1. Americans have been reluctant to grant government too much power, and they have often been suspicious of politicians. But Americans have also turned to government for assistance in times of need, and they have strongly supported the government in periods of war. 2. One important reason for citizens to pay attention to their government in good times is to make sure that the government does not make decisions that might result in unjustified wars, riots, or an economic downturn. 3. The key to understanding American government is to understand the relationship between the citizen and the government.
Politics takes on a different character according to the extent to which people are informed and involved. Citizenship Is Based on Political Knowledge and Participation 1. Citizenship is defined as informed and active membership in a political community. 2. Although today we consider voting the building block of citizenship, Americans can participate in their government in other ways—such as serving on a jury, lobbying, writing a letter to the editor, or engaging in a public rally or protest. 3. Numerous studies and surveys show that many Americans have significant gaps in their political knowledge.
Greater political knowledge increases the ability of people to influence their government. Government Is Made Up of the Institutions and Procedures by Which People Are Ruled 1. “Government” is the term that describes the formal institutions and procedures through which a territory and its people are ruled. Governments vary in their structure, in their size, and in the way they operate. 2. A democracy is a political system where popular wishes and preferences regularly and systematically shape who controls the government and what the government does.
Under such a system, the norm is constitutional government, in which governmental power is described and limited by a governing constitution. 3. Beginning in the seventeenth century, two important changes began to take place in the governance of some Western nations: governments began to acknowledge formal limits on their power, and governments began to give citizens a formal voice in politics through the vote. 4. “Politics” refers to conflicts over the leadership, structure, and policies of governments.
The goal of politics is to have a share or a say in the composition of the government’s leadership, how the government is organized, or what its policies are going to be. Having a share is called power (influence over a government’s leadership, organization, or policies) or influence. 5. A system of government that gives citizens a regular opportunity to elect government officials is usually called a representative democracy or republic. A system that permits citizens to vote directly on laws and policies is often called a direct democracy. The Identity of Americans Has Changed over Time 1. As the American population has grown, it has become more diverse.
In the early years of the Republic, the majority of Americans were European settlers, mainly from northern Europe. One in five Americans was of African origin, the vast majority of whom had been brought to the United States against their will to work as slaves. There were also an unknown number of Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the land, who were not initially counted by the census. 2. In the 1800s and early 1900s, a large wave of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and later from southern and eastern Europe changed the demographic profile of the United States. As the percent of foreign-born residents reached 14.
7 percent in 1910, a movement to limit immigration gained ground. After World War I, Congress placed sharp limits on immigration. It also established a National Origins Quota System designed to limit the numbers of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. 3. From the start, the American government used racial and ethnic criteria to draw boundaries around the American population. Until 1870, nonwhites could not become naturalized citizens. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 outlawed the entry of Chinese laborers to the United States, a restriction that was not reversed until 1943. 4.
In 1965, Congress opened the doors to immigrants once again. The American population has become much more diverse as a result. European Americans accounted for only two-thirds of the population in 2006. The African American population stood at 13 percent, and—reflecting the new immigration—Hispanics accounted for close to 15 percent, with Asian Americans at 4 percent of the American population. In 2005, 12 percent of the population was foreign-born. America Is Built on the Ideas of Liberty, Equality, and Democracy 1. Three important political values in American politics are liberty, equality, and democracy.
2. For Americans, liberty means freedom from government control, and also economic freedom. Both are closely linked to the idea of limited government, meaning that powers are defined and limited by a constitution. 3. Most Americans share the ideal of equality of opportunity wherein all people should have the freedom to use whatever talents and wealth they have to reach their fullest potential. 4. Political equality refers to the right to participate in politics equally, based on the principle of “one person, one vote. ” 5. In a democracy, political power ultimately comes from the people.
The principle of democracy in which political authority rests ultimately in the hands of the people is known as popular sovereignty. 6. At times in American history there have been large gaps between the ideals embodied in Americans’ core values and the practice of American government. 7. Many of the important dilemmas of American politics revolve around conflicts over fundamental political values. One such conflict involves the ideals of liberty and democracy. Over time, democracy promotes stronger, more active government, which may threaten liberty.