Fundamental Principles of American Government



Essential SOLs:  Principles of American Government


A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” 

--Dwight Eisenhower


Our government is based on five major principles:


·        Consent of the governed—People are the source of any and all governmental power.

               “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.”  Abe Lincoln

·        Limited government—Government is not all-powerful and may do only those things people have given it the power to do.

               “There is nothing more corrupting…than the exercise of unlimited power.”  William Henry Harrison

·        Rule of law—The government and those who govern are bound by the law.

               “Power in human hands will ever be liable to abuse.”  James Madison

·        Democracy—In a democratic system of government the people rule.

               “’We the people’ tell the government what to do, it doesn’t tell us.”  Ronald Reagan

·        Representative government—In a representative system of government people elect public officeholders to make laws and conduct government on their behalf.

               “Officeholders are the agents of the people, not their masters.”  Grover Cleveland



Historical documents that influenced the U.S. Constitution:


Charters of the VA Company of London:  gave colonists the rights of Englishmen

Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom:  provided for religious freedom in Virginia

Virginia Declaration of Rights:  model for the US Bill of Rights

Declaration of Independence:  declared us free from Great Britain; affirmed certain “unalienable rights”

Articles of Confederation:  first written form of government for the independent states; weak central government; replaced by Constitution of U.S.


Constitution of the United States (includes the Bill of Rights):  sets up our government and protects our freedoms

--Preamble:  purposes of government

--7 Articles:  set up our government

--27 Amendments:  changes to the original Constitution; most amendments deal with protecting our freedoms