Topic 64 – American institutions. The constitution. Territorial organisation. The presedent. The congress. Political parties and the electoral system

Topic 64 – American institutions. The constitution. Territorial organisation. The presedent. The congress. Political parties and the electoral system



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. Colonial America: a political history.

2.1.1. Earlier non-British colonies.

2.1.2. British colonists: the thirteen colonies. New England colonies. Middle colonies. Southern colonies.

2.1.3. The British colonies: from union to revolution.

2.1.4. The Declaration of Independence (1776).

2.2. The struggle for Constitution (1776- 1789).

2.2.1. The War of Independence (1778-1783). Social consequences. Economic consequences. Political consequences: the establishment of Constitution.


3.1. Political basis.

3.1.1. The Constitution: fundamental laws.

3.1.2. Territorial organization: federal system.

3.2. Political powers: a federal Government.

3.2.1. National Government. Executive power: the President. Legislative power: the Congress. Judicial power: the Supreme Court.

3.2.2. State Government.

3.2.3. Local Government.

3.3. Political parties and electoral system.

3.3.1. Political parties: two-party system. Democratic Party. Republican Party.

3.3.2. The electoral system.





1.1. Aims of the unit.

The present unit, Unit 64, aims to provide a useful introduction to the United States institutions among which we shall focus on those related to North American politics, not only in terms of political basis regarding the Constitution and territorial organization, but also in terms of political powers regarding the main political bodies, that is, the President, the Congress and finally the main political parties and electoral system. In doing so, we shall first locate the United States institutions within a historical framework and then we shall move on to analyse each political body.

Chapter 2 namely analyses the period which ranges from the roots of Colonial America to the establishment of the Constitution (1788). So, on examining this period, we shall approach the political history of (1) Colonial America regarding (a) earlier non-British colonies, (b) the thirteen British colonies, including (i) New England colonies, (ii) Middle colonies, and (iii) Southern colonies; (c) the British colonies from their unity to revolution, and (d) the Declaration of Independence (1776). Moreover, we shall offer an account of (2) the struggle for Constitution within the already independent American colonies from (a) the War of Independence (1778-

1783) regarding its aftermath in terms of (a) social, (b) economical, and (c) political

consequences, the latter setting up the basis for the establishment of the Constitution in 1789.

Hence in Chapter 3 the analysis of the United States institutions will be divided into three main sections which coincide with the main issues we are going to deal with. Hence, (1) the political basis, that is, (a) the Constitution on which fundamental laws are based, and (b) the territorial organization of the United States federal system; (2) the political powers of federal government at three different levels: (a) National Government regarding (i) executive power through the figure of the President; (ii) legislative power through the Congress; and (iii) judicial power through the Supreme Court. Then, we also examine (b) the State Government and (c) the Municipial Government. Finally, we approach the organization of (3) political parties and the electoral system, by examining the main (a) political parties within the US two-party system: (i) the Democratic Party and (ii) the Republican Party; and (b) the US electoral system.

Chapter 4 will be devoted to the main educational implications in language teaching regarding the introduction of this issue in the classroom setting. Chapter 5 will offer a conclusion to broadly overview our present study, and Chapter 6 will include all the bibliographical references used to develop this account of the U.S. institutions.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

An influential introduction to U.S. institutions is based on the writings of Blaustein, The United States Constitution: A Model in Nation-Building (1984); Hearst Report, The American Public’s Knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. A National Survey of Public Awareness and Personal Opinion (1987); and Palmer, Historia Contemporánea (1980). Other relevant sources include the Encyclopaedia Britannica (2004); Larousse 2000 (2000); as well as the following reliable and informative websites: (2004) and (2004), both.

The background for educational implications is based on the theory of communicative competence and communicative approaches to language teaching are provided by the most complete record of current publications within the educational framework is provided by the guidelines in B.O.E. (2004) for both E.S.O. and Bachillerato; the Council of Europe, Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European Framework of reference (1998); and van Ek and Trim, Vantage (2001).


Chapter 2 namely analyses the period which ranges from the roots of Colonial America to the establishment of the Constitution (1788). So, on examining this period, we shall approach the political history of (1) Colonial America regarding (a) earlier non-British colonies, (b) the thirteen British colonies, including (i) New England colonies, (ii) Middle colonies, and (iii) Southern colonies; (c) the British colonies from their unity to revolution, and (d) the Declaration of Independence (1776). Moreover, we shall offer an account of (2) the struggle for Constitution within the already independent American colonies from (a) the War of Independence (1778-

1783) regarding its aftermath in terms of (a) social, (b) economical, and (c) political

consequences, the latter setting up the basis for the establishment of the Constitution in 1789.

2.1. Colonial America: a political history.

The political history of Colonial America will make us comprehend the preparation of the whole people for the radical change of government they were so soon to undergo in British colonies, and the strong spirit of democracy which stood behind the labors of congresses and conventions and gave the cue to the work which they were to perform. We namely aim to offer a brief account of this political evolution from the works of historians as an essential preliminary to the

next chapter, where we shall analyse how the United States of America was founded in 1776

from British colonies along the Atlantic Coast of North America.

2.1.1. Earlier non-British colonies.

Before British colonists reached the Atlantic Coast of North America, other non-British colonies did it much earlier. For instance:

1. On October 9, 1000 part of North America was discovered accidentally and was given the name of Vinland (Wineland) by the Viking Leif Eriksson, who established there a short-lived colony.

2. Nearly five hundred years later, Portugal, which was a leading country in the European exploration of the world, began charting the far shores of the Atlantic Ocean before Spain began. Yet, Portuguese explorers (Pedro Alvares Cabral) landed in American coasts (Porto Seguro, Brazil) on April 22, 1500, eight years later than Spain did.

3. In 1492, Christopher Columbus brought this land to Europe’s attention on behalf of Spain , the main colonial power of the day, which focused its efforts on the exploitation of the gold-rich empires of southern Mexico (the Aztec) and of the Andes (the Inca). Portugal, then, was limited by the Treaty of Tordesillas to the lands east of Brazil. Yet, after them no serious colonization efforts were made for decades, until England, France, and Spain began to claim and expand their territory in the New World.

4. Moreover, other explorers came from France. In fact, the first French attempt at colonization was in 1598 on Sable Island (southeast of present Nova Scotia ). This colony went unsupplied and its twelve survivors returned to France in 1605. The next and first successful colony was Acadia founded in 1603 with its town of Port Royal, now Annapolis.

5. Also, during the 17th century, Dutch traders established trade posts and plantations throughout the Americas. However, Dutch settling in North America was not as common as other European nations’ settlements. Many of the Dutch settlements had been abandoned or lost by the end of the century, with the exception of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, which remain Dutch territory until this day, and Suriname, which became independent in 1975.

6. We also find explorers from Denmark, who started a colony on St Thomas in 1671, St John in 1718, founded colonies in Greenland in 1721, which is now a self-governing part of the Kingdom of Denmark. During the 18th century, the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea were divided into two territorial units, one English and the other Danish, which were also used as a base for pirates.

7. Other countries followed such as Russia, whose explorers discovered Alaska in 1732.

2.1.2. British colonists: the thirteen colonies.

Therefore, we distinguish two types of earlier colonies: non-British and British; whereas the first group namely includes Viking, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch and Danish colonists, the second group is formed by Anglosaxons. Moreover, non-British colonies, namely French and Dutch, were founded on aristocratic principles and strove vigorously to gain liberal institutions. Following Daimon (1969), had their political circumstances been different in Europe, they could have also gained the control of the continent. Yet, Holland was quite wealthy and had few immigrants, and France had a great number of immigrants but was not interested in the snow land. Yet, the struggle for control of this land would continue for more than a hundred years.

The thirteen British colonies of America were formed under a variety of differing conditions. The settlement of Virginia was the work of a company of London merchants, that of New England of a body of Puritan refugees from persecution. Most of the other colonies were formed through the efforts of proprietors, to whom the king had made large grants of territory. None of them were of royal or parliamentary establishment (the nearest to this being the colony of New York, which was appropriated from its Dutch founders by the king’s brother) and therefore, the government of the mother-country took no part in the original formation of the government of the colonies, except in the somewhat flexible requirements of the charters granted to the proprietors.

The earliest of these, that of Virginia, was under the supreme government of a council residing in England and appointed by the king, who likewise appointed a council of members of the colony, for its local administration. Thus all executive and legislative powers were directly controlled by the king, and no rights of self-government were granted the people. Virginia formed the only British colony in America of which the monarch thus retained the control.

We shall approach the division of colonies by their geographical location, and not on their order of settlement. Yet, we shall remind our readers that the first colonies were those of Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620), established respectively by John Smith and the Pilgrims. New England colonies.

