GED Social Studies Practice Test: Political Parties And Elections
Formation of Political Parties
Review the Need for the US Constitution
As mentioned earlier, the thirteen American colonies rebelled against England in 1776 in what is known as the American Revolutionary War. The war lasted until 1783. Within that time, the newly formed United States government created a document that would serve as the law of the land. That document was called the Articles of Confederation. However, this document was very ineffective and needed to be replaced. To replace it, the United States government created a new document known as the United States Constitution. The men who created it are known as the founding fathers.
Creating the U.S. Constitution was no easy task. In 1787 the founding fathers set out for Philadelphia, P.A. to attend what became known as the constitutional convention. Their task, however, was not to throw away the Articles of Confederation and replace it with a new law document, but rather their task was to simply fix the Articles so that it could be effective. After attempting to fix the Articles, a grueling task that could not sensibly be achieved to any real measure, the founding fathers decided to just replace it instead. However, the fathers were sent by congress to fix the articles, not to create a new document. They did not have the authority to throw away the Articles, nor did they seek approval. In every sense, what they were doing was dangerous, maybe even rebellious in some eyes. They were attempting to create a new law document for the United States without proper permission or authority. For these reasons, the founding fathers insisted that what was happening within the walls of the constitutional convention be kept a secret until the new document was presented to the country. Guards were placed at the doors, the windows were sealed off, and secrecy was embedded into the minds of all the fathers. Outside of those walls, no one even knew that a new document was being created. If leaked out, the United States government would appear unstable, insecure, and on the brink of collapse. Riots might break out and a new revolution would likely follow. If their new document, unauthorized in its making, was viewed unfavorably by the United States government at large and the American people, the fathers were doomed. They might be labeled as rebels who attempted to overthrow the United States government. However, a reaction in the positive direction might make them heroes from which future generation might give them a special name, such as the “founding fathers.” Finally, after several months of intense work and much debate the new document was finished. It was called the United States Constitution and would serve as the new law of the land. It was know ready to be presented to public.
With shock, the country was surprised not to find an altered Articles of Confederation. Instead, what they were presented with was a new document called the United States Constitution. Thankfully for the founding fathers, they were not viewed as traitors by the country. Instead, their achievement was met with praise. Although they personally were not attacked, the words within the newly developed U.S. Constitution were. In order for it to officially become the new law of the land, the U.S. Constitution first needed to be ratified by at least nine of the thirteen states within the United States. Ratify means to approve.
Although it had many problems, the main problem with the Articles of Confederation was that it did not give the central (federal) government enough power to effectively run the country. Remember that after the American Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States did not want anything that would resemble the strong, all powerful central authority of a king. Therefore, the Articles gave the most power to the individual states. For example, the central government could not collect taxes from the states and didn’t even have an executive (president). That’s right, under the Articles there was no president because the president is an executive just as a king is an executive. In the end, the United States was not a unified country, but rather it was a loose confederation of thirteen individual states who each made their own rules. It was almost like a confederation of thirteen different countries. This was a recipe for disaster and the founding fathers knew it.
In creating the U.S. Constitution the fathers knew that a stronger central/federal government was needed. The future of the country was doomed without it. Therefore, the constitution allowed for a stronger central government. Of course, the constitution also reserved powers for the states and civil liberties for the citizens as discussed earlier.
Not everyone within the United States wanted a stronger central government, though. They feared that it would become just like the old government as before the revolution. Therefore, intense debates erupted throughout the country as one side wanted the U.S. Constitution to be ratified (passed), while the other did not. These two sides became so divided over the politics of the constitution that they formed the first two political parties in the United States: (1) the Federalists and (2) the Anti-Federalists.
The federalists were made up of people who wanted the U.S. Constitution to be ratified (passed). In general, they wanted a strong central government. Of them, the best known was James Madison. Madison is known as the father of the U.S. Constitution as he was the man who did most of its writing. He was so promoted to the cause that he would travel from state to state in attempt to gain each state’s vote for ratification. In doing this, he used the best means of media of the time: the newspaper. Today, in addition to the newspaper, a politician might use the television, facebook, or twitter to spread their views. However, Madison wasn’t fortunate enough to have these modern resources at his disposal. In the newspapers, he along with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, published the Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers were a series of articles that promoted passage of the U.S. Constitution. They were widely read and were extremely influential in eventually getting the constitution ratified. While there were over eighty-five of them, one of the most popular was known as Federalist No. 51.
