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Democratic ideals of US government

Ideas of natural rights, social contract, popular sovereignty, limited government and republicanism and their influence on the foundation of the United States of America.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user Sunshine Chen
    If the James Madison wanted a bigger variety of ideas and no oppression of the minority, why are there only 2 major political parties in the US?
    (15 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Alexander Wu
      There’s something called Duverger’s law: in a system of voting where the winner takes all, there physically cannot be more than two major parties. Think: suppose there’s the liberal party, which is even more liberal than the democratic party. The liberal party is still very small but you love the party. Should you vote for them? If you do, there’ll be one less vote for the democrats, and the republicans are more likely to win, because the liberal party is small and unlikely to win either way. It would be in your best interest to vote democrat, because although you prefer liberal, they will probably not win and you want to prevent the republicans from winning
      (30 votes)
  • mr pants green style avatar for user enolam
    I've heard of layer cake federalism and marble cake federalism. Can anyone explain the difference between the two?
    (4 votes)
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    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user dreamwriter100601
      Layer cake federalism is the same as dual federalism where the state/local powers are distinguishable from the national powers. It is supposed to resemble a layer cake where the flavors are separate.
      On the other hand, marble cake federalism is also known as cooperative federalism. The powers of states/localities and the national government are mixed. This is supposed to resemble a marble cake in which clear lines of separation do not exist.
      Hope this helps!
      (15 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Sunshine Chen
    What was James Madison's warrant for a republic better controls the effects of factions?
    (4 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user leahmarquez
      From the author:Most of the framers agreed that a republic was the best form of government (remember that line: "No taxation without representation!"). They might have preferred a republic because they were revolting against a monarchy that did not give them representation in government.

      In Federalist 10, James Madison argues that factions are inevitable, regardless of the size of government. People aren't always going to agree and will form groups with people who do agree with them.
      Madison argues that a large republic in which power is vested in a strong federal government (like in the Constitution) can control those factions from getting out of hand. Imagine for a second, that there are two factions: one of only right-handed people and another of only left-handed people. There are more right-handed people than left-handed people, making it possible for the right-handed people to make laws that may hurt left-handed people's quality of life or their opportunities.

      Madison argues that in a large republic, the government can protect those factions that are not in the majority. With a small federal government, there would be no one to protect these small groups from violations from the majority. If you want to learn more about Madison thoughts in Federalist no. 10, watch this video: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-us-government-and-politics/foundations-of-american-democracy/government-power-and-individual-rights/v/federalist-papers-10-part-1
      (9 votes)
  • mr pink red style avatar for user Christian
    Why are the two main political parties in the US today known as Democrats and Republican? Do they represent what their namesake suggests-- Democracy vs Republicanism?
    (6 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user 144086
      I'm not completely sure about the origin of their names. However, I know that the modern democratic party was founded by president Andrew Jackson. While the Republican Party was founded in about 1854, but really started growing prominence when Abraham Lincoln ran for president as a Republican and won in 1860.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Joshua Cheney
    speaking of rights, limited gov. v.s. all powerful gov. which is the best for the people? when the may not know what's best for themselves and when should either of these governments decide when and when not these people know what's best for themselves? or more specifically, when the does the people limit the government that decides what's good for the people or where these lines of what's best for us is drawn?
    (5 votes)
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    • hopper cool style avatar for user Iron Programming
      Hi Joshua,

      You have very good questions. The whole idea behind a representative democracy (republic) is to have the people vote for officials who have sufficient time and resources to make complex decisions. This makes the democracy less direct, but more reasonable and logical. Additionally, there are other safeguards that the founders installed to protect against a "mobocracy", which is basically a democracy where the people mob rule to oppress certain groups. In fact, the Electoral College (despised by many Americans) was created for this purpose. The Founders created so that in the case where the people voted for an elected official who was extremely "dangerous" then the Electors could prevent this by not casting their votes for the candidate. Now the Electors have always voted for the popular vote in their state, and in fact, I don't think that the Electors could not vote for the popular vote anymore as the precedent and expectation for them is extremely strong.

      Additionally, the senators were originally elected by state legislatures, providing an additional guard against mobocracies, but removing the government farther from the people. In the 17th Amendment, Americans decided that they preferred a more democratic and limited government.

      So there are lots of different aspects to a government that can make it more limited or more efficient. Every society/government must decide on a tradeoff between government efficiency and popular sovereignty. No government is inherently "evil" but as the Founders did when they created their government, we should look to history and create the government that best protects the people.

      Hope this helps.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user TYLER625
    what year was the Declaration of indenpendce ?
    (4 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user ABC
    If the "natural rights" should never be taken away, how to explain criminal penalties, such as capital punishment or pecuniary penalty? Is there any other theory to correct it? Thanks!
    (4 votes)
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  • primosaur sapling style avatar for user AndoresuSosustita
    what about a constitutional republic,? I heard many people calling america a constitutional republic
    (4 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Hypernova Solaris
      Actually, I don't think there really is a difference. America is a democratic republic, where officials, voted in by the people, elect candidates for higher offices. Constitutional republic is simply the above, only further implying that the republic has rules and procedures set down by a Constitution. The same is true of a constitutional monarchy, such as the UK, except there is a king/queen (which America, obviously, doesn't have).
      (4 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Kathryn
    What is Popular Sovereignty in a greater definition?
    Does the U.S constitution embody purposes, values, and principles in democracy?
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Emi Butler
    If Life, Liberty and Property were all rights back then in the late 1800's or so, why did they have Death Row?
    (3 votes)
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Video transcript