New England colonies are made up by Rhode, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but we shall namely concentrate on the latter one due to its historical relevance. We must take into account that New England was the next successful English colony established after that of Jamestown. It was settled by two groups of of religious dissenters who escaped religious persecution in England: the Pilgrims and the Puritans.

Both of them demanded church reform and elimination of Catholic elements remaining in the Church of England. Yet, whereas the Pilgrims wanted to leave the Church of England, the Puritans wanted to reform it by setting an example of a holy community thorugh the society they were to build in the New World (this is relevant information for The Scarlett Letter).

1. The Pilgrim Fathers: Plymouth colony (1620).

In August 1620 a group of men and women left England on the deck of the Mayflower from the Port of Plymouth to the New World. On board there was a group known as the Pilgrim Fathers, or the Pilgrims, who were attempting to escape religious persecution in their country, England. Before they landed in North America on 21 December in Massachusetts (although they had been aiming for Virginia), they wrote a declaration called the Covenant, which is considered to be a draft of the Constitution of the United States.

2. The Puritans: Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629).

The second group (around 400 people), the Puritans, aimed to reform the Anglican Church by creating a new, pure church in the New World, where they created a deeply religious, socially, and politically innovative culture that still lingers on in the modern United States. Though they fled from religious repression in England, they did not seek to establish toleration in America, but the Puritan social ideal of the “nation of saints”,

an intensely religious, thoroughly righteous community that would serve as an example for all of Europe and stimulate mass conversion to Puritanism.

Politically, Puritan society was by no means a democracy nor a theocracy since officials had no responsibility to the people since their function was to serve God by best oberseeing the moral and physical improvement of the community. Socially, the Puritan society was tightly knit where no one was allowed to live alone for fear that their temptation would lead to the moral corruption of all of Puritan society. Although some characterize the strength of Puritan society as repressively communal, others point to it as the basis of the later American value on civic virtue, and an essential foundation for the development of democracy. Middle colonies.

The rest of British colonies in America followed after Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, consisting of Middle colonies, such as New York, Pennsylvania, the three counites of Delaware, and Maryland, which were namely characterized by a wide diversity, both religious, political, economic, and ethnic. Southern colonies.

Southern colonies include Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and the two Carolinas (north and south). The Carolinas were created by a group of English Lords who wanted a new colony in the south become profitable like that of the north. In the south it was Georgia, which was a key contested area namely established on stric t moralistic principles, where slavery was forbidden as well as alcohol and other forms of immoral attitudes. However, the colonists were unhappy about the puritanical lifestyle, and complained that their colony could not compete economically with the Carolina rice plantations. Georgia initially failed to prosper, but once the restrictions were lifted it became as prosperous as the Carolinas.

Yet, the most important to mention is Virgina colony, which is considered to be the first permanent settlement in North America under the name of the English colony of Jamestown (1607), was the first English colony in America to survive and become permanent and become later the capital of Virginia and the site of the House of Burgesses. Virginia was named upon Elizabeth I of England, the “Virgin Queen”. Jamestown colony It supported itself through tobacco farming and the venture was financed and coordinated by the London Virginia Company (a joint stock company), which hoped to follow in the footsteps of the Spanish

colonists by finding gold. A lack of social bonds in the community was to be felt in the fact that all the initial colonists, and most of the additional colonists, were male. Without wives or children to protect, the colonists had little incentive to protect their settlement or work towards its long-term growth.

The settlement was struck by severe droughts in centuries and as a result, only a third of the colonists furvived the first winter, and even, source documents indicate that some turned to cannibalism. Yet, the colony survived in large part to the efforts of John Smith, whose moto was

‘No work, no food’. He put the colonists to work, and befriended Pocahontas, daughter of Chief

Powhatan, who supplied the colony with food.

But the main causes of social decentralization were soon to be noticed. As the colony of

Virginia was so heavily influenced by the cultivation of tobacco and the ownership of slaves, in

1619 large numbers of Africans were brought to this colony into the slave trade. Thus, individual workers on the plantation fields were usually without family and separated from their nearest neighbors by miles. This meant that little social infrastructure developed for the commoners of Virigina society, in contrast with the highly developed social infrastructure of colonial New England.

2.1.3. The British colonies: from union to revolution.

By this time, the English colonies were thirteen: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Although all these British colonies were strikingly different, throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries several events took place and brought relevant changes in the colonies: whereas some of the them sprung from their common roots as part of the British Empire, others led up to the American Revolution, and to the final separation from England.

Although there was general properity in the Middle and Southern colonies, as well as social and political struggle, they had to face the arrival of loads of immigrants from Europe. Their economy, based on the production of rice, indigo and naval stores, was booming in contrast to the hostile attitude of Indians at the frontier. In the upper south, Virginia and Maryland’s tobacco prices were falling and crop failures became very usual. Yet, in New England, the social and political atmosphere was quite calm, but not the economy since the Sugar Act

imposed taxes and new commercial regulations on them. Let us examine the main causes which led the thirteen colonies to revolution.

The first of those events was the Great Awakening, which unified the colonies in religious terms. This was a Protestant movement which took place in the 1730s and

1740s and began under the figure of Jonathan Edwards, a powerful Massachusetts

speaker and attracted a large amount of followers. Two new movements appeared from his ideas, the colonies called themselves the New Lights, and those who did not were called the Old Lights. The result was the establishment of a number of universities, now counted among the Ivy League, including Kings College (now Columbia University) and Princeton University. The Great Awakening may also be interpreted as the last major expression of the religious ideals on which the New England colonies were founded. Religiosity had been declining for decades, in part due to the negative publicity resulting from the Salem witch trials.

The second event relates to the French and Indian War (1754-1763), which meant the American extension of the general European conflict known as the Seven Years’ War. The war takes its name from the Iroquois confederacy, which had been playing the British and the French against each other successfully for decades. Eventually, in the Treaty of Paris (1763) , France surrendered its vast North American empire to Britain. During the war the thirteen colonies’s identity as part of the British Empire was made truly apparent, as British military and civilian officials took on an increased presence in the lives of Americans.

The war also increased a sense of American unity in men who might normally have never left their colonies to travel across the continent, and fighting alongside men from decidedly different. Both the British and colonists triumphed jointly over a common foe and their loyalty to the mother country was stronger than ever before. However, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time (William Pitt), decided to wage the war in the colonies with the use of troops from the colonies and tax funds from Britain itself, which was a successful wartime strategy. Therefore, the British, the most heavily taxed of any in Europe, pointed out angrily that the colonies paid little to the royal coffers. This dispute was to set off the chain of events that brought about the American Revolution.

The military struggle, indeed, was preceded by a long and fierce political contest, of which it formed the inevitable conclusion. For this contest the people of America had

been prepared, not by their years of war, but by their years of peace, for the whole political history of the American colonies is a history of instruction in the principles of democracy, and the republic of the United States was only in an immediate sense the work of the men of the Revolution, but in its fullest sense was the work of the colonists of America from their first entrance upon the trans-Atlantic shores.

The Royal Proclamation (1763).

The Royal Proclamation was a prohibition against settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, on land which had been recently captured from France. In issuing this decree, the government was no doubt influenced by disgruntled taxpayers who did not wish to bankroll the subjugation of the native people of the area to make room for colonists. Yet, for most Americans, it seemed unnecessary to accept an unproductive piece of legislation stated by a far-away government that cared little for their needs, although Parliament had generally been preoccupied with affairs in Europe, and let the colonies govern themselves. The policy change would continue to arouse opposition in the colonies over the next thirteen years and through a series of measures, which were to be named as acts.

The Sugar Act (1764).

Hence, this act put a three-cent tax on foreign refined sugar and increased taxes on coffee, indigo, and certain kinds of wine, and it banned importation of rum and French wines. Not only had affected taxes to a certain part of the population (including merchants), but also were they enacted without the consent of the colonists. This was one of the first instances in which colonists wanted a say in how much they were taxed.

The Stamp Act (1765-1766).

Another act that followed was the Stamp Act, which was carried out by the British Parliament to tax activities in their American colonies. The Act was passed by the parliament on March 22, 1765 and was to be effective November 1. The act met with great resistance in the colonies and was finally repealed on March 18, 1766. It increased American concerns about the intent of parliament, and added to the growing separatist movement that twelve years later would result in the American Revolution.

Quartering Act (1765-1774).

As a result, the British Parliament passed at least two laws, known as the Quartering Act. The first one became law on 24 March 1765, and provided that Britain would house its soldiers in America first in barracks and public houses. Yet, if soldiers outnumbered the housing available, he would quarter them in other types of housing (inns, livery stables, ale houses, victuallinghouses, and the houses of sellers of wine) requiring any inhabitants to provide the soldiers with food, alcohol and utensils on not paying any thing for the same. The second Quartering Act (also called the Intolerable Acts, the Punitive Acts or the Coercive Acts) was quite similar in substance to the Quartering Act of 1765. It was settled on 2 June 1774, and was one of the measures that were designed to secure Britain’s jurisdiction over her American dominions.