Federalist No. 51.
In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others . . . But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others . . . It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself . . .
What does it mean?
The United States of America needs a central government with enough power to control its imperfect citizens. However, since the government is also made up of men with flaws, the government should be limited in its powers. This was a compelling argument as its bases was on providing citizens with effective security from harm, something of which would appeal to almost any household.
The Anti-Federalists were the people who opposed the federalists. They did not want a strong central government and therefore did not want the U.S. Constitution to be ratified. They believed in states rights and feared a strong central government would return the country to where it was under the hated King George III. Among them, one of the most popular was Patrick Henry.
Victory for the Federalists
After much debate throughout the country over a two year period, in 1789 the United States Constitution finally became the law of the land. Through an intense struggle, the federalists were finally successful in convincing enough states to vote in favor of the constitution. It, however, did not come without compromise. The anti-federalists within the states needed for ratification were very valuable and were needed to join the federalist camp in order to make the U.S. Constitution a reality. Although they did not technically cross to the other side and become federalists, they were willing to make a compromise in order to resolve the debate once and for all. The compromise came in the form of civil liberties. One big argument make by the anti-federalists in opposition to the constitution was that it did not include any guaranteed civil liberties/freedoms for the citizens. That is, there was nothing in the document that would protect citizens from the abuses of an overpowering, dominating central government. They, of course, feared another central government under King George III and his abuse of the American colonists. Therefore, a compromise was made.
The federalists promised to add a list of civil liberties to U.S. Constitution within a two year period if the anti-federalists would allow it to be ratified (passed).
The anti-federalists agreed to the compromise and the U.S. Constitution became the law of the United States in 1789. As promised, two years later in 1791 the constitution was amended and a list of civil liberties was added. As discussed earlier, those civil liberties are known as the Bill of Rights.
Elections are a natural part of any democratic republic. The citizens in every city throughout every state elect people to represent them and run the government at all levels. Elections ensure that government officials are accountable to the people and serves as a reminder that government only rules by the “consent of the governed.” Therefore, if citizens are not satisfied with their government officials, then they just vote for different officials during the next election. The election is the foundation of the democratic republic and without it the republic would cease to exist.
The President of the United States serves for a duration of four years. After four years, he/she can run for reelection and if successful they can serve as president for another four years. However, the president cannot serve any more than two terms in office (eight elected years). This prevents any one person from serving for life, such as a king or dictator. Although the founding fathers did not put this in place, it was made a law after President Franklin D. Roosevelt served four consecutive terms.
Electing the President
The President of the United States is elected by a process known as the electoral college. The electoral college is not a direct election. That is, the people do not actually directly elect the president. Instead, the president is elected by a group of people called electors. Those electors are the people who vote for the president. The presidential nominee with at least 270 electoral votes wins the national election and becomes President of the United States.
How it Works
There are a total of 538 electors in the United States. Each state is issued a certain number of electors based on the population of their state. Just like in congress, the larger states have more electors while the smaller states have less. To win the election, a presidential candidate must gain at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes.
- Electors are appointed within their state. The electors, however, are not government officials.
- After citizens vote within a state, the electors generally cast their votes according to how the citizens voted. Some states are “winner take all” states. For example, if the republican presidential candidate wins the majority of votes in the State of Kentucky, then he/she will win all of that state’s eight electoral votes.
- After all of the electors throughout the country cast their votes, the first presidential candidate to reach 270 votes wins the presidency.
The 2012 Presidential Election
As shown on the map below, President Obama won the 2012 presidential election with a total of 332 electoral votes, well above the 270 needed to win.
Why Not a Direct Election?
The president is not directly elected by the people because of a simple, but real fear the founding fathers had: mob rule. In the 1700s the “mob” or the “masses” was made up of the average person, usually the lower classes. As discussed earlier, the fathers feared that using direct democracy in electing the president would give the “mob” too much influence over the central government. The “mob” they believed was not wise enough to run the country and by giving them too much power in government, disaster would surely be the only result. It’s also important to keep in mind that the founding fathers were not of the lower classes. Many of them were wealthy and of the upper class.
