The Framers of the first American state constitutions drew heavily upon the practices of colonial assemblies, contemporary political ideas, the English common law tradition, and the effects of the western frontier.
Colonial assemblies, especially in Virginia and South Carolina, developed legislative rules that secured the sanctity of vested interests and prevented the most populous areas of their colony from dominating the rest. For example, in South Carolina following an uprising in the 1760s known as the Regulator Movement, colonial assemblymen commenced requiring “supermajorities” well beyond 50 percent of votes to pass laws. Consequently, the practice protected the vested interests of some minority settlements since those groups exercised a check upon laws deemed detrimental to their communities.
This lesson includes a variety of activities and primary source excerpts, providing students with a comprehensive study of federalism. Through the Constitution’s system of federalism, power is divided between national and subnational governments. Federalism allows citizens to make policy decisions at state and local levels. Decentralization draws individuals out of private life and compels civic engagement.
Elections have consequences. They decide who holds power and therefore the laws that we live under. But they also reflect principles of federalism and consent of the governed, as well as the complexity of the American system.
From the Founding to the present, Americans have always expressed a distrust of political parties. Hardly a day passes without someone’s—the president, a Senator, a Representative—attacking politics in Washington for the spirit of partisanship.
America holds more elections than any other democracy. The reason is federalism. Because of decentralization there are more offices for the electorate to fill and thus more elections.
Civil Discourse and Petitioning
Debating matters of public concern is essential in a free, self-governing society. If citizens were not free to decide after listening to opposing views self-government would be distorted. At the core of the Declaration of Independence is the principle that government exists to protect individual rights for us, not that we exist to serve the government. Therefore the people are the master and the government is the servant. If the government can dictate what we can and cannot discuss, then it would imply that the servant can tell the master what to do.
Voluntarism and Public Servants
Americans celebrate volunteers and public servants, intuitively recognizing that there is something of great value in helping your community. But often we have arrived at distorted understandings of voluntarism and public service: definitions that emphasize trivial engagement and exclude important forms of public service. Exploring the benefits of service, the rules and norms that support and promote it, and the virtues that volunteers display will provide us will a more accurate understanding of what it means to serve.