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Ideals of democracy: lesson overview

AP.GOPO:
LOR‑1 (EU)
,
LOR‑1.A (LO)
,
LOR‑1.A.1 (EK)
,
LOR‑1.A.2 (EK)
A high-level overview of the ideas behind the US governmental system. 
The US government is based on ideas of limited government, including natural rights, popular sovereignty, republicanism, and social contract. These ideas are reflected in two of the United States’ foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Key terms

TermDefinition
Constitutional ConventionAlso called the Philadelphia Convention. A meeting of delegates from 12 of the 13 states to revise or replace the Articles of Confederation with a new Constitution featuring a stronger central government.
limited governmentA political system in which the government’s power is restricted by laws or a written Constitution.
natural rightsThe right to life, liberty, and property, which no government may take away.
republicanismThe principle of governing through elected representatives.
social contractAn agreement between people and government in which citizens consent to be governed so long as the government protects their natural rights.

People to know

PersonContribution
John AdamsMassachusetts statesman and leader in the movement for American independence. Adams aided Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence.
Ben FranklinPennsylvania statesman and leader in the movement for American independence. Franklin aided Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence.
Alexander HamiltonNew York statesman who promoted replacing the Articles of Confederation with a stronger central government. He coauthored the Federalist Papers, which argued in favor of ratifying the Constitution.
Thomas JeffersonPrincipal author of the Declaration of Independence.
James MadisonVirginia statesman and major contributor to the US Constitution. He coauthored the Federalist Papers and wrote the Bill of Rights.
George WashingtonRevolutionary War general who presided over the Constitutional Convention.

Important documents

The Declaration of Independence - This document explains the reasons why the Thirteen Colonies in North America desired independence from Great Britain. The ideals for government expressed in the Declaration, including popular sovereignty and social contract, serve as the inspiration for American democratic values.
Image of the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence. Image credit: Wikipedia
Quote to know:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The US Constitution - The constitution is a blueprint for how American government functions. Establishes the three separate branches of US government (legislative, executive, and judicial) and describes the relationship between the states and the federal government. It demonstrates the principle of limited government in the United States by restricting the powers of government. It also establishes the principle of republicanism by establishing the process for citizens to elect representatives to the legislature.
Quote to know:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

Key takeaways from this lesson

Balancing liberty and order: From the beginning, the US government has attempted to balance individual rights and liberties with the government power necessary to, as the Constitution puts it, “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, [and] provide for the common defense.”
The Declaration of Independence served as a statement of the Founders’ beliefs in natural rights and individual liberties. With the Constitution, the early American statesmen attempted to build a government that was strong enough to sustain itself without infringing on citizens’ rights and liberties.

Review questions

What are natural rights? How would you describe them in your own words?
How are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution similar? How are they different?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user Aldo Cruz
    Under KEY TERMS, the definition for Constitutional Convention.
    it says that only 12 of the 13 states had delegates attending the meeting.
    why was there a state missing? which state was missing?
    considering the nature of the meeting, i'd like to think that having representatives from each state would be extremely important.
    (13 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user genesiscortes
    The definition of "natural rights" given above goes: "The right to life, liberty, and property, which no government may take away.", yet there have been ocations in which the government has taken away the life, liberty and property of the people. I believe this would be done in the government's attempt to protect these same rights of the other people, but I think then that the definition above should be clarified since I find it misleading... If someone could clarify my confusion, I would greatly appreciate it.
    (5 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Kim Kutz Elliott
      From the author:I think the idea is that the government must determine a person is guilty of a crime according to the processes laid out in the Constitution in order to take a person's life, liberty, or property.

      So it's a violation of natural rights for the govenrment to just put someone in jail for no reason (taking their liberty) but not if they do so after a fair trial.
      (6 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Θ®Ď€®
    In natural rights, they say:

    The right to life, liberty, and property, which no government may take away.

    Isn't this wrong? Prison is literally taking away liberty, the death setance is taking away your life, and the government can just take your property if you owe them.
    (2 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user Cricket
    Isn't it kind of unfortunate that when they said “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” they had slaves? XD
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user elithurmond13
    Who had the idea of Natural Rights ?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Victoria Aguilar
    Answers for the Review questions: What are natural rights? How would you describe them in your own words?

    - the way I would define "Natural Rights" is basically what they even are they are rights you are born with. For example: the right to life

    - How are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution similar? How are they different?

    - I don't think they are similar. maybe in some aspects yes but the thing that is different is the 'Declaration of Independence" is a document declaring the US Independence from the British Monarchy and the Constitution is a document talking about how they are going to run this country.
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user breasia.polk
    the way I would define "Natural Rights" is basically what they even are they are rights you are born with. For example: the right to life
    (0 votes)
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