The United States Congress is made up of two branches: (1) the Senate, and (2) the House of Representatives.
Unlike the president, senators are elected directly by the citizens (direct democracy). In 1787, however, the founding fathers did not design it to be this way or had they ever envisioned that it would be. Ever afraid of the”mob,” they designed it so that senators were elected by other government officials. As the United States progressed over time, however, that all changed. As citizens became restless of senators not being accountable to their needs, the constitution was ratified in 1913 with the 17th Amendment. The 17th Amendment states that senators are to be directly elected by the people.
Currently, each state has two senators and with fifty states in the United States of America, there are a total of one hundred senators. They serve for six years and then can run for reelection.
The House of Representatives
Members of the House of Representatives are elected directly by the citizens. This was how the founding fathers designed it in the constitution and was one of the few instances in which the “mob” would have great influence in government. The number of house members each state sends to congress depends on the population size of the state. Larger states send more while smaller states send less. Currently there are four hundred and thirty-five members of the House of Representatives in Congress. House members serve for two years and then can run for reelection.
When running for any political office, the candidate will campaign to gain the support of the citizens. In modern times, politicians campaign through almost any outlet in order to get their message heard. These outlets include social media, the newspaper (print and digital), and of course the television. Public appearances and campaign rallies are also very popular avenues to spread a campaign message.
Currently, there are two major political parties that dominate politics within the United States. They are the democrats and the republicans. Each party has its own agenda and almost every level of U.S. government is divided between the two of them. At that dividing line, their views are sometimes completely opposite on issues, from which heated debates ensue.
Every American within the United States has civic responsibilities. While some are ingrained in the law, others are optional. For instance, it is the civic responsibility of adult U.S. citizens to serve on a jury should they get selected. Also, if a draft is issued during a time of war, then adult males must serve in the military if they’re selected to serve. If citizens do not comply with these responsibilities, then they can be penalized by the government. Some civic responsibilities, however, are optional. The most popular of these is voting. While it’s encouraged for U.S. citizens to vote for their elected leaders, it’s not required. It’s simply up to the citizen whether or not they want to exercise their right to vote.
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Directions: The following reflection questions are intended to reinforce the information within the section and develop critical thinking skills. Practice writing the answer on a sheet of paper.
If you were alive in 1787, would you be a federalist or an anti-federalist? Explain your answer.
If I were alive in 1787, I would be a federalist. Although I believe that states should have sufficient powers, I also believe that the central government should too. My reasoning is that under the Articles of Confederation the central government had almost no power and as a result the country was headed towards collapse. There must be a central government with sufficient powers to hold the country together and serve as a single unit in foreign affairs. Therefore, I’m a supporter of federalism in which power is shared by the states and the central government. In order for this sharing of power to take place, the U.S. Constitution had to be passed which is why I would have been a federalist.
Do you agree or disagree with the electoral college? Explain your answer.
I agree with the electoral college to a certain extent. I agree that government should not be run by majority rule as it could possibly lead to widespread discrimination of minority groups. I believe that the electoral college provides some safety net to prevent majority rule. I do, however, believe that the electoral college could be abused, eliminating all Americans from having a voice in choosing the next president. While this isn’t likely, it’s possible.
This question refers to the following excerpt.
But whatever may be our situation, whether firmly united under one national
government, or split into a number of confederacies, certain it is, that foreign
nations will know and view it exactly as it is; and they will act toward us
accordingly. If they see that our national government is efficient and well
administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly organized and
disciplined, our resources and finances discreetly managed, our credit
our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more
disposed to cultivate our friendship than provoke our resentment. If, on the
other hand, they find us either destitute of [lacking] an effectual government
(each State doing right or wrong, as to its rulers may seem convenient), or split
into three or four independent and probably discordant [quarreling] republics or
confederacies, one inclining to Britain, another to France, and a third to Spain,
and perhaps played off against each other by the three, what a poor, pitiful
figure will America make in their eyes! How liable would she become not only
to their contempt but to their outrage, and how soon would dearbought
experience proclaim that when a people or family so divide, it never fails to be
Source: John Jay, The Federalist, Number 4, November 7, 1787
What was the author’s purpose in writing this document?