Front Page Titles (by Subject) POINTS TO REMEMBER - Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
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POINTS TO REMEMBER - James McClellan, Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government 
Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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POINTS TO REMEMBER
1. The American system of federalism divides political power between two levels of government. Those powers not delegated to the Federal government are reserved to the States. Article I of the Constitution specifies the delegated and implied powers of Congress, and also enumerates those powers that are prohibited to both Congress and the States. Some powers of Congress are exclusive; and others are concurrent, meaning they are shared with another branch or with the States.
2. The States have certain obligations to the Federal government and to each other, and the Federal government has certain obligations to the States. Most of these obligations that each owes the other are framed in Article IV of the Constitution.
3. Formal changes of the constitutional structure must be approved by three-fourths of the States through the amendment process, which is provided by Article V of the Constitution. Every amendment that has been added to the Constitution was proposed by a two-thirds vote of Congress. The States may initiate amendments but have never exercised this power. Congress decides whether the amendment shall be ratified by the State legislatures or by the States meeting in convention. All but the 21st Amendment have been ratified by the State legislatures.
4. The American system of separation of powers is not a pure separation of powers. Although the officeholders in each branch are separate and distinct, the functions overlap. This overlapping of functions forms an elaborate check and balance system, allowing each branch to check the encroachments of another. In this way the separation of powers is actually maintained.
5. The American constitutional system is based on rule of law, the Constitution itself being the supreme law. Thus in the United States, no man or government or branch of the government is above the law. If the Constitution is to be changed, only the people can change it—and then only by the amendment process.
6. Although the President is powerful and independent, and is charged with the duty of executing the laws, he is not above the law. Limitations on his power derive from the method by which he is elected by the electoral college and from the checks on his exercise of power by Congress and the Supreme Court.
The Constitution of the United States provides a framework of political and legal institutions. Within this framework are certain general concepts or ideas about freedom and political order. Although they are not explicitly stated in the Constitution, they nevertheless provide the theoretical structure upon which the seven articles of the original document are built. An understanding of these unwritten concepts is essential to an understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Constitution. The first of these is the concept of federalism. The American federal union is neither a centralized political structure nor a mere league of independent States. The federal system of government embodied in the Constitution is designed to limit power by dividing it.
The second is the concept of the separation of powers. This is intended to prevent a concentration and abuse of power by one branch over another. By separating the personnel and functions of government, the Constitution provides a mechanism that facilitates the achievement of Rule of Law.
The third is the concept of the rule of law. This is sometimes expressed as “a government of laws and not of men.” All people who hold political authority are subject to the law of the land, and their public actions must conform to the Constitution and to certain principles of law.
All three of these concepts restrain the Federal government’s powers. The Constitution, in short, set up a powerful general government; but it also established effective checks upon the exercise of power through a carefully designed system of constitutional devices.