Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
American Government 2e

Key Terms

American Government 2eKey Terms

those who did not support ratification of the Constitution
Articles of Confederation
the first basis for the new nation’s government; adopted in 1781; created an alliance of sovereign states held together by a weak central government
bicameral legislature
a legislature with two houses, such as the U.S. Congress
Bill of Rights
the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution; most were designed to protect fundamental rights and liberties
checks and balances
a system that allows one branch of government to limit the exercise of power by another branch; requires the different parts of government to work together
a highly decentralized form of government; sovereign states form a union for purposes such as mutual defense
Declaration of Independence
a document written in 1776 in which the American colonists proclaimed their independence from Great Britain and listed their grievances against the British king
enumerated powers
the powers given explicitly to the federal government by the Constitution (Article I, Section 8); power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, raise and support armies, declare war, coin money, and conduct foreign affairs
federal system
a form of government in which power is divided between state governments and a national government
those who supported ratification of the Constitution
Great Compromise
a compromise between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan that created a two-house Congress; representation based on population in the House of Representatives and equal representation of states in the Senate
natural rights
the right to life, liberty, and property; believed to be given by God; no government may take away
New Jersey Plan
a plan that called for a one-house national legislature; each state would receive one vote
a form of government in which political power rests in the hands of the people, not a monarch, and is exercised by elected representatives
reserved powers
any powers not prohibited by the Constitution or delegated to the national government; powers reserved to the states and denied to the federal government
separation of powers
the sharing of powers among three separate branches of government
social contract
an agreement between people and government in which citizens consent to be governed so long as the government protects their natural rights
supremacy clause
the statement in Article VI of the Constitution that federal law is superior to laws passed by state legislatures
The Federalist Papers
a collection of eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in support of ratification of the Constitution
Three-Fifths Compromise
a compromise between northern and southern states that called for counting of all a state’s free population and 60 percent of its slave population for both federal taxation and representation in Congress
unicameral legislature
a legislature with only one house, like the Confederation Congress or the legislature proposed by the New Jersey Plan
the power of the president to reject a law proposed by Congress
Virginia Plan
a plan for a two-house legislature; representatives would be elected to the lower house based on each state’s population; representatives for the upper house would be chosen by the lower house
Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Mar 9, 2022 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.