Declaratory Act (1766).

The Declaratory Act was established to secure the dependency of his Majesty’s dominions in America upon the crown and parliament of Great Britain. This act states that American colonies and plantations are subordinated to, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain; and that the King’ majesty as full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain.

Townshend Revenue Act (1767).

The Townshend series of laws named for Charles Townshend, British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasurer), placed new taxes on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea. Therefore, colonial reaction to these taxes was the same as to the Sugar Act and Stamp Act, and Britain eventually repealed all the taxes except the one on tea. In response to the sometimes violent protests by the American colonists, Great Britain sent more troops to the colonies.

Tea Act (1773).

Another act, the Tea Act, gave a monopoly on tea sales to the East India Company. In other words, American colonists could buy no tea unless it came from that company. Why? Well, the East Indian Company wasn’t doing so well, and the British wanted to give it some more business. The Tea Act lowered the price on this East India tea so much that it was way below tea from other suppliers. But the American colonists saw this law as yet another means of “taxation without representation” because it meant that

they could not buy tea from anyone else (including other colonial merchants) without spending a lot more money.

The Boston Tea Party (1773).

Their response was to refuse to unload the tea from the ships in Boston, a situation that led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Angry and frustrated at a new tax on tea, American colonists (calling themselves the Sons of Liberty and disguised as Mohawk Native Americans) boarded three British ships (the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver) and dumped 342 whole crates of British tea into Boston harbor on December 16, 1773. Similar incidents occurred in Maryland, New York, and New Jersey in the next few months, and tea was eventually boycotted throughout the colonies. The Boston Tea Party was an amusing and symbolic episode in American history, an example of how far Americans were willing to go to speak out for their freedom.

Coercive Acts (1774).

As a result, this amusing and symbolic episode in the American Colonies of Boston and Massachusetts was defined as Intolerable Acts (also called the Coercive Acts or Punitive Acts) by the English. The Coercive Acts were a series of laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 in response for the growing unrest of the colonies which included: the Quartering Act, the Quebec Act, Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Boston Port Act.

The punitive effect of these laws generated a reaction in a great and growing sympathy for the colonists of Massachusetts, encouraging the neighbouring colonies to band to together which would help lead to the American Revolutionary War.

In 1775, under George III’s reign, the British North American colonies revolted in Massachusetts due to the previous frustration with the British crown practices, and namely to their opposition to British economic explotiation and also their unwillingness to pay for a standing army. Anti- monarchist sentiment was strong, as the colonists wanted to participate in the politics affecting them.

2.1.4. The Declaration of Independence (1776).

The next year, representatives of thirteen of the British colonies in North America met in Philadelphia and declared their independence in a remarkable document, the Declaration of Independence. The committee had intrusted that task to Thomas Jefferson, who, though at that

time only thirty-three years of age, was chosen for two main reasons: first, because he was held to possess a singular felicity in the expression of popular ideas and, second, because he represented the province of Virginia, the oldest of the Anglo-American colonies.

Jefferson, having produced the required document, reported it to the House on the 28th of June, where it was read, and ordered to lie on the table. After the conclusion of the debate on the resolution of independence on 2nd July, the Declaration was passed under review. During the remainder of that day and the two next, this remarkable production was very closely considered and shifted, and several alterations were made in it, namely the omission of those sentences which reflected upon the English people, and the striking out of a clause which severely reprobated the slave-trade.

The debate on the proposed Declaration came to a termination two days later, on the evening of the 4th of July. The document was then reported by the committee, agreed to by the House, and signed by every member present, except General Dickinson. The signature of New York was not given till several days later, and a New Hampshire member, Matthew Thornton, was permitted to append his signature on November 4 (four months after the signing). With the help of their French allies they were eventually able to win the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain, settled by the Treaty of Paris (1783). So, we can say that the United States of America was founded in 1776 from British colonies along the Atlantic Coast of North America and was declared to be independent in 1778.

2.2. The struggle for Constitution (1776-1789).

The struggle for Constitution has its roots in the Declaration of Independence and its outcome (the Constitution) after the War of Independence (1778-1783). So, we shall review (1) the War of Independence (1778-1783) regarding (a) its aftermath in terms of (i) social, (ii) economical, and (iii) political consequences which eventually shall prepare the ground for the final establishment of the Constitution in 1789.

2.2.1. The War of Independence (1778-1783).

The War of Independence, also known as the American Revolution, was first regarded as a civil war against Britain, but when other countries entered the confrontation, namely France (1778), Spain (1779) and the Netherlands (1780), it became an international war. Initial confrontations

were mixed (the British being successful at Brandywine but suffering badly at Saratoga), but the situation improved for the colonists when these three countries utilized the opportunity caused by the confrontation to declare war on Britain as well. Eventually, by 1782, the British campaign was crumbling.

The British Parliament demanded an end to the war, largely due to its high expenses. The Prime Minister, now Lord North, resigned and, on 3 September 1783, treaties were signed at Versailles. Britain retained Canada and the West Indian Islands but the thirteen rebellious states were formally recognised as the United States of America. On the other hand, France retained their West Indian Islands and were given Tobago in addition, and Spain recovered Florida after twenty years of British control (but later sold it to the Netherlands).

Therefore, the aftermath of the war was particularly felt in the national division of the states due to the political struggle over slavery and the spread into new territories (the West). Hence, the North representing the modern, industrial, and business-minded states versus the South, which represented the cultures, colonial and aristocratic states. Yet, in general, the main consequences following the loss of the American colonies were to be noticed at all levels. For instance: Social consequences.

In social terms, the United States exerted an irresistible attraction on visitors and therefore, immigrants, namely from Germany and Ireland. Between the 1830s and 1840s, population grew at an amazing rate attracted by an efficient network of economic and cultural richness in the new land. The German did well whereas the Irish immigrants were not rich enough to buy land. Hence they had to take the menial and unskilled labour needed by the expanding economy, and as a result, they suffered discrimination in towns and cities (their discrimination is compared to the free blacks in the North).

Another important issue to be highlighted is that of Northern blacks. Since they possessed theoretical freedom, they suffered discrimination at all social levels (politics, employment, education, religion, and even in cemeteries). Yet, their situation improved between the 1830s and 1850s under the Age of Reform, where a great variety of ideals and movements flourished in favor of women’ rights, pacifism, abolition of imprisonment, capital punishment, improving working classes conditions, and a better education, among others. Yet, a vast majority of Americans did not support these changes. The Reform reflected the sensibility of a small number of people. Economic consequences.

Economically, after the War of Independence two different economic models towards capitalism developed, thus represented by North and South ideals. On the one hand, the North, supported by the Middle West, based its economy on industry and farming in order to set up tariffs to protect themselves against rival European products; on the other hand, the South, namely aristocratic, based its economy on cotton production in big plantations, and therefore, free trade of slaves. Slavery did not exisst in the Northern states, so the North found it difficult to accept the attitude of the South. Political consequences: the esta blishment of Constitution.

Political consequences were felt both on the continent, in Britain and in the American colonies. Let us examine the most relevant events in both parts.

In in the British Empire, there was an increasing interest in the east. The East India Company had long been the main agent of Imperial expansion in southern Asia and exercised many governmental functions. Although the company maintained sole responsibility for trade and patronage, in 1784 under the India Act, a Board of Control was established to oversee the revenue, administration and diplomatic functions of the company as well as the aspects of its military expansion.

Yet, the new target of Britain was not only the East, but also the colonisation of the Antipodes so as to establish penal colonies (1788). The colonisation of Australia and New Zealand began with the desire to find a place for penal settlement after the loss of the original American colonies. The first shipload of British convicts landed in Australia in 1788, on the site of the future city of Sydney1.

Regarding the American colonies, the resolution on the settlement in the West was to be realized by a Federal government, which was established according to the interests of the North states. Until 1789, the United States was governed by the Articles of Confederation, which created an extremely weak central government. The United States had no power to levy taxes; for income, it relied essentially on money from the states. In addition, the government of the United States had no central executive branch, making its already weak government further divided and lacking strong leadership. The

clip_image001government of the United States under the Articles was also weak with regards to

1 The majority of these convicts were young men, many of whom had committed only petty crimes. New

South Wales opened to free settlers in 1819. By 1858, transportation of convicts was abolished.

foreign affairs, and during this period Britain and Spain treated the United States like a third-rate power.

