<Standard 5.23................................................................................................................................................Standard 5.25>

Describe the basic political principles of American democracy and explain how the Constitution and the Bill of Rights reflect and preserve these principles.

Focus Question: How does the Constitution and the Bill of Rights express and sustain American democracy?

Postage Stamp, 1977
Postage Stamp, 1977

Topics on the Page

A. individual rights and responsibilities

B. equality

C. the rule of law

D. limited government

E. representative democracy

rotating gif.gifGo to USI.3, USI.9 and USG.2.1 for material on the creation of the Constitution and the passage of the Bill of Rights. Also see Grade 5.23.

game_icon.svg.pngConstitute: The World's Constitutions to Read, Search and Compare Read the constitutions of 193 constitutions covering nearly every independent nation in the world as of September 2013.

A. Individual rights and responsibilities

external image Freedom_of_Thought_Ben_Franklin.jpg

The Bill of Rights (1789) guaranteed the essential rights and liberties of every citizen. It was not part of the original Constitution of 1787.

From the National Archives:
"During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered."
Power is reserved to the people. The Bill of Rights stands as a platform for American democracy and freedom.

The Constitution does not impose many responsibilities of the individual but does assume some civil duties. These include:

  • It is the responsibility of the people to obey the laws as written in the Constitution.
  • It is also the responsibility of the people to remain loyal to the United States. Those who do not adhere to this responsibility could be tried for treason.
  • Citizens are responsible to serve as impartial jurors if called upon.
  • The Constitution establishes an army and navy and provides the Congress with the power to raise armies. It is the responsibility of the people to serve if called upon.
  • It is a responsibility of people over 18 who are eligible to vote to do so.

B. Equality

  • The word "equality" did not appear in the Constitution of 1787 or the Bill of Rights in 1789.
  • The Constitution guaranteed rule of law to all citizens and provided security of liberty under the law.
  • The existence of slavery and gender inequalities contradicted the idea of equal rights.
  • The 13th Amendment (1865) banned slavery.
  • The 14th Amendment (1868) guaranteed equal rights of citizenship to all Americans, with the special intention of protecting the rights of former slaves.
  • The 15th Amendment (1870) provided voting rights of all citizens.
  • Thereby, it was not until after the Civil War that equality was deliberately addressed in the Constitution.

C. The rule of law

primary_sources.PNGTaken from Alexander Hamilton's Letter #33 of "The Federalist Papers": "If individuals enter into a state of society, the laws of that society must be the supreme regulator of their conduct."

D. Limited government

  • The national government is only allowed some powers, but not supremacy.
  • In the United States Constitution, limited government relates to free markets and classical liberalism- drawing on Adam Smith's philosophy of the "invisible hand" and self-regulating economies.
  • Addressed in the 9th and 10th amendments of the Bill of Rights, which state that the rights of people do not have to be expressly written in the constitution and that delegated powers of the Federal government are only to be performed if expressly mentioned in the Constitution.
  • The Constitution also limits government in other key areas, such as: conscience, expression, and association.

E. Representative democracy

external image constcon.jpg
Multimedia.pngAn illustrated approach to Representative Democracy
  • A principle of elected people representing a group of people.
  • Key element of the presidential system of the United States.
  • The representative is an independent ruling body who acts on behalf of the people's best interests.
  • This is a bottom-up approach to society.


Bill of Rights origin

Democratic Values — Liberty, Equality, Justice