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Political Science 330
United States

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  • 1. Chapter 7 The United States
  • 2. U.S. Basic Facts
    • Population: over 300 million
    • Total area: 3.79 million sq miles
    • Political system: Presidential, representative democracy
    • Administrative structure: Federalism – powers shared between national government and 50 state governments; separation of powers: legislative, judicial, executive
  • 3. Branches of Government
    • Executive: President – “directly” elected (Electoral College officially elects president and vice president) for four-year term; cabinet selected by president
    • Legislative: Bicameral. Lower house (House of Representatives) 435 members, two-year terms. Upper house (Senate) 100 members, six-year terms.
    • Judicial: Supreme Court – nine justices nominated by President, confirmed by Senate – life tenure – can declare acts of legislature & executive unconstitutional.
  • 4. Party System
    • Two-party system: Republicans and Democrats
      • Parties relatively weak, fractionalized
      • Personal following of candidates important
    • Contrasts with parliamentary systems (Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan)
      • Multiple political parties. One party elected, and then a prime minister is chosen within the party.
      • Parties can be voted out of office if unpopular
  • 5. Four critical junctures in U.S. history
    • American Revolution through ratification of U.S. Constitution
    • Civil War and Reconstruction
    • The New Deal
    • Since 1968, national elections – period of divided national government
  • 6. Revolutionary Era (1773-1789)
    • Declaration of Independence 7/4/1776
    • Articles of Confederation (1777-1788) governed nation
      • Weaknesses: inability to implement foreign/domestic policy, tax, regulate trade – also states had to ratify most key decisions
    • Constitution replaced Articles of Confederation 1788
  • 7.
    • Constitution maintained most power with States – limited but specific powers to national (federal) government
      • Federal government had authority over commerce & military policy
      • Post offices, roads, coining money, establishing rule of naturalization
      • Sought to limit citizenry’s voice in government
    • Created executive (presidency) – powers independent of legislature
      • President elected indirectly through Electoral College
      • Senate originally elected through state legislatures
      • Only House of Representatives elected by people
  • 8.
    • Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments) – prohibitions on national government necessary to ensure ratification of Constitution
    • Became guarantees against excesses of state & national government
    • Interpretation of meaning of rights periodically reviewed in federal courts
  • 9. Civil War and Reconstruction 1861-1876
    • What caused Civil War?
      • Morality of slavery overt reason
      • Really fought over states’ rights – many states still believed they could reject federal laws
    • Results of Civil War – (North won)
      • Indivisibility of the Union
      • Established an enforceable national citizenship (Fourteenth Amendment 1868) – extended citizenship to all persons born in the U.S. (freed slaves)
  • 10.
    • Fifteenth amendment (1870) – granted vote to African Americans – but rights not uniformly enforced until…
    • Voting Rights Act of 1965 – finally African Americans could routinely vote (especially in the South)
  • 11. The New Deal era 1933-1940
    • New Deal – Roosevelt’s administration response to Great Depression
    • Presidency dominated Congress in policymaking
    • Start of interventionist approach (vs. isolationist)
    • Federal government established
      • Social Security
      • Jobs programs – building roads/dams
      • Housing and food programs for poor
      • Subsidized farmers
  • 12. Era of divided government 1968-present
    • Since 1968, increasing divisions
    • Two dimensions
      • Division between two political parties
        • Increases inefficiency of government – cannot respond to national needs
        • Increases popular distrust of government
      • Rejection of expansion of federal government
        • California proposition 13 (1978) limited government’s ability to increase property taxes
  • 13. U.S. Constitution
    • U.S. Constitution created system of federalism and separation of powers
      • Federalism – division of governing responsibilities between national and state governments
      • Separation of powers – between three branches of government
      • **reality is that individual citizens have little ability to influence national government
  • 14.
    • Constitution amended 27 times since 1787
    • First ten amendments Bill of Rights (1791)– set of protections of individual rights – required compromise
    • Remaining 17 amendments extended democratic election practices and changed procedural deficiencies (president & vice-president on a single ticket, term limits)
    • Amendments initiated by Congress, require three-quarters of states to agree
  • 15. U.S. Legislature
    • Bicameral system – two houses
    • House of Representatives
      • Allocated by population
      • 435 members (fixed #since 1910)
      • More responsive to popular will
      • Elections every two years
  • 16.
    • Senate
      • Equal representation for each state
        • Does not take into account growing gap in population between large & small states
      • 100 members (two for each state)
      • Six-year staggered terms (only one-third can be unseated in an election)
      • Two central powers of Congress are legislation and oversight
  • 17. Electoral College
    • Citizens don’t directly elect president or vice president
    • Voted into law in 1845
    • Electoral College placed community leaders between voters and selection of leaders
    • Number of electors equal to number of a State’s representatives plus its two senators
    • To win – earn half number plus one – 270 of Electoral College votes
  • 18.
    • Electoral College system can make a winner out of the person who places second in the popular vote (Gore v. Bush in 2000)
    • All but two states award electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis (Maine & Nebraska use tiered system)
    • Most states require that an elector vote for a candidate to whom s/he is pledged (elector from D.C. in 2000 did not vote for Gore although pledged to by popular vote)