Therefore, since the South was afraid of a possible centralized government, they started to think about the possibility of breaking with the Union and replaced the Articles of Confederation with a stronger central government. Then 55 state delegates met in Philadelphia between May and September (1787) in the Constitutional Convention, that is, an Assembly that drafted the Constitution of the United States. Hence the Constitution was adopted as a direct response to the Articles of Confederation and as a result, it was eventually ratified by all the states between 1787 and 1789, in the same year that George Washington was elected President of the United States (Larousse,

2002, vol. 6).


Hence in Chapter 3 the analysis of the United States institutions will be divided into three main sections which coincide with the main issues we are going to deal with. Hence, (1) the political basis, that is, (a) the Constitution on which fundamental laws are based, and (b) the territorial organization of the United States federal system; (2) the political powers of federal government at three different levels: (a) National Government regarding (i) executive power through the figure of the President; (ii) legislative power through the Congress; and (iii) judicial power through the Supreme Court. Then, we also examine (b) the State Government and (c) the Municipial Government. Finally, we approach the organization of (3) political parties and the electoral system, by examining the main (a) political parties within the US two-party system: (i) the Democratic Party and (ii) the Republican Party; and (b) the US electoral system.

3.1. Political basis.

3.1.1. The Constitution: fundamental laws.

Following the Encyclopaedia Britannica (2004), the Constitution of the United States is defined as the “fundamental law of the U.S. federal system of government and a landmark document of the Western world.” Moreover, it established the division of powers: executive, legislative and

judicial, hence a strong executive branch was created for the first time to give the government the power to tax. Yet, it did not established the respective political institutions of the states nor the federal state, and hence the division of political authority (national, state, local).

This document represents the supreme law of the United States of America, and it is the oldest comprehensive written national constitution on Earth still in force. Actually, it has served as a model for a number of other nations’ constitutions. So, completed on 17 September, 1787 and officially adopted on 4 March, 1789, the new Constitution of the United States created a more unified government in place of what was then a group of independent states. Actually, the remainder of the constitution consists of seven articles, thus:

Article One describes the legislative branch, that is, the Congress and outlines its powers and limits.

Article Two describes the executive branch, that is, the presidency.

Article Three describes the judicial branch, that is, court system, including the Supreme


Article Four describes the relationship between the states and the federal government.

Article Five describes the process of amendment.

Article Six establishes the Constitution and the laws and treaties of the United States made in accordance with it as the supreme law of the land.

Article Seven describes the method of ratification.

However, the authors of the Constitution were keenly aware that changes would be needed from time to time if the Constitution was to endure and keep pace with the growth of the nation. So they permitted the passing of amendments. Also, the ensured that an overly-rigid requirement of unanimity could not block action desired by the vast majority of the people , so they devised a dual process by which the Constitution could be revised. Actually, the Constitution has been amended on only eighteen occasions since 1789.

It is worth noting the relatively small number of amendments to the Constitution. Though it was ratified in June 1788, Congress proposed 12 amendments in September 1789, out of which 10 were simultaneously ratified by the states, commonly known as the “Bill of Rights”, and their adoption was certified on 15 December, 1791. The eleventh proposal, relative to the compensation of members of Congress, remained unratified until 1992 when the legislatures of enough states finally approved it and, as a result, it became the Twenty-seventh Amendment despite more than two centuries of pendency. On the other hand, a twelfth proposal pertains to

the apportionment of the United States House of Representatives after each decennial census. As for the ten known as the Bill of Rights, they remain as they were written two centuries ago:

The first guarantees freedom of worship, speech, and press; the right of peaceful assembly; and the right to petition the government to correct wrongs.

The second guarantees the right of citizens to bear arms.

The third provides that troops may not be quartered, or garrisoned, in private homes without the owner’s consent.

The fourth guards against unreasonable searches, arrests, and seizures of property.

The fifth amendment forbids trial for a major crime except after indictment by a grand jury. It prohibits repeated trials for the same offense, forbids punishment without due process of law, and provides that an accused person may not be compelled to testify against himself.

The sixth guarantees a speedy public trial for criminal offenses. It requires trial by an unbiased jury, guarantees the right to legal counsel for the accused, and provides that witnesses shall be compelled to attend the trial and testify in the presence of the accused.

The seventh assures trial by jury in civil cases involving anything valued at more than

20 U.S. dollars.

The eighth forbids excessive bail or fines, and cruel or unusual punishment.

The last two of the ten amendments contain very broad statements of constitutional authority.

The ninth declares that the listing of individual rights is not meant to be comprehensive;

that the people have other rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

The tenth provides that powers not delegated by the Constitution to the federal government nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states or the people.

It is worth mentioning that the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments have placed fundamental human rights at the center of the U.S. legal system. The majority of the seventeen later amendments stem from continued efforts to expand individual civil or political liberties, while only a few are concerned with amplifying the basic governmental structure drafted in Philadelphia in 1787 ( Thus,

The eleventh Amendment ( 1795) clarifies judicial power over foreign nationals, and limits ability of citizens to sue states.

The twelfth (1804) changes the method of presidential elections. (1865)

The thirteenth (1865) abolishes slavery.

The fourteenth (1868) defines United States citizen and includes the privileges and immunities, due process and equal protection c lauses; regulation of congressional elections; restrains states from infringing upon consititutional protections such as the Bill of Rights and other “fundamental rights” of citizens and persons under the jurisidiction of the United States.

The fifteenth (1870) ensures right of former slaves to vote. The sixteenth (1913) creates the income tax.

The seventeenth (1913) establishes the direct election of Senators.

The eighteenth (1919) establishes the prohibition of alcohol. The nineteenth (1920) establishes the women’s right to vote. The twentieth (1933) gives details of presidential succession. The twenty-first (1933) repeals prohibition of alcohol.

The twenty-second (1951) limits president to two terms.

The twenty-third (1961) grants electors to District of Columbia. The twenty-fourth (1964) abolishes poll taxes.

The twenty-fifth (1967) establishes more presidential succession rules.

The twenty-sixth (1971) establishes the right of eighteen-year-olds to vote. The twenty-seventh (1992) limits congressional pay raises.

3.1.2. Territorial organization: federal system.

The United States of America is situated in the North American continent. Its area include the United States share of the Great Lakes, that is, 3,675,031 sq miles (9,518,287 sq km), so it is considered to be the fourth largest country in the world. Thus, it is limited by Canada to the north and Mexico in the south, and covers the full width of it both in a horizontal and vertical direction. Actually, it is limited by the sea from left to right (from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean) and it is limited to the north by Alaska (on the edge of the Artic), and to the south by the Pacific and tropical Hawaii.

Regarding its population, this country had 287,602,000 in 2002, and it includes people of European and Middle Eastern ancestry, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians (Native Americans), and Alaska Natives. The national language is predominantly English, though other European, African and Asian languages are also present,

as Spanish or Chinese in guettos. Similarly, there are several religions, such as Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, too.

This vast country is characterized by providing a wide variety of landscapes (tropical forests, desert, Artic areas, empty spaces, metropoli) and natural resorts, for instance, the highest mountain is McKinley (6.194 m); its main rivers are Mississippi, Missouri, Grande del Norte, Arkansas, Colorado, and Columbia; and the main lake is Michigan (17,800 km2). Actually, the United States is said to represent, serve and protect the American people at home and abroad, hence its high standard of living. Its capital is Washington D.C. but other main cities include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio, and Detroit. The present currency is the dollar and its official language is English, commonly known as American English (AmE) in opposition to British English (BrE).

The territorial organization is based on the Constitution, which established a government under a federal system, which shared governmental powers with 48 contiguous states occupying the mid continent, Alaska at the northwestern extreme of North America, and the island state of Hawaii in the mid-Pacific Ocean. For instance, (listed in alphabetical order), Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawai, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Loiuisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Hence the fifty stars on the United States flag.

Within the federal system, the federal government in Washington D.C. cannot abolish the states or rearrange their boundaries, but can exercise powers that are delegated or implied by the Constitution. Also, the American judicial system keeps the federal and state governments within their proper fields of power. Actually, the federal government has certain constitutional musts towards the states, such as to respect their territorial unity, not to divide or break up a state without its consent, to protect the states against invasion and domestic violence, and to guarantee each state a republican form of government.

Moreover, the Constitution of the United States also places certain limitations on the states, such as not to interfere in foreign relations, to issue paper money or discriminate against interstate commerce. The Constitution also places certain obligations on the states in their relations with each other by means of which each state must respect the legal processes and acts of every other

state. Finally, no state may discriminate in favour of its own citizens against persons coming from other states.

