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From ABC-CLIO's History Hub website
Time Period Overview for Foundations of American Government

Theme Key Understandings

  • Societies need government to promote harmony, reduce conflict, and increase economic productivity
  • Governments come in many forms, including rule by one, rule by a few, and rule by many
  • Philosophical thought often influences a society's form of government
  • New political systems are shaped by emulating and opposing older systems of government
  • Founding documents are a result of compromise and the direct experiences of those drafting them
  • Democratic governments derive their power from the consent of the governed
  • Protection of individual rights and liberties is central to American democracy
  • Democratic governments strike a balance between majority rule and minority rights

Key Questions

Why Government?

  • What are three essential reasons societies form governments?
  • What are two of the primary roles of government once it has been formed?

Types of Government

  • Compare and contrast the three primary forms of government. In what ways are they each positive? In what ways can they each be problematic?
  • What type of person is likely to favor each type of government?

What Is Democracy?

  • Why were some of the classical societies drawn to democracy as a form of government?
  • How did the founders blend that democracy of the Greeks with the Roman Republic?

Majority Rule, Minority Rights

  • Identify three ways that the United States government implements majority rule and list an additional three ways the United States government protects minority rights.
  • Explain the importance of majority rule and minority rights to American government.

Roots of U.S. Government

  • Identify the three most important ways Enlightenment thinkers influenced American government.
  • How are the British system of government and the British violation of promises to the colonists central to the formation of the new American government?

Declaration of Independence

  • What were the primary motivations of the colonists when they declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776? How is the Declaration of Independence a reflection of the their motivations?
  • The first draft of the Declaration of Independence included language denouncing slavery, but Southern delegates at the Second Continental Congress insisted that the clause be removed and slavery continued in the United States for nearly a century. Do you think keeping the anti-slavery clause in the Declaration would have helped end slavery sooner? Why or why not?

Articles of Confederation

  • What are three specific weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation? How did each of these ultimately lead to the need for a new Constitution?
  • Do you think the United States could have been effectively governed under a unicameral congress like the one established by the Articles of Confederation? Why or why not?

U.S. Constitution

  • How does the U.S. Constitution lay out a new relationship between the states and a more powerful central government?
  • In what key ways does the constitution incorporate Montesquieu's idea regarding separation of powers and checks and balances?

Ratifying the Constitution

  • How does the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists clearly spell out the differences in thinking between the founders as they wrote the Constitution?
  • How did compromise lead to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution?

Bill of Rights

  • How does the Bill of Rights specifically reflect Enlightenment thinking regarding natural rights and the mistreatment of the colonist by the British?
  • The Bill of Rights initially only applied to federal law and was later incorporated to apply to state law. Why do you think the Framers didn't indicate that the Bill of Rights applied to the states? Should they have? Why or why not?

Amending the Constitution

  • What is the primary method that has been used over time to amend the Constitution?
  • Describe what you see as the primary roadblock to getting a new amendment added.

Checks and Balances

  • What do you believe are the three most important checks and balances in the U. S. Constitution. Why?
  • Describe the differences between checks and balances and the separation of powers?

Three Branches

  • How would you describe the primary purpose of each of the three branches of American government?
  • Which of these branches do you think is most misunderstood by the American people?


  • Identify two examples of the way the federal and state government work together to solve problems.
  • Describe a situation in which the federal and state governments might be at odds with each other.



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Entry ID: 2142492