



The First Ten Amendments to the Constitution Grouped by Topic and Purpose


Amendment 1: Freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly; the right to petition the government.


Amendment 4: No unreasonable searches or seizures.

Amendment 5: Grand jury indictment required to prosecute a person for a serious crime.

No double jeopardy -- being tried twice for the same offense

Forcing a person to testify against himself or herself is prohibited

No loss of life, liberty or property without due process

Amendment 6: Right to speedy, public, impartial trial with defense counsel and right to cross-examine witnesses.

Amendment 7: Jury trials in civil suits where value exceeds $20.

Amendment 8: No excessive bail or fines, no cruel and unusual punishments.


Amendment 9: Unlisted rights are not necessarily denied.

Amendment 10: Powers not delegated to the United States or denied to the states are reserved to the states.


Amendment 2: Right to bear arms.

Amendment 3: Troops may not be quartered in homes in peacetime.

America Has a Free Speech Problem

Abortion Bans Are Going to Make Stalkerware Even More Dangerous

Frontline: The Betrayal of Democracy (PBS, 1992, 1:57:58): This episode of Frontline examines the growing divide between the governed and the governing, the institutions of US democracy and how they are failing Americans, and how the breakdown of the democratic process is leading to the increasing exclusion of the citizens from government decision-making processes. [If you have trouble with the embedded video below, you can usually find the episode here.]



VI. Ways of Amending the Constitution:

Under Article V, there are two ways to propose amendments to the Constitution and two ways to ratify them.

To propose an amendment

Two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to propose an amendment, or

Two-thirds of the state legislatures ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments.

To ratify an amendment

Three-fourths of the state legislatures approve it, or

Ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states approve it.

Some Key Facts

Only the first method of proposing an amendment has been used.

The second method of ratification has been used only once, to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment (repealing Prohibition).

Congress may limit the time within which a proposed amendment must be ratified. The usual limitation has been seven years.

Thousands of proposals have been made, but only thirty-three have obtained the necessary two-thirds vote in Congress.

Twenty-six amendments have been ratified.















The basic premise of federalism is that two or more governments share power over the same land and people.




            A. dual federalism

                        implies distinct layers of government that do not mix or share power

                        in their own spheres

                        layer-cake metaphor

                        constitution is a compact between sovereign states

                        states are viewed at powerful components of the federal system

                        equal in some respects with the national government

            B. cooperative federalism

                        emphasizes intermingling of government activities at different levels and

                        in various spheres

                        marble-cake metaphor

                        people are viewed as citizens of both state and nation

                        stresses the role of the national government


Oregon Death with Dignity Act: A History



II. Factors Leading to the Increase in Power of the National Government

  1. HistoricalFederalism Cartoon

    1. attempted secession of the southern states from the Union

      1. the fundamental issues of the Civil War was states’ rights

      2. the national government reasserted its power

    2. Great Depression

      1. problems created by the Great Depression in the 1930s were too great for states or private business to remedy

      2. emergency relief measures enacted by Congress centralized the

      3. power of the national government in financial and social areas

      4. national government assumed its greatest power during the Great Depression

  2. Judicial Interpretations

    1. McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

      1. supported the doctrine of implied powers and national supremacy

    2. New Deal legislation

      1. Supreme Court first ruled unconstitutional but then reversed itself

  3. Constitutional Changes

    1. imposed national income tax

    2. banned states' poll taxes

  4. Congressional Incentives and Sanctions

    1. Voting Rights Act of 1965

    2. setting speed limits


E.   Financial Incentives

  1. grants-in-aid

    1. money paid by one level of government to another level to be spent for a specific purpose often awarded on a matching basis

    2. categorical grants: targeted for specific purposes (disaster assistance)

      1. formula grants: distributed by a given formula specifying who is eligible and how much each recipient will receive

      2. project grants: awarded on the basis of competitive applications

    3. block grants: awarded for more general purposes (community development)

  1. Presidential Influence

    1. The President uses negotiation and persuasion to influence state governors.

    2. Examples:

Nixon and Ford


New Fiscal Federalism - decentralized national policies



Partnership Federalism - cut national aid to states



New Regulatory Federalism - reduced federal contributions to states but not programs, ended revenue sharing, gave more discretion to states and localities

GHW Bush


Representational Federalism - states retain their role merely by selecting the president and members of Congress, not by any constitutional division of powers, continuation of New Federalism



Reinventing Federalism - less funds and more discretion to states and localities, emphasized greater efficiency and responsiveness, limited national unfunded mandates, provided waivers to encourage state experimentation, devolution (passing responsibilities from the national government to the states)

GW Bush


Coercive Federalism - centralization, sacrificed federalism considerations to specific policy goals, increased federal expenditures and mandates, gave an extreme amount of power to the national government including an extreme version of preemption (when the national government overrides state and local government), reintroduction of unfunded mandates albeit by other labels



Nuanced / Progressive Federalism - hybrid model of federal policy innovation and leadership; mixes money, mandates and flexibility in new and distinctive ways; a mixed approach of coercion and collaboration; increase in federal funds to states but with requirements attached, increased state involvement in development and planning

Trump (17-20)

Political writers/theorists have characterized Pres. Trump’s view of federalism in 3 different ways:

Backwards Federalism - fixate on the outer limits of the president’s powers while giving short shrift to the many courses of action well within the executive branch’s purview

Partisan Federalism - dole out federal largesse according to political loyalty so that some states slavishly follow federal dictates in flagrant disregard of local needs, while others are abandoned as national issues appear and Washington does little to shepherd a national response

Laissez Faire Federalism - a claim on total authority by president paired with a total abdication of responsibility



III. Powers Reserved for the Federal Government

The US government is federal in form. The states and national government share powers, which are wholly derived from the Constitution.

From the Constitution, the national government derives:

express powers

implied powers

inherent powers

Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution of the United States puts limits on the powers of the states. States cannot form alliances with foreign governments, declare war, coin money or impose duties on imports or exports.





IV. Powers Reserved to the States

The Tenth Amendment declares, "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 to the people." In other words, states have all powers not granted exclusively to the national government by the Constitution.

These powers have taken many different forms. States must take responsibility for areas such as:

ownership of property

education of inhabitants

implementation of welfare and other benefits programs and distribution of aid

protecting people from local threats

maintaining a justice system

setting up local governments such as counties and municipalities

maintaining state highways and setting up the means of administrating local roads

regulation of industry

raising funds to support their activities

In many areas, states have a large role but also share administrative responsibility with local and national governments. Highways, for example, are divided among the three different levels. Most states classify roads into primary, secondary and local levels. This system determines whether the state, county or local governments, respectively, must pay for and maintain roads. Many states have departments of transportation, which oversee and administer intrastate transportation. US highways and the interstate system are administered by the national government through the US Department of Transportation.



V. Mandates

States must also administer mandates set by the national government. Generally these mandates contain rules which the states wouldn't normally carry out. For example, the national government may require states to reduce air pollution, provide services for the handicapped or require that public transportation must meet certain safety standards. The national government is prohibited by law from setting unfunded mandates. In other words, the national government must provide funding for programs it mandates.



VI. Grants

The national government pays for its mandates through grants-in-aid. The government distributes categorical grants to be used for specific programs. In 1995, national grant money totaled $229 billion. Block grants give the states access to large sums of money with few specific limitations. The state must only meet the national goals and standards. The national government can give the states either formula grants or project grants (most commonly issued).

Mandates can also pass from the state to local levels. For example, the state can set certain education standards that the local school districts must abide by. Or, states could set rules calling for specific administration of local landfills.

Federalism and the Constitution




Copyright 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   07/18/2022   1500

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