Foundations of American Government Vocabulary Definitions

From American Civics, Chapter 2, pp. 20-32.
William Hartley and William Vincent, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc. 1992.

Note: These definitions are as close to the wording in the textbook as possible to help remedial students locate and understand the terms. It is not meant as an effort to republish or otherwise plagiarize the contents of the American Civics textbook.

Section 1: Why Americans Have Government

Government: The entire system of authority, or power, that rules on behalf of a group of people.

Absolute Monarchs: Kings or queens that held all the power in their nation's governments, able to rule by force.

Dictatorship: This type of government has one person or a small group holding all the power. Government rules by force.

Totalitarian Government: Where the government has total control over the lives of the people.

Democracy: The people of a nation rule directly or elect officials who will act for them.

Direct democracy: where all the voters in a community meet together to make laws and decide on what actions to take.

Representative Democracy/Republic: Where the people elect representatives to carry on the work of government for them.

American Government: The authority Americans have set up to help them rule their own affairs.

Laws: laws are rules of conduct that a society must follow. They are written so the people can know and obey them.

Constitutions: Written plans of government. Constitutions contain many of the laws of our country. They also establish national and state government and they state the purpose for those governments.

Section 2: Our First American Government

Declaration of Independence: This document explains the reasons the 13 American colonies decided to separate from Great Britain and form a fee nation. It states the position that the powers of government comes from the consent of the governed (the people).

Human Rights:
The basic rights to which all people are entitled to as human beings

Articles of  Confederation: This document was America's first plan of government, drawn up by the Continental Congress in 1777 and approved by the 13 states to be put into effect in 1781. It set up a firm league of friendship among the 13 states.

A loose association rather than a firm union of states.

Section 3: Writing And Approving the Constitution

Delegates: A representative, in this case, to the meeting in Philadelphia in 1787, to find ways to improve the national government.

Constitutional Convention:
The 1787 meeting in which leaders wrote a constitution that established a government for the United States.

Constitution of the United States:
The world's oldest written plan of government. It replaced the Articles of Confederation.

Magna Carta:
Signed by King John in 1215, this document won certain rights for the people of England, it guaranteed that free people could not be arrested, put in prison, or forced to leave unless given a trial of their peers.

Parliament: The lawmaking body of the British government..

Having two-houses. Both Parliament and the Congress are bicameral legislatures.

An agreement in which each side gives up part of its demands.

A lawmaking body such as Congress or Parliament.

Great Compromise:
The delegates of the constitutional Convention developed an agreement where the legislature would have two houses. In one house, representation would be equal. In the other, the House of Representatives, the state would be represented according to the size of the population.

The Constitution had to be sent to the states for approval, or ratification 9 out of 13 states needed to ratify the new constitution.

Federalists: Supporters of the Constitution who favored a strong central government.

Anti-Federalists: People who opposed the new constitution because they felt a strong central government defeated the purpose of the war against Great Britain. They believed the Constitution would not protect the power of the states or the freedom of the people.


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