3.2. Political powers: a federal Government.

As stated before, the Constitution of the U.S. federal system of government established the division of powers: executive, legislative and judicial, but not the respective political institutions of the states nor the federal state, and hence the division of political authority into national, state and local (or municipal) government. Yet, although the Constitution has changed in many respects since it was first adopted, its basic principles of government remain the same now as in

1789 in terms of political powers.

Thus, the three main branches of government, that is, executive, legislative and judicial, are separate and distinct from one another The powers given to each are delicately balanced by the powers of the other two, where each branch serves as a check on potential excesses of the others. The Constitution, together with laws passed according to its provisions and treaties entered into by the president and approved by the Senate, stands above all other laws, executive acts, and regulations. The courts interpret the laws, and, if it finds them to be unconstitutional, they are overturned.

Under the federal Government, everybody is equal before the law and is equally entitled to its protection, in the same way that all states are equal, and none can receive special treatment from the federal government. Within the limits of the Constitution, each state must recognize and respect the laws of the others. State governments, like the federal government, must be republican in form, with final authority resting with the people. Actually, the people have the right to change their form of national government by legal means defined in the Constitution itself. Following the Encyclopaedia Britannica (2004), “the Constitution’s separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, the checks and balances of each branch against the other, and the explicit guarantees of individual liberty were all designed to strike a balance between authority and liberty.” Hence:

Article I vests all legislative powers in the Congress –the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Article II vests executive power in the president.

Article III places judicial power in the hands of the courts.

Article IV deals, in part, with relations among the states and with the privileges of the citizens. Article V with amendment procedure, and Article VI with public debts and the supremacy of the Constitution.

Article VII stipulates that the Constitution would become operational after being ratified by nine states.”

Moreover, the form of government is based on three main principles, federalism, the separation of powers and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. Each American citizen is subject to two governments, that of his state and that of the Union, and each has its own distinct function. The states have, under the Constitution, the primary functions of providing law and order, education, public health and most of the things which concern day to day life. The Federal government, on the other hand, is concerned with foreign affairs and with matters of general concern to all the states. So, let us examine how government works at three different levels: national, state and local.

3.2.1. National Government.

The national government consists of executive, legislative and judicial branches which, in spite of being interrelated and designed to check and balance one another, each one is different in political terms. In fact, each one is represented by a different political body, that is, the executive power is represented by the President as the head of state and government; and similarly, the legislative power by the Congress and the judicial power, by the Supreme Court. Executive power: the President.

Following the website wikipedia (2004), “the President of the United States is the head of state of the United States. Under the U.S. Constitution, the President is also the chief executive of the federal government and commander in chief of the armed forces.” As the principal elected representative of the U.S. citizenry, the President’s principal workplace and official residence is the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, though many Presidents have also had their own homes. His official vacation or weekend residence is Camp David in Maryland.

Regarding his presidential powers, “the office of president of the United States is one of the most powerful offices of its kind in the world. The president, the Constitution says, must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” To carry out this responsibility, the president presides over the executive branch of the federal government — a vast organization numbering about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. In addition, the president has important legislative and judicial powers.” Let us examine the figure of the President within the three main branches.

For instance, “within the executive branch itself, the president has broad powers to manage national affairs and the workings of the federal government. The president can issue rules, regulations, and instructions called, which have the binding force of law upon federal agencies but do not require congressional approval. As commander-in- chief of the armed forces of the United States, the president may also call into federal service the state units of the National Guard. In times of war or national emergency, the Congress may grant the president even broader powers to manage the national economy and protect the security of the United States. In addition, the President is responsible for preparing the budget of the United States, although the Congress must approve it.”

Despite the constitutiona l provision that “all legislative powers” shall be vested in the Congress (next section), the president, as the chief formulator of pu blic policy, has a major legislative role. The president can veto any bill passed by Congress and, unless two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the veto, the bill does not become law.” Moreover, “much of the legislation dealt with by Congress is drafted at the initiative of the executive branch. In annual and special messages to Congress, the president may propose legislation he believes is necessary.”

It is worth noting that “the most important of these is the annual State of the Union Address, traditionally given in January. Before a joint session of Congress, the President outlines the status of the country and his legislative proposals for the upcoming year. If Congress should adjourn without acting on those proposals, the president has the power to call it into special session. But beyond this official role, the president, as head of a political party and as principal executive officer of the U.S. government, is primarily in a position to influence public opinion and thereby to influence the course of legislation in Congress.”

Regarding the presidential judicial powers, “among the president’s constitutional powers is that of appointing important public officials. Presidential nomination of federal judges, including members of the Supreme Court, is subject to confirmation by the Senate. Another significant power is that of granting a full or conditional pardon to

anyone convicted of breaking a federal law — except in a case of impeachment. The pardoning power has come to embrace the power to shorten prison terms and reduce fines.”

Furthermore, we must examine the presidential powers in foreign affairs by means of which, under the Constitution, the president is “the federal official primarily responsible for the relations of the United States with foreign nations.” However, we must take into account that the President has to work through a governmental organization, that is, the Cabinet, which refers to the heads of eleven departments within the large executive branch. Hence, he appoints ambassadors, ministers, and consuls – subject to confirmation by the Senate – and receives foreign ambassadors and other public officials. “With the secretary of state, the president manages all official contacts with foreign governments. Note that since WWII the President has sat down with world leaders to discuss economic and political issues and to reach bilateral and multilateral agreements.”

With respect to the United States presidential line of succession, it must be borne in mind that the Presidential office is to be filled upon the death, resignation or removal from office (by impeachment and conviction) of a sitting President. In case of trouble, the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution envisaged a succession line, which was written and ratified to clarify and specifically outline the process for deeming a President incapable of discharging his powers and duties, and subsequently elevating the Vice President to the role of Acting President of the United States. Hence the first three in the long line are vice president of the United States, speaker of the United States House of Representatives and finally, president pro tempore of the United States Senate.

The list of Presidents of the United States is well-defined in terms of name, date of taking and leaving office, and the party they belonged. Thus, George Washington (1789- 1797), no party; John Adams (1797-1801), Federalist; Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), Democratic Republican; James Madison (1809- 1817), Democratic Republican; James Monroe (1817-1825), Democratic Republican; John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), Democratic Republican; Andrew Jackson (1829-

1837), Democrat; Martin Van Buren (1837-1841), Democrat; William Henry Harrison (1841-

1841), Whig; John Tyler (1841- 1845), Whig; James Knox Polk (1845-1849), Democrat; Zachary Taylor (1849- 1850), Whig; Millard Fillmore (1850-1853), Whig; Franklin Pierce (1853-1857), Democrat; James Buchanan (1857-1861), Democrat; Abraham Lincoln (1861-

1865), Republican; Andrew Johnson (1865-1869), Republican; Ulysses Simpson Grant (1869-

1877), Republican; Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1877-1881), Republican; James Abram Garfield (1881-1885), Republican; Chester Alan Arthur (1881-1885), Republican; Stephen Grover Cleveland (1885-1889), Democrat; Benjamin Harrison (1889- 1893), Republican;

Stephen Grover Cleveland (1893- 1897), Democrat; and William McKinley (1897- 1901), Republican, as the last president of the nineteenth century.

The turn of the century coincides with the presidences of Theodore Roosevelt II (1901- 1909), Republic an; and William Howard Taft (1909-1913), Republican; Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), Democrat; Warren Gamaliel Harding (1921- 1923), Republican; John Calvin Coolidge Jr. (1923-1929), Republican; Herbert Clark Hoover (1929- 1933), Republican; Franklin Dela no Roosevelt (1933- 1945), Democrat; Harry S. Truman (1945- 1953), Democrat; Dwight David Eisenhower (1953-1961), Republican; John Fitzgeral Kennedy (1961- 1963), Democrat; Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-1969), Democrat; Richard Milhous Nixon (1969-

1974), Republican; Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. (1974-1977), Republican; James Earl Carter Jr. (1977-1981); Ronald Wilson Reagan (1981-1989), Republican; George Herbert Walker Bush (1989-1993), Republican; William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001), Democrat; and finally, coinciding with the early twenty-first century, the current president of the United States, George Walker Bush (2001-present day), who is Republican. Legislative power: the Congress.

Following the Encyclopaedia Britannica (2004), the Congress represents “the legislature of the U.S., separated structurally from the executive and judicial branches of government.” The historical roots of the United States Congress trace back to the origins of British Parliament, which eventually served to represent the interests of both the common people and the elite and to ensure deliberation over legislation. Therefore, the Congress consists of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives, where the former represents the elite members and the latter, the common people.

A third legislative body is represented by the Committees of Congress, which do most of the work of preparing legislation. Actually, in both houses of Congress, nearly every piece of legislation (bill) goes before a standing committee for action so as to, first, recommend (or report) a bill favourably in its original form; second, report the bill with proposed changes; and third, fail to report the bill (commonly known as ‘pigeonhole’). Among other duties of Congress we may include to amend the Constitution, conduct investigations, review government actions, determine Presidential disability, or impeach and try federal officials.

