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Flashcards in Chapter 2 Vocab Deck (26)
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amendment (constitutional)

A change in, or addition to, a constitution. Amendments are proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of the state legislatures and ratified by approval of three-fourths of the states.



Opponents to the ratification of the Constitution who valued liberty and believed it could be protected only in a small republic.


Articles of Confederation

The document establishing a “league of friendship” among the American states in 1781. The government proved too weak to rule effectively and was replaced by the current Constitution.


Charles Beard

A historian who argued that the Constitution was designed to protect the economic self-interest of its framers. Beard’s view is largely rejected by contemporary scholars.


bill of attainder

A law that declares a person, without trial, to be guilty of a crime.


Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, containing a list of individual rights and liberties, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press.


checks and balances

The power of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government to block some acts by the other two branches.



A theory presented by James Madison which stated that different interests must come together to form an alliance in order for republican government to work. This idea claimed that alliances formed in a large republic, unlike in a small republic, would be moderate due to the greater variety of interests that must be accommodated.


Constitutional Convention

A meeting of delegates in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation, which produced a totally new constitution still in use today.


ex post facto law

A law which makes criminal an act that was legal when it was committed, or that increases the penalty for a crime after it has been committed, or that changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier.



A term employed by James Madison to refer to interests that exist in society, who seek their own political advantage by opposing what is in the “permanent and aggregate interest of the whole.”



A political system in which ultimate authority is shared between a central government and state or regional governments.


Federalist No. 10

An essay composed by James Madison which argues that liberty is safest in a large republic where many interests compete.


Federalist papers

A series of eighty-five essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay that were published in New York newspapers to convince New Yorkers to adopt the newly proposed Constitution.



Supporters of the Constitution during ratification debates.


Great Compromise

The agreement that prevented the collapse of the Constitutional Convention because of friction between large and small states. It reconciled their interests by awarding states equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House of Representatives.


judicial review

The power of courts to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional. It is also a way of limiting the power of popular majorities.


line-item veto

The power of an executive to veto some provisions in an appropriations bill while approving others. The president does not have the line-item veto power.


natural rights

A philosophical belief expressed in the Declaration of Independence that certain rights are ordained by God, are discoverable in nature and history, and are essential to human progress.


New Jersey Plan

A plan of government proposed by William Patterson as a substitute for the Virginia Plan in an effort to provide greater protection for the interests of small states. It recommended that the Articles of Confederation should be amended, not replaced, with a unicameral Congress in which each state would have an equal vote.



The form of government intended by the Framers that operates through a system of representation.


separation of powers

An element of the Constitution in which political power is portioned among the branches of government to allow self-interest to check self-interest.


Shay’s Rebellion

A rebellion in 1787 by ex–Revolutionary War soldiers who feared losing their property over indebtedness. The former soldiers prevented courts in western Massachusetts from sitting. The inability of the government to deal effectively with the rebellion showed the weakness of the political system at the time and led to support for revision of the Articles of Confederation.


unalienable rights

Rights thought to be based on nature and providence rather than on the preferences of people.


Virginia Plan

A plan submitted to the Constitutional Convention that proposed a new form of government, not a mere revision of the Articles of Confederation. The plan envisioned a much stronger national government structured around three branches. James Madison prepared the initial draft.


writ of habeas corpus

A court order directing a police officer, sheriff, or warden who has a person in custody to bring the prisoner before a judge to show sufficient cause for his or her detention. The purpose of the order is to prevent illegal arrests and unlawful imprisonment.