AQA GOV4A The Constitution & Federalism Revision Notes

Revision notes for AQA GOV4A The Constitution & Federalism.

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The Constitution and Federalism
Before the Constitution
1776: The 13 colonies of North America declared their independence
from Britain in the Declaration of Independence (written by Thomas
1776 ­ 1783: This led to the War of Independence between the former
colonies and Great Britain
1781: Articles of Confederation were ratified. The newly independent
colonies established a confederacy (a loose association of states with
almost all political power resting with individual states)
Between 1781 and 1787 there was almost no national government:
Virtually all power resided with the states
There was a Congress ­ Could not pass laws/collect taxes
States squabbled over trade (taxes charged by each state for goods to
pass through) and money (each state had its own currency)
Influential leaders during the revolutionary war (Alexander Hamilton/George
Washington) felt that a stronger national government was essential. Organized
the Philadelphia Convention for May 1787.
The Philadelphia Convention
Convened in Philadelphia on 25th May 1787
Delegates from all 13 states were invited ­ Rhode Island was the only
state to send no delegates
Original purpose of the Convention was to revise the articles ­ Decided
to scrap them and write a new Constitution
Divisions at the convention existed between larger states (Virginia) and
smaller states (New Jersey). The Connecticut Compromise broke this:
National legislature would be made up of two chambers
The House of Representatives would be represented proportionally to
The Senate would be represented equally with each state having two
The new Constitution was written by the 55 delegates who became known as
the Founding Fathers.

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The US Constitution ­ The Three Compromises
Writing the new Constitution involved making three major compromises
embodied in the new Constitution:
The Form of Government: In Britain, colonies had been ruled under a
unitary form of government where all power rested with central
government. Colonists disliked this and preferred the confederal form
of government. The compromise was to create a new form of government
(federal). This gives some political power to federal government but
also powers to the state governments.…read more

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Ratification: can be made by ¾ of the state legislatures or by ¾ of the
states holding a Constitutional Convention (only been used once ­ to
ratify the 21th Amendment 1933)
Amendments proposed by: Amendments ratified by:
Congress ­ Two-thirds majority in State legislatures ­ Three-quarters of
both houses required the state legislatures must vote to
National Constitution Convention - State Constitutional Conventions ­
Called by at least two-thirds of the Three-quarters of the states must
states (never used) hold Conventions and vote to…read more

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Separation of Powers
This is a theory of government by which power is divided between three
branches of government with each acting both independently and
interdependently. The French philosopher Montesquieu influenced the theory.
Better understood in the USA as a theory for shared powers: the institutions
are separate while the powers are shared through an elaborate system of
checks and balances.…read more

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Checks & Balances In Action
Executive on the Legislature:
Recommend legislation ­ State of the Union Address outlines the
president's legislative agenda. Bush used his address in 2002 to try and get
Congress to focus on his "war on terror"
Veto legislation ­ Bush used the veto 11 times.…read more

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Importance of Checks and Balances
Checks balances encourage bipartisanship and compromise between the
president and Congress.…read more

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These changes during the latter part of the 19th century and the 20th
century led to an increased role for the federal government. However,
during the latter part of the 20th century there was a move in the opposite
direction as American's wanted to see more power devolved to the states
(Reagan's presidency and the end of the New Deal).
Different phases of federalism existed in the USA:
Dual Federalism (1780s-1920s) ­ State governments exercised most
political power. Emphasis on states' rights.…read more

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Federalism Under George W. Bush
Despite Bush being a Republican president who you would expect to favour
decentralisation and states' rights, Bush expanded the role of the federal
government for five particular reasons:
1. The War in Iraq
2. Homeland security issues after 9/11
3. The expansion of Medicare
4. No Child Left Behind education act (2001)
5. Wall Street banking collapse (2008)
Bush's responses to these events led to criticism from members of his own
party who described his programmes as "big government conservatism".…read more


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