- [Instructor] What we're gonna do in this video is discuss some of the foundational ideas for the United States of America. And we could start at the most foundational of ideas and that's the notion of natural rights. John Locke, one of the significant Enlightenment thinkers describes rights like life, liberty and you might expect me to say pursuit of happiness, which is what we see in the Declaration of Independence, but John Locke refers to life, liberty and property. But even though his version is a little bit different than what ends up in the Declaration of Independence, most historians believe that Thomas Jefferson was heavily influenced by John Locke's idea of natural rights when Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. And the idea here is that these are rights that people should be born with, that should never be taken away from them. And in the video on social contract, we talk about the idea of why someone would form a government. They would form a government, they would give some rights to a government in order to protect these basic rights, things like life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness. And so you might have some other rights that one would say in a state of nature people might have, the right to do physical harm on others, the right to imprison others, the right to tax others. But in a social contract, we decide, hey, instead of everyone trying to figure out things on their own, let's give these rights to a government and in exchange, the government should protect all of these rights for the individuals. And, once again, this is review from the social contract video. This is a notion of a social contract. Now the next question is, all right, so if we are willing to engage in the social contract with a government, what type of a government should it be? And throughout most of human history, governments have been things like monarchies, where you have a single individual, maybe a king or queen, an emperor some type of a conqueror, who is the sovereign, who rules over the state. But you could have, you could instead of having one, you could have a small group, which would be an oligarchy, or you could go to the other extreme, where the people are sovereign. And the word for that, and this is a key idea for the United States, is popular, popular sovereignty, the people are sovereign. The government is accountable to the people. Sometimes this could be referred to as democracy. Now the Founding Fathers of the United States were a little bit suspicious of pure democracy or direct popular sovereignty. They were afraid that if you start having factions and a majority faction were to come to power, if you have a straight democracy, then they might use that power to strip some of the natural rights of say their political enemies or people that they just don't agree with. And so you have this other idea of limited government. Limited government. And some of the key things that limit the government, you could just say generally the rule of law, things like the Constitution, including how the government is structured, the checks and balances in it. The Bill of Rights, clearly is a check on government. And you don't just have limited government when you have a democracy, you could have a limited government even in a monarchy. The United Kingdom is officially a constitutional monarchy, where you have a monarch who's sovereign, has very limited powers because of things like the rule of law. Now the last idea, that we're gonna talk about in this video, is the notion of a republic, or the idea of republicanism. Because the Founding Fathers didn't actually like calling the United States a democracy. Instead, they favored calling it a republic. And the word republic can mean different things to different people today, depending on what context you use. To some folks, today, it means any form of government that's not a monarchy. To other folks it means, okay, you have a democracy, you have popular sovereignty, but you have limited government. You still have rights that protect minorities, rights that make sure that even if people are not in the majority, they are protected. To the Founding Fathers, they had a version of this notion of republic. They did view a republic as something that would prevent the passions of an unfettered pure democracy. But they thought it came mainly by having a representative democracy, that if you had a smaller group of elected representatives, as opposed to everyone getting involved in every issue, that they could calm the passions of the crowds, so to speak. They also thought it was logistically more practical. Sure, ancient Athens could have something closer to a pure democracy, but that was just a small city state. Well, here, even the 13 colonies were significantly more vast, and obviously the United States would become even more vast than that. And to appreciate this notion of republic, right over here is a quote from James Madison in The Federalist Papers, Number 10. And just for some context on the what The Federalist Papers even were, as we mentioned, shortly after the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers start drafting the Articles of Confederation. They go into effect in 1781. But this is really a loose confederation of states that each, individually, think of themselves as sovereign states. And it's really a pact that they'll engage in war together, diplomacy together, free trade. But you have Shays's Rebellion, and it's very clear, and we'll talk about this in other videos, that the Articles of Confederation are not powerful enough. And so you have a constitutional convention in mid 1787, in which James Madison is a central figure. Some people discuss him as the Father of the US Constitution. They draft what is today the Constitution, but then they have to sell it to the states in order for it to be ratified. Alexander Hamilton has the idea of, "Hey, why don't we publish a series of papers?' And they eventually publish 85 papers, which will collectively be known as The Federalist Papers. And Hamilton writes most of them, but he also recruits James Madison and John Jay. And Federalist Papers, Number 10, which is perhaps the most famous, is James Madison's discussion of how do you avoid factions taking over the government and doing things that are not in the interest of the people. And I encourage you to read all of Federalist Papers, Number 10. But I have a very small quote here. And this is James Madisons' notion of what a republic was, and he thought the United States should be republic. "The two great points of difference "between a democracy and a republic are: "First, the delegation of government in the latter," so he's talking about a republic, "to a small number of citizens elected by the rest." So he's really talking about representative democracy. But he thought this was a key component of being a republic. "Secondly, the greater number of citizens "and greater sphere of country "over which the latter may be extended." That only through a representative government could you actually govern over 13 colonies, or even beyond 13 colonies. And that's why, today, obviously you might've had something closer to a pure democracy in ancient Athens, which was a city state. But, today, almost any democracy is some form of representative democracy, which James Madison would consider to be a republic. But if you wanted to classify the United States today, a fair term might be it is a democratic republic. You definitely have popular sovereignty, the people are considered sovereign, but they don't rule directly, they rule through representatives, which by Madison's definition would make it a republic. So now that you're armed with some of these basic ideas, I encourage you to engage even more with some of the founding documents for the United States. And on top of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, I encourage you to read as many of the Federalist Papers as possible, because it's really an explanation of the ideas behind the US Constitution. And you should start with Federalist Papers, Number 10. As you'll see, James Madison is quite insightful. He predicts how factions might form, how parties might form, and not always do things in the interest of its people. But I'll leave you decide whether he was right, whether forming a republic helps this notion of factionalism. And look at the world that we are in today and think about whether James Madison would be happy, or maybe he would be a little bit uncertain about how things turned out.