Political Science 1100, Introduction to American Politics, January 27, 2013


Current Events 


 What were the Founders Thinking?


1. What is a Constitution?

    It's a set of rules about making rules (that is, the law)


    Key choices:  Who makes the laws? (legislative power)

                          Who puts the laws into effect and enforces them? (executive power)

                          Who settles disputes over the laws? (judicial power)

                          What is government not permitted to do to its citizens? (civil liberties)




2. What were Americans’ problems in 1787?



    The States managed most policy in 1787


   But the states could not deal with the nation's mounting problems


        State rivalries


        Rhode Island & Shays's rebellion


        Foreign threats



    The Confederation government was very weak

        Each of the 13 states have an equal vote in Congress

            to accomplish anything, almost all states have to agree


        No U.S. executive, no national courts


        No dependable revenues


        Hard to make law, hard to amend the Articles


3. Who was James Madison?


One of the most important delegates was James Madison




     Who was James Madison?



   What Madison wanted: The Virginia Plan


            A strong, sovereign national government with broad authority


Proportional representation in two houses of Congress







4. Madison's dilemma: making a lasting national republican government that would do more good than harm


        How do you give citizens control of the government & make sure that the government

             makes good laws and protects basic rights?

        How do you guarantee majority rule and that majorities do what’s right?



5. Madison’s opponents at the Convention 

            Roger Sherman wanted

     Equal representation of the states in Congress



                 A national government with narrow authority


            The New Jersey Plan



6. The framers built the Constitution on political compromises



Compromise #1: Congress

                Two houses:
                    Equal representation in the Senate,
                        representation based on population in the House


           Compromise #2: The presidency

                A strong presidency with many checks, especially the Senate


            Compromise #3: Slavery

             The Constitution protected slavery


            Compromise #4: Federalism


            •The national government: power to tax, to deal with other nations,
       provide national defense, and regulate commerce between states
            •States could governing themselves internally
            •The boundary between state and national power is very vague and unclear


6. The Results:

    The U.S. Constitution has had many successes

    But the possibility of gridlock was built into the Constitution -
            Checks and balances were
intended to make gridlock possible

    The Constitution created a government that is very hard to use when Americans
     are passionately and evenly divided
                  – like they are now.


     When there is bitter political disagreement, the Constitution’s government
            only works when politicians, like the framers, use all of their political
            skills of negotiation and compromise