The Constitution


An economic theory designed to increase a nation's wealth through the development of commercial industry and a favorable balance of trade.

Stamp Act Congress

Meeting of representatives of nine of the thirteen colonies held in New York City in 1765, during which representatives drafted a document to send to the king listing how their rights had been violated.

Committees of Correspondence

Organizations in each of the American colonies created to keep colonists abreast of developments with the British; served as powerful molders of public opinion against the British.

First Continental Congress

Meeting held in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 26, 1774, in which fifty-six delegates (from every colony except Georgia) adopted a resolution in opposition to the Coercive Acts.

Second Continental Congress

Meeting that convened in Philadelphia on may 10, 1775, at which it was decided that an army should be raised and George Washing of Virginia was named commander in chief.

Declaration of Independence

Document drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 that proclaimed the right of the American colonies to separate from Great Britain.

Articles of Confederation

The compact among the thirteen original colonies that created a loose league of friendship, with the national government drawing its powers from the states.


Type of government where the national government derives its powers from the states; a league of independent states.

Shays's Rebellion

A 1786 rebellion in which an army of 1,500 disgruntled and angry farmers led by Daniel Shays marched to Springfield, Massachusetts, and forcibly restrained the state court from foreclosing mortgages on their farms.


A document establishing the structures, functions, and limitations of a government.

Virginia Plan

The first general plan for the Constitution offered in Philadelphia. Its key points were a bicameral legislature, and an executive and a judiciary chosen my the national legislature.

New Jersey Plan

A framework for the Constitution proposed by a group of small states. Its key points were a one-house legislature with one vote for each state, a Congress with the ability to raise revenue, and a Supreme Court with members appointed for life.

Great Compromise

The final decision of the Constitutional Convention to create a two-house legislature with the lower house elected by the people and with powers divided between the two houses. It also made national law supreme.

Three-Fifths Compromise

Agreement reached at the Constitutional Convention stipulating that each slave was to be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of determining population for representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

separation of powers

A way of dividing the power of government among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, each staffed separately, with equality and independence of each branch ensured by the Constitution.

checks and balances

A constitutionally mandated structure that gives each of the three branches of government some degree of oversight and control over the actions of the others.

federal system

Plan of government in which power is divided between the national government and the state governments and in which independent states are bound together under one national government, whose power is supreme.

enumerated powers

Seventeen specific powers granted to congress under Article I, section 8, of the Constitution.

necessary and proper clause

The final paragraph of Article I, section 8, of the Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to pass all laws "necessary and proper" to carry out the enumerated powers specified in the Constitution; also called the elastic clause.

implied powers

Power derived from the enumerated powers and the necessary and proper clause. These powers are not stated specifically but are considered to be reasonably implied through the exercise of delegated powers.

full faith and credit clause

Provision of the Constitution that mandates states to honor the laws and judicial proceedings of other states.

supremacy clause

Portion of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution mandating that national law is supreme to (that is, supersedes) all other laws passed by the states or b any other subdivision of government.


Those who favored a stronger national government and supported the proposed U.S. Constitution; later became the first U.S. political party.


Those who favored strong state governments and a weak national government; opposed he ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

The Federalist Papers

A series of eighty-five political papers written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in support of ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which largely guarantee specific rights and liberties.