Chapter 2


Opponents of the Constitution during the debate over ratification.

Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments to the Constitution. They include such rights as freedom of speech and trial by jury.

checks and balances

The elaborate system of divided spheres of authority provided by the U.S. Constitution as a means of controlling the power of government. The separation of powers among the branches of the national government, federalism, and the different methods of selecting national officers are all part of this system.


The fundamental law that defines how a government will legitimately operate.

constitutional democracy

A government that is democratic in its provisions for majority influence through elections and constitutional in its provisions for minority rights and rule by law.


Elected representatives whose obligation is to act in accordance with the expressed wishes of the people whom they represent.


A form of government in which the people govern, either directly or through elected representatives.

denials of power

A constitutional means of limiting governmental action by listing those powers that government is expressly prohibited from using.

Electoral College

An unofficial term that refers to the electors who cast the states' electoral votes.

electoral votes

The method of voting that is used to choose the U.S. president. Each state has the same number of electoral votes as it has members in Congress (House and Senate combined). By tradition, electoral voting is tied to a state's popular voting; thus, the presidential candidate with the most popular votes overall usually also has the most electoral votes.


Supporters of the Constitution during the debate over ratification.

grants of power

The method of limiting the U.S. government by confining its scope of authority to those powers expressly granted in the Constitution.

Great Compromise

The agreement of the constitutional convention to create a two-chamber Congress with the House apportioned by population and the Senate apportioned equally by state.

inalienable (natural) rights

Those rights that persons theoretically possessed in the state of nature, prior to the formation of governments. These rights, including those of life, liberty, and property, are considered inherent and as such are inalienable. Since government is established by people, government has the responsibility to preserve these rights.

judicial review

The power of courts to decide whether a governmental institution has acted within its constitutional powers and, if not, to declare its action null and void.

limited government

A government that is subject to strict limits on its lawful uses of powers and hence on its ability to deprive people of their liberty.

New Jersey (small-state) Plan

A constitutional proposal for a strengthened Congress but one in which each state would have a single vote, thus granting a small state the same legislative power as a larger state.

North-South Compromise

The agreement over economic and slavery issues that enabled northern and southern states to settle differences that threatened to defeat the effort to draft a new constitution.

primary election

A form of election in which voters choose a party's nominees for public office. In most states, eligibility to vote in a primary election is limited to voters who designated themselves as party members when they registered to vote. A primary is direct when it results directly in the choice of a nominee; it is indirect (as in the case of presidential primaries) when it results in the selection of delegates who then choose the nominee.


Historically, the form of government in which representative officials met to decide on policy issues. These representatives were expected to serve the public interest but were not subject to the people's immediate control. Today, the term republic is used interchangeably with democracy.


The principle that the people are the ultimate source and proper beneficiary of governing authority; in practice, a government based on majority rule.

separated institutions sharing power

The principle that, as a way to limit government, its powers should be divided among separate branches, each of which also shares in the power of the others as a means of checking and balancing them. The result is that no one branch can exercise power decisively without the support or acquiescence of the others.

separation of powers

The division of the powers of government among separate institutions or branches.


Elected representatives whose obligation is to act in accordance with their own consciences as to what policies are in the best interests of the public.

tyranny of the majority

The potential of a majority to monopolize power for its own gain and to the detriment of minority rights and interests.

Virginia (large-state) Plan

A constitutional proposal for a strong Congress with two chambers, both of which would be based on numerical representation, thus granting more power to the larger states.