The United States bicameral system is “a compromise between the claims for equal representation among the states (each state is represented by two members of the Senate) and for equal representation among citizens (each member of the House of Representatives

represents roughly the same number of people). Each house has powers not held by the other, and measures need the approval of both houses to become law. Many contemporary federal systems of government have bicameral legislatures. All U.S. states except Nebraska have bicameral legislatures” (Britannica, 2004).

Historically speaking, the Congress was established by the Constitution of the United States on succeeding the unicameral congress created by the Articles of Confederation (1781).” As stated, “it consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Representation in the Senate is fixed at two senators per state. Until passage of the 17th Amendment (1913), senators were appointed by the state legislatures; since then they have been elected directly.”

On the other hand, “in the House, representation is proportional to each state’s population; total membership is restricted (since 1912) to 435 members (the total rose temporarily to 437 following the admission of Hawaii and Alaska as states in 1959). Congressional business is processed by committees: bills are debated in committees in both houses, and reconciliation of the two resulting versions takes place in a conference committee. A presidential veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in each house. Congress’s constitutional powers include the setting and collecting of taxes, borrowing money on credit, regulating commerce, coining money, declaring war, raising and supporting armies, and making all laws necessary for the execution of its powers. All finance-related legislation must originate in the House; powers exclusive to the Senate include approval of presidentia l nominations, ratification of treaties, and adjudication of impeachments.”

In short, the Constitution gives Congress all the law-making powers of the federal Government (Article 1, section 8) to deal with such issues as borrowing money, taxation, or declaring war. Other expressed powers include foreign and domestic commerce, national defense, coinage, and the courts. However, the Congress is limited by three elements: the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the power of public opinion. Judicial power: the Supreme Court.

The judicial power is represented the Supreme Court, which is in charge of interpreting the meaning of the Constitution and of federal laws. Hence the Supreme Court is said to play a major policy-making role within the national public matters by judging the acts of the other two branches, since they are interrelated. However, it must be borne in mind that the Supreme Court is different from the other two institutions in form, but not in political character or impact on society. With respect to its organization, the Supreme Court consists of several justices, which

may range from three to nine judges. Actually, the United States Supreme Court consists of nine justices, among which the Chief Justice is included. They are appointed for life by the President with the consent of the Senate, each of whose votes are of equal political weight.

The Supreme Court not only has original jurisdiction over cases including foreign ambassadors, ministers, consulas and cases to which a state is a pa rty, but also appellate jurisdiction for the lawer federal courts and from state courts of last resort if a federal question is voived. Note that there are no committees and, with rare exceptions, all the justices personally hear arguments, discuss, and vote on every case. There are namely three types of cases that may reach the Supreme Court: first, those involving litigants of different states; second, the interpretation of the federal law; and finally, the interpretation of the Constitution.

Below the Supreme Court are the so-called United States Courts of Appeal. They are defined as three types of special courts which may, first, handle property and contract damage suits against the United States (US claims Court); second, review customs rulings (US Court of International Trade); and finally, apply the Uniform Code of Military Justice (US Court of Military Appeals). In short, each state has at least one federal district court and at least one federal judge, to whom appeals from district courts are addressed.

3.2.2. State Government.

In the United States, a state government is in charge of supervising most governmental aspects, such as to maintain law and order and enforce criminal law; to protect property rights and regulate business; to operate public -welfarre programs, build and maintain most highways; to operate state parks and forests, and regulate the use of state-owned land. In addition, it has direct authority over local government, that is, counties, cities, towns, townships, villages, and school districts.

A state government has independent powers of its own that are authorized by the Constitution. Actually, the national government has its powers specified in the Constitution and the state governments retain all the remaining powers, except where the Constitution restricts them. The independent powers of a state government arose during the colonial period and increased after the Declaration of Independence (1776). As a result, each former British colony called itself a

‘state’ to indicate its sovereign position, since they were organized under a sovereign

government. Each state gave up some of its powers when the Constitution became the supreme law of the land in 1789.

The state governments, like the federal government, have three main branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.Yet, a strong tendency has developed through the years toward enlarging the activities of the national government in the United States. An increasing centralization of functions within each state has also occurred. At the same time, cooperation among all levels of government (national, state, local) has become increasingly important. Hence it is worth noting that each state has a constitution that sets forth the principles and framework of its government. Every state constitution includes a ‘Bill of Rights’, which contain provisions of finance, education and other matters. The original thirteen states had constitutions before the United States Constitution was adopted, and even today, some of them are still in use (Massachusetts and New Hampshire), though they have been amended often.

3.2.3. Local Government.

Local Government systems differ from one state to another, though they are quite similar since each state is divided into Counties (on average sixty counties to a state). Within the countries the towns have their own local governments, namely regarded as ‘cities’ (note that the amount of urban self-government bodies are defined as ‘cities,’ ‘villages,’ ‘towns,’ or ‘boroughs’). Then, a city government, with an elected mayor, council and judges, reproduces the state pattern on a similar scale. However, they also show differences in the way they describe particular systems, especially with prison issues and criminals.

Local Government is namely divided into three types: mayor-council governments, commission governments and council-manager governments. The first type refers to the elections of the mayor and the council, in which the mayor usually controls the actions of the council despite the fact that the council is nominally responsible for formulating city ordinances (i.e. Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle).

Regarding the second type, commission governments are made up by a number of commissioners who are elected by local citizens. These commissioners serve as heads of a city department, in which the presiding commissioner is generally the mayor (i.e. Tulsa, Otila, Salt Lake City, Utah). Finally, the council-manager type refers to an elected council which hires a city manager to administer the city departments. In this type, the mayor, elected by the council simply chairs it and officiates at important functions (i.e. Des Moines, Iowa, Cincinnati, Ohio).

3.3. Political parties and electoral system.

3.3.1. Political parties: two-party system.

Following the website wikipedia (2004), “political parties of the United States traditionally divide the available spectrum of choices into two camps. The first is known as the “major parties” and the second as the “third parties” camp. This is due to the fact that the United States has a two-party system, with the two largest centrist parties dividing the vote between themselves in the national elections. This is partly a consequence of the first-past-the post election system, but also due to restrictive ballot access laws imposed on third parties.”

“Many third parties throughout U.S. history have achieved regional success and some (notably the Prohibition Party and the Socialist Party) have had major portions of their platforms incorporated into the “major parties” platforms. While only the Republican Party has gone on to become a dominant player in American political life, the overall political platforms of several third parties have taken root in the American political landscape.” So, among the major parties, we include the Democratic Party, founded in the 1820s and 1830s, and the Republican Party, founded in 1854. Democratic Party.

Following the website wikipedia (2004), the Democratic Party is a United States political party which was opposed chiefly by the Whig Party from 1833 to 1856, and from 1856 onward its main opposition has come from the Republican Party. The symbol of the party is a stylized donkey in red, white and blue, which appeared for the first time in a political cartoon in Harper’s Weekly titled ‘A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion’ (by Thomas Nast) on January 15,

1870. Yet, it has never been officially adopted as the party’s logo.

Nowadays, “the Democratic National Committee (DNC) of the United States provides national leadership for the United States Democratic Party. It is responsible for developing and promoting the Democratic political platform, as well as coordinating fundraising and election strategy. There are similar committees in every U.S. state and most U.S. Counties (though in some states, party organization lower than state-level is arranged by legislative districts). It can be considered the counterpart of the Republican National Committee.

The most prominent Democratic -Party figures are Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), Martin Van

Buren (1837- 1841), James Knox Polk (1845- 1849), Franklin Pierce (1853-1857), James

Buchanan (1857- 1861), Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897), Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933- 1945), Harry S. Truman (1945-1953), John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), Lyndon Johnson (1963- 1969), Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), and more recently, Bill Clinton (1993-2001).

Historically speaking, and following the website wikipedia (2004), this party traces “its origin to the Democratic -Republican Party founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1793. The Democratic Party itself was formed from a faction of the Democratic -Republicans, led by Andrew Jackson. Following his defeat in the election of 1824, despite having a majority of the popular vote, Andrew Jackson set about building a political coalition strong enough to defeat John Quincy Adams in the election of 1828. The coalition that he built was the foundation of the subsequent Democratic party.”

“In the 1850s, following the disintegration of the Whig Party, the southern wing of the Democratic Party became increasingly associated with the continuation and expansion of slavery, in opposition of the newly formed Republican Party. Democrats in the northern states opposed this new trend, and at the 1860 nominating convention the party split and nominated two candidates. As a result, the Democrats went down in defeat – part of the chain of events leading up to the Civil War. After the war, the Democrats were a shattered party, but eventually gathered enough support to elect reform candidate Grover Cleveland to two terms in the presidency.

