UNIT ONE: Constitutional Underpinnings 

The study of modern politics in the United States requires students to examine the kind of government established by the Constitution, paying particular attention to federalism, the separation of powers, and checks and balances.

 Understanding these developments involves both knowledge of the historical situation at the time of the Constitutional Convention and an awareness of the ideological and philosophical traditions on which the framers drew. Such understanding addresses specific concerns of the framers: for example, why did Madison fear factions? What were the reasons for the swift adoption of the Bill of Rights? Familiarity with the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of key provisions of the Constitution will aid student understanding of theoretical and practical features of federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances. Students should be familiar with a variety of theoretical perspectives relating to the Constitution, such as democratic theory, theories of republican government, pluralism, and elitism.

Chapter 1 Learning Objectives:

  • Define the fundamental concepts of government, politics, and public policy and explain how each is interrelated.
  • Identify and explain the functions of government as outlined in the preamble to the Constitution.
  • Identify the six basic concepts of the policymaking system and explain how each impacts the process.
  • Identify the four policymaking institutions in America.
  • Identify, define and explain the three contemporary theories of American democracy.
  • Identify and explain the five criteria essential for an ideal democracy.
  • Be able to identify, define, and explain the key terms and concepts identified below.
  • Chapter One (pp. 1-27) “American Government: Roots, Context and Culture 

    1. Identify, define, and explain the key terms and concepts identified above.
    2. Explain the concept of a “State” and the characteristics thereof. 
    3. What are the policymaking institutions and their functions at the national level? 
    4. Identify and explain the six purposes of government. 
    5. Identify the six key features that are found in a policymaking system and explain the process in which they interact/connect.
    6. What would change a government’s policy agenda?
    7. Identify and define the five basic ideals of the democratic process. Refer to the notes given in class. Do NOT use the descriptions in your textbook.
    8. Identify the three contemporary theories of American Democracy and explain who holds the power and how policy is made. 

      Chapter 2 Learning Objectives:

  • Identify the philosophers that influenced the Founding Fathers and explain their ideals.
  • Explain the events that led to our present day Constitution beginning with the British colonies, and including the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.
  • Evaluate Federalist Papers 10, 51, and 78 and explain their impact on present day government.
  • Evaluate how issues of equality and economic needs were addressed by the Founding Fathers.
  • Describe the “Madisonian model” and explain how it is incorporated within the Constitution.
  • Describe the major issues between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists in the debates over ratification of the Constitution.
  • Explain how constitutional changes – both formal and informal – continue to shape and alter the Madisonian system.
  • Evaluate how the Constitution affects the scope of government in America.
  • Chapter 2 “The Constitution” pp. 28-63

  1. Identify, define, and explain the key terms and concepts identified above. 
  2. Explain the three components of the Declaration of Independence.
  3. How did Locke’s philosophy impact Jefferson’s writings?
  4. What system of government did the framers devise after winning the revolution? 
  5. Explain four powers under the Articles of Confederation.  
  6. Explain four major weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.
  7. What three “compromises” resolved the equality issue in the Constitution?
  8. Who would determine if one could vote? 
  9. Why did the framers spend little time dealing with protecting individual rights?
  10. Provide three examples of Checks and Balances. 
  11. How was ratification of the Constitution different from ratification of the Articles? 
  12. Who ratified the constitution? 
  13. What is the two-part process to amending the Constitution?  How many amendments have been added to the Constitution? 
  14. Explain the five ways to “informally” amend the constitution (as identified in the lecture)?

    Chapter 3 Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the three basic forms of governmental structures: federalism, unitary, and confederacy.
  • Explain why the relationship of local governments to the states is considered to be a unitary.
  • Identify the ways in which the Constitution determines the powers of state and national governments.
  • Evaluate how contrasting interpretations of the supremacy clause and the Tenth Amendment lead to divergent views of the scope of state and national powers.
  • Describe how the Supreme Court set forth the principle of implied powers in the McCulloch v. Maryland case.
  • Identify and analyze the clauses in the Constitution that define the obligations that each state has to every other state.
  • Describe fiscal federalism and assess the role that federal money plays in state policies.
  • Summarize the characteristics of categorical grants and blocks grants, and examine the effects they have on decision-making at the state and local levels.
  • Discuss how underfunded and unfunded mandates burden state governments.
  • Analyze the ways in which American federalism has a positive and negative effect on democracy.

Chapter 3 “FederalismPg. 62-89

  1. Identify, define, and explain the key terms and concepts identified above. 
  2. How is a federal system different from a unitary system and a confederate system when it comes to defining location of power: 




    Central Gov’t

    State Gov’t

  3. In what ways does federalism decentralize politics and policies? 
  4. What major court case established implied powers? 
  5. States are not entities of themselves. Explain three obligations that they have to each other? 
  6. Cite four powers that are “reserved” for the states. 
  7. What powers are shared or “concurrent” powers between the state and national government? 
  8. Explain three policy areas where cooperative federalism has occurred? 
  9. Why has the federal government attempted to return domestic policy back to the states? 
  10. Why don’t state governments approve of unfunded mandates?

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