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U.S. Government ‹#› Introductory LectureKeys to Course SuccessBeing prepared (having done the reading) Answering discussion questions

U.S. Government


Introductory Lecture

Keys to Course Success

Being prepared (having done the reading)

Answering discussion questions thoughtfully

Emailing me if you have concerns or questions

Coming to office hours if you need concept clarification

What is government?

What would life be like without government?

Why do we need government?

What do you think government should be like?

Ways of Resolving Major Questions


Process of influencing actions and policies of a government.

Nation, state, locality, or community

Describes processes


System of rules and institutions that defines and shapes the contours of public action.



Includes civil society and institutions of rule

Confers mutual advantages

We give up something in exchange for something

Distribution of power

Who gets what and how?

What about why they get things?

People Matter, But So Do Ideas

Inalienable Rights

Rights that exist before and above any government powers

“Self-Evident” truths included in Declaration of Independence

Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness


Commitment to social, political, and economic freedoms.

Freedom from interference by government

Freedom to pursue one’s dreams


Equality of opportunity vs. Equality of outcome


Privileges vs. inalienable rights

Privileges can be granted and taken away by government

Rights cannot be taken away

Desire to safeguard individual’s rights led to complex structure of American political institutions in the Constitution of the United States (Chapter 2).


Commitment to social, political and economic freedoms.

Freedom from interference by government

Freedom to pursue one’s dreams

Degree to which American government should focus on freedom from or freedom to remains hotly debated topic in American Politics.

Equality – social, political and economic

Difference between Equality of Opportunity and Equality of Outcome



Democracy (from Greek “demos”, meaning “people” and “kratos”, or power)

Power is held by the people

Had been instituted in the city-states of ancient Greece, particularly Athens.

Athenian democracy was far from universal

Full citizenship was restricted to free males who owned property

Direct democracy vs representative democracy

Direct Democracy: Citizens vote directly on public policies

Representative Democracy: voters select representatives who then vote on matters of public policies.

Modern definition of democracy

A system of government where power is held by people in that society



On Natural Rights

Natural Rights

Rights that people have inherently (born with)

Not granted by any government

Social Contract

Agreement by which people give to their governments the ability to rule over them to have an orderly and functioning society.


David Hume

Explored idea that there could be a science of politics

Modern study of political science

Given historical tendency of leaders to abuse power, a just government should be carefully designed

Applying lessons of science and history to keep greedy and ambitious from using political power to their own advantage.

Major contributor to the discipline of Political Science

Systematic study of the ways in which individuals and institutions shape political outcomes

Really a science?


Natural Rights and the Social Contract

American Revolution was based heavily on ideas of modern political thought and the European Enlightenment

Reason and science were applied to better understand the physical and social worlds

John Locke

argued against divine or God-given right of kings to rule with absolute power

argued people are born with natural rights which kings cannot give or take away

legitimate government was one that involves a social contract in which people give government the ability to rule over them in order to have an orderly and functioning society

if government breaks social contract by violating natural rights then people have the right to replace the unjust government

Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu

affirmed ideas of natural rights and social contract in institutional form

Separation of Powers (branches of government)

Checks and Balances



Natural Law and the Declaration of Independence: The Case Against Bad Government

Opening paragraphs of Declaration of Independence lay out philosophy of natural rights forming basis for justification of pursuing independence

Middle section lists grievances and complaints against the King

Last section apples ideals of natural rights to the justification of independence for the entire world


Deletion of charges against the King on the issue of slavery.

First section of deleted charges accused King of violating natural rights by allowing the slave trade to continue.

Jefferson was, himself, a slave owner and wrestled with the contradiction of asserting natural rights while operating a plantation with slaves.

Second deleted section charged the King with trying to incite slave rebellions in the colonies.

Spoke directly to the fears of many Southern plantation owners.


American Revolution

Militarily and politically, the American Revolution wasn’t technically a revolution.

King George III not overthrown

British Empire remained intact

Was a revolution of ideas

Idea of a government based upon natural rights and individual liberty

Influenced later revolutions around the world

Building, rebuilding and reshaping political institutions that structure the protection and expression of American natural rights in a representative democracy.



Political institutions structure how citizens may be involved in government and politics.

Rules, laws, and structures that channel and shape political action

Types of government vary by who has power and how power is used/administered

Differing forms of government distribute power in differing ways

Totalitarian regimes



Differing forms of government distribute power in differing ways

Totalitarian – admit no limitations on their own power, no competing centers of political power.

Authoritarian – suppress the voices of citizens to maintain grip on power but may have some economic or social institutions not under government control that serve to moderate government’s power

Monarchies – ruled by royal figures and admit no external challenge to claims of ruler

Oligarchies – ruled by small group of powerful elites with no challenge to claims of power




Most important institution in American political life is the United States Constitution.

Forms the basis of the nation’s government and creates a host of political institutions through which conflict over political power is resolved.

Places textual and institutional limits on power and actions of government.


America is a Constitutional Republic

The United States is institutionally and fundamentally a Constitutional Republic.

Americans elect representatives to make most of the laws and policies in the nations instead of voting on them directly.

Limits are placed upon the power of government to infringe upon people’s rights.

Constitution is recognized as the highest and most supreme law of the land.


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