In 1896 the Democrats chose William Jennings Bryan over Cleveland as their candidate, who then lost to William McKinley. The Democrats did not regain the presidency until Taft and Roosevelt split the Republican vote and Woodrow Wilson won with a modest plurality in 1912. The Republicans again took the lead in 1920 by championing laissez-faire regulatory policies. The stock market crash in 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression set the stage for a more interventionist government and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) won a landslide election in

1932, campaigning on a platform of “relief, recovery, and reform”.”

“FDR’s New Deal programs focused on job-creation through public works projects as well as on social welfare programs such as Social Security. The political coalition of labor unions, minorities, liberals, and southern whites (the New Deal Coalition) allowed the Democrats to control the government for much of the next 30 years, until the issue of civil rights divided conservative southern whites from the rest of the party.”

“The political pendulum swung away from the Democrats with the election of Republican president Ronald Reagan in 1980. The country seemed ready for political change after a decade of poor economic performance and the long Iranian hostage crisis in the last year of the Carter

administration. Riding Reagan’s coattails, the Republican Party successfully positioned itself as the party of national strength, gaining 34 seats in the House and gaining control of the Senate for the first time since 1955.”

“The Democratic Leadership Council organized by elected Democratic leaders has in recent years worked to position the Party towards a centrist position. It still retains a powerful base of left-of-center supporters however, as like the Republicans, the Democrats are generally a catch all party with widespread appeal to most opponents of the Republicans. This includes organized labour, educators, environmentalists, gays, pro-choicers, and other opponents of the social convervatism practiced by many Republicans. In the 1990s the Democratic Party re-invigorated itself by providing a successful roadmap to economic growth. Led by Bill Clinton, the Democrats championed a balanced federal budget and job growth through a strong economy. Labor unions, which had been steadily losing membership since the 1960s, found they had also lost political clout inside the Democratic Party: Clinton enacted the NAFTA free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico over the strong objection of the unions.”

More recently, “in the 2000 Presidential election, some progressives bolted the party to support the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, which took votes away from Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in many traditionally liberal states; a factor some observers cite as the cause for his defeat. More observers agree however that the Supreme Court’s party line decision interpreting the hotly disputed Florida election returns in favor of George W. Bush explains Gore’s defeat. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, public opinion in the United States turned bellicose. Democrats found themselves marginalized in national security debates by Republican exploitation of the new vengeful patriotism.”

“By 2004, however, Democratic prospects began to rebound in the wake of revelations about the Bush administration’s deceptive claims about the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, mismanagement and corruption in the Iraqi occupation, and photographic evidence of torture by the U.S. Army in the Abu Ghraib prison.” Republican Party.

Following the website wikipedia (2004), “the Republican Party (often GOP for Grand Old

Party) is a United States political party that was organized in Ripon, Wisconsin on February 28,

1854, as a party against the expansion of slavery. It is not to be confused with the Democratic – Republican party of Thomas Jefferson or the National Republican Party of Henry Clay.” The official symbol of the Republican Party is a stylized elephant in red, white and blue. Although

the elephant had occasionally been associated with the party earlier, the first important use of this symbol appeared in the same cartoon as the Democratic Party’s symbol, in the Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874.

Following the website wikipedia (2004), “the Republican National Committee (RNC) of the United States provides national leadership for the United States Republican Party. It is responsible for developing and promoting the Republican political platform, as well as coordinating fundraising and election strategy. There are similar committees in every U.S. state and most U.S. Counties (though in some states, party organization lower than state-level is arranged by legislative districts). It can be considered the counterpart of the Democratic National Committee. The chairman of the RNC, since July, 2003, is Ed Gillespie .”

Among the Republican-Party Presidents we find Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877), Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), James Garfield (1881), Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885), Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893), William McKinley (1897- 1901), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), William Howard Taft (1909-1913), Warren G. Harding (1921-1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929), Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), Richard Nixon (1969- 1974), Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977), Ronald Reagan (1981-

1989), George H. W. Bush (1989-1993), and currently, George W. Bush (2001-present).

Historically speaking, the first convention of the U.S. Republican Party took place on July 6,

1854, in Jackson, Michigan. Many of its initial policies were inspired by the defunct Whig Party and, since its inception, its chief opponent has been the Democratic Party. Two years later, “John C. Frémont ran as the first Republican for President in 1856, using the political slogan: “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont.” The party grew especially rapidly in Northeastern and Midwestern states, where slavery had long been prohibited, culminating in a sweep of victories in the Northern states and the election of Lincoln in 1860, ending 60 years of dominance by Southern Democrats and ushering in a new era of Republican dominance based in the industrial north.”

“With the end of the Civil War cam e the upheavals of Reconstruction under Republican presidents Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant. For a brief period, Republicans assumed control of Southern politics, forcing drastic reforms and frequently giving former slaves positions in government. Reconstruction came to an end with the electon of Rutherford B. Hayes through the Compromise of 1877. Though states’ rights was a cause of both Northern and Southern states before the War, control of the federal government led the Republican Party down a national line. The patriotic unity that developed in the North because of the war led to a string of military men as President, and an era of international expansion and domestic protectionism.”

“As the rural Northern antebellum, economy mushroomed with industry and immigration, supporting invention and business became the hallmarks of Republican policy proposals. From the Reconstruction era up to the turn of the century, the Republicans benefitted from the Democrats’ association with the Confederacy and dominated national politics – albeit with strong competition from the Democrats during the 1880s especially. With the two-term presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the party became known for its strong advocacy of commerce,

industry, and veterans’ rights, which continued through the end of the 19th century.”

“The progressive, protectionist, political and beloved William McKinley was the last Civil War veteran elected President and embodied the Republican ideals of economic progress, invention, education, and patriotism. After McKinley’s assassination, President Roosevelt tapped McKinley’s Industrial Commission for his trust-busting ideas and continued the federal and nationalist policies of his predecessor. Roosevelt decided not to run again in 1908 and chose William Howard Taft to replace him, but the widening division between progressive and conservative forces in the party resulted in a third- party candidacy for Roosevelt on the United States Progressive Party, or ‘Bull Moose’ ticket in the election of 1912. He beat Taft, but the split in the Republican vote resulted in a decisive victory for Democrat Woodrow Wilson, temporarily interrupting the Republican era.”

“Subsequent years saw the party firmly committed to laissez-faire economics, but the Great Depression cost it the presidency with the U.S. presidential election, 1932 landslide election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition controlled American politics for the next three decades, excepting the two-term presidency of World War Two General Dwight Eisenhower. The post-war emergence of the United States as one of two superpowers and rapid social change caused the Republican Party to divide into a conservative faction (dominant in the West) and a liberal faction (dominant in New England) –combined with a residual base of inherited Midwestern Republicanism active throughout the century.”

“Goldwater’s electoral success in the Souther states, and Nixon’s successful Southern strategy four years later represented a significant political change, as Southern white protestants began moving into the party, largely in reaction to Democrats’ support for the Civil Rights Movement. Simultaneously, the remaining pockets of liberal Republicanism in the northeast died out as the region turned solidly Democratic. Richard Nixon’s political disgrace in the Watergate Scandal, revelations that he had ordered massive, illegal bombing of Cambodia, and the humilitating military debacle of the end of the Vietnam War led to the election of centrist Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.”

“In turn, Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980 election due to disappointing economic performance and public frustration over the long hostage drama in the U.S. Embassy in Iran. In

the emerging Republican majority, Kevin Phillips, then a Nixon strategist, argued (based on the

1968 election results) that support from Southern whites and growth in the Sun Belt, among other factors, was driving an enduring Republican electoral realignment. While his predictions were overstated, the trends he described may be seen in the Goldwater-inspired candidacy, the

1980 election of Ronald Reagan, and the Gingrich-led “Republican Revolution” of 1994. The latter was the first time in 40 years that the Republicans secured control of both houses of Congress.”

“That year, the GOP campaigned on a platform of major reforms of government with measures, such as a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and welfare reform. These measures and others formed the famous Contract with America, which was passed by Congress. Democratic President Bill Clinton vetoed many of the initiatives, with welfare reform as a notable exception. Republican House Members also backtracked on one of the popular proposals–adoption of term limits. In 1995, a budget battle with Clinton led to the brief shutdown of the federal government, an event which contributed to Clinton’s victory in the 1996 election.”

“With the election of George W. Bush in 2000, the Republican party controlled both the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since 1952. Conservative commentators speculate, and Republicans hope, that this may constitute a permanent partisan realignment. The Republican Party solidified its Congressional margins in the 2002 midterm elections, bucking the historic trend. It marked just the third time since the Civil War that the party in control of the White House gained seats in both houses of Congress in a midterm election (others were 1902 and 1934).”

3.3.2. The electoral system.

As stated above, the “supreme law of the land,” that is, the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution is confirmed and strengthened by the Supreme Court, but final authority is vested in the American people, who can change the fundamental law, if they wish, by amending the Constitution or, in theory at least, by drafting a new one. Actually, the people do not exercise their authority directly since they delegate the day-to-day business of government to public officials, both elected and appointed.

Following the website wikipedia (2004), “the power of public officials is limited under the Constitution. Their public actions must conform to the Constitution and to the laws made in accordance with the Constitution. Elected officials can only continue in office if they stand for

re-election at periodic intervals (when their records are subject to intensive public scrutiny), and are re-elected. Appointed officials serve at the pleasure of the person or authority who appointed them, and may be removed at any time. The exception to this practice is the lifetime appointment by the President of justices of the Supreme Court and other federal judges, so that they may be free of political obligations or influence.”

“Most commonly, the American people express their will through the ballot box. The Constitution, however, does make provision for the removal of a public official from office, in cases of extreme misconduct or malfeasance, by the process of impeachment. Article II, Section

4 reads: “The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be

removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” So, “impeachment is a charge of misconduct brought against a government official by a legislative body; it does not -as is commonly thought- include subsequent conviction on such charges.

“As set forth in the Constitution, the House of Representatives must bring charges of misconduct by voting articles of impeachment. The accused official is then tried in the Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding at the trial. Impeachment is considered a drastic measure, one that has been used on only rare occasions in the United States. Since 1797, the House of Representatives has voted articles of impeachment against 15 federal officials: two presidents, one cabinet member, one justice of the Supreme Court, and eleven federal judges. Of those impeached, the Senate has convicted only seven–less than half–and all of them judges.”

Some examples of impeachment include that of President Andrew Johnson in 1868, who “was impeached over issues relating to the proper treatment of the defeated Confederate states following the American Civil War. The Senate, however, fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority necessary for conviction, and Johnson completed his full term in office. Also, in 1974, as a result of the Watergate affair, President Richard Nixon resigned from office after the Judiciary Committee of the House recommended impeachment, but before the full House of Representatives could vote on articles of impeachment.”

More recently, “in 1998, President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. After a trial, the Senate acquitted Clinton on both charges, voting not guilty on perjury by a margin of 55-45 and dividing evenly at 50-50 on obstruction of justice. To remove the president from office would have required a guilty verdict by a super-majority of 67 votes on either charge in the 100-member Senate.”

“Regarding the United States presidential elections, these are held every four years through the

United States Electoral College. The President and the Vice President are the only two

nationally elected officials in the United States. (Legislators are elected on a state-by-state basis; other executive officers and judges are appointed.) Originally, electors voted for two people for President. The votes were tallied and the person receiving the greatest number of votes (provided that such a number was a majority of electors) would be President, while the individual who was in second place became Vice President.”

“The ratification of Amendment XII in 1804 clarified the electoral process by directing the electors to use separate ballots to vote for the President and Vice President. To be elected, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes, or if no candidate receives a majority, the President and Vice President are chosen by the House of Representatives and Senate respectively as necessary. Since 1937, with the ratification of Amendment XX, a newly-elected President, or a re-elected incumbent, is sworn in (usually by the Chief Justice) on January 20 of the year following the election, an event called Inauguration Day.”

“The modern Presidential election process begins with the primary elections, during which the major parties (currently the Democrats and the Republicans) select a nominee to unite behind; the nominee in turn selects a running mate to join him on the ticket as the Vice Presidential candidate. The two major candidates then face off in the general election, usually participating in nationally televised debates at least twice before Election Day and campaigning across the country to explain their views and plans to the voters. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states, through frequent visits and mass media advertising drives.”

Moreover, “in accordance with Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 8 of the Constitution, upon entering office, the President must repeat the following oath or affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Furthermore, ‘So help me’ is the sentence with which the oath is traditionally ended as well as “So help me God,” although the former is linked to religious reasons.”


History is one of the most salient aspects of educational activity since it is going on for most of the time. Yet, what do students know about the United States history in this period and in particular about North American politics? At this point it makes sense to examine the political background of the United States within its history so as to provide an appropriate context for

current politicians who are familiar to students through the media in their own country. However, the question is ‘How much do students know about the North American political system?’ or ‘How can we make American politics relevant to students in the classroom?’

In fact, Spanish students are expected to know about the political field of the United States and its influence in the world through the image of outstanding political figures, such as Bill Clinton or George Bush at present in relation to the Spanish ones. Currently, action research groups attempt to bring about change in classroom learning and teaching through a focus on social events under two premises. First, because they believe learning is an integral aspect of any form of activity and second, because education at all levels must be conceived in terms of history. The basis for these assumptions is to be found in an attempt, through the use of historical events, to develop understanding of students’ shared but diverse social and physical environment.

Learning involves a process of transformation of participation itself which has far reaching implications on the role of the teacher in the teaching- learning relationship. This means that historical events, for our purposes, political ones, are an analytic tool when making students aware of the relevance of U.S. politics in the world, and in particular, in Spain regarding current events (Aznar and Bush’s friendship). Moreover, today’s new technologies (the Internet, DVD, videocamera) and the media (TV, radio, cinema) may provide a new direction to language teaching as they set more appropriate context for students to get key information.

So, motivation and involvement are enhanced by means of new technologies and the media. Hence the history of the period may be approched in terms of films and drama representations in class, among others, and in this case, by means of books, newspapers, magazines or TV news, among others. But how do twenty-first-century U.S. politics tie in with the new curriculum? Spanish students are expected to know about the international panorama and the influence of the U.S. political system in Europe, regarding its main policy or the main political figures. The success partly lies in making this reality closer to students so as to recreate as much as possible the whole social and political environment in the classroom. Some of this motivational force is brought about by eliciting information about recent events in which the United States has been involved.

Hence it makes sense to examine relevant figures such as George Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan or George Bush among others so as to compare them with the corresponding figures in Spain and their roles in both U.S. and Spanish politics. This is to be achieved within the framework of the European Council (1998) and, in particular, the Spanish

Educational System which establishes a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages where students are intended to locate social, political and cultural events within a particular historical period (B.O.E., 2004).

In short, the knowledge about U.S. culture (history and literature) should become part of every literary student’s basic competence (B.O.E., 2004). There are hidden influences at work beneath the textual surface: these may be sociocultural, inter and intratextual. Students have to discover these, and wherever necessary apply them in further examination. The main aims that our currently educational system focuses on are mostly sociocultural, to facilitate the study of cultural themes, as our students must be aware of their current social and political reality within the international framework.


On reviewing the issue of Unit 64, we have tried to provide an overall view of the the United States institutions, among which we have focused on those related to North American politics, not only in terms of political basis regarding the Constitution and territorial organization, but also in terms of political powers regarding the main political bodies, that is, the President, the Congress and finally the main political parties and electoral system. In doing so, we have located the United States institutions within a historical framework and then we have offered an overview of each political body.

So, Chapter 2 has namely analysed the period which ranges from the roots of Colonial America to the establishment of the Constitution (1788) in terms of political history. So we have reviewed the political organization of Colonial America up to the Declaration of Independence (1776). Moreover, we have offered an account of the struggle for Constitution within the already independent American colonies up to the establishment of the Constitution in 1789. Then, with this background in mind in Chapter 3 we have approached the United States institutions from three main perspectives which coincide with the main issues we are going to deal with. First, the polit ical basis, that is, the Constitution on which fundamental laws are based, and the territorial organization of the United States federal system; secondly, the political powers of federal government at three different levels: the National Government regarding the executive power through the figure of the President; the legislative power through the Congress; and finally, the judicial power through the Supreme Court. Then, we have also examined the State Government and the Municipial Government.

Finally, we approach the organization of political parties and the electoral system, by examining the main political parties within the US two-party system, that is, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party; and the US electoral system. Then, Chapter 4 will be devoted to the main educational implications in language teaching regarding the introduction of this issue in the classroom setting. Chapter 5 will offer a conclusion to broadly overview our present study, and Chapter 6 will include all the bibliographical references used to develop this account of the U.S. institutions.

So far, we have attempted to provide the reader in this presentation with a historical, social and cultural background on the U.S. political panorama throughtout the centuries. This information is relevant for language learners, even ESO and Bachillerato students, who do not automatically establish similiarities between U.S. and Spanish political reality. So, learners need to have these associations brought to their attention in cross-curricular settings through the media. As we have seen, understanding how history reflects the main events of a country is important to students, who are expected to be aware of the richness of North American culture at a general level.


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