The United States, one of the greatest democracies in the history of humankind, was founded on the principles of popular sovereignty, limited government, liberty, the rule of law, due process, and federalism. These principles are articulated in the Founding documents, and every US government and citizen refer to them as the basis for their civil and constitutional rights. Although currently, some of these principles are distorted, the US government still strives to maintain the democratic foundations of our country.
The main idea stipulated across all founding documents is popular sovereignty, the idea that the state obtains its power only from the people. James Madison emphasized that government is essential to be derived from the “great body of the society,” not a small proportion, and not from particular elite groups (Federalist Papers No. 39). Declaration also emphasizes that the government should acquire its legitimate power from the consent of the governed (The Declaration of Independence). Unfortunately, currently, there are mechanisms through which electoral integrity, and hence, the principle of popular sovereignty, is distorted, such as the electoral college, gerrymandering, foreign hacking, and many more (Norris 6-15). Nevertheless, the US government still retains this principle since the people directly or indirectly elect all governmental institutions. Anyone who attempts to attain power through elite and financial influence is punished and removed from office.
The federalism principle means that the government should have federal and national characteristics. In other words, states should have the right to exercise their choices and a particular level of independence from the national government. The findings documents stipulate that in the operation of its power, the government is considered a nation, while it is federal in the extent of its power (The Federalist Papers No. 39). Although occasionally federal and state policy-makers disagree on some issues, the principle of federalism is still relevant today since all states have their governments and can be independent of the central government to an extent guaranteed by the Constitution.
Limited Government and Checks and Balances
The limited government principle means that the government’s authority is limited to the rights and powers outlined in the Constitution. This principle is dedicated to preventing the concentration of coercive control and arbitrary use of violence against its right. In addition, there should be constitutional checks and balances of power among different branches of government. Hence, the government is limited by the people, the Constitution, and other government institutions. In Federalist Papers No. 51 (1788), James Madison argued that the members of each department should be as least dependent on each other as possible. As such, different governments control and balance each other’s exercise of power.
Liberty, Rule of Law, and Due Process
The US government also guarantees liberty, the rule of law, and due process for each US citizen. The Declaration states, “all men are created equal,” and they are entitled to inalienable rights, including “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (The Declaration of Independence). According to the rule of law, all citizens and the government are bound by the Constitution. In addition, the fifth and fourteenth amendment to the Consitution notes that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law” (Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor). Hence, every person has the right to fair treatment by an impartial judicial system.
To conclude, the US founding documents have incorporated several vital principles, including popular sovereignty, limited government, the rule of law, and liberty. These laws were designed to create a fair environment for every citizen to maximize their happiness. The US government and society struggle to maintain these principles due to growing partisanship, populism, and foreign interference. Nevertheless, our government will strive to keep the core principles that the founding fathers have established.
“Federalist Papers No. 51 (1788)”. Bill of Rights Institute.
“Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor: Due Process of Law”. The Library of Congress.
Norris, Pippa. “Challenges of Electoral Integrity During the 2016 US Elections.” Why American Elections Are Flawed (And How to Fix Them), 1st ed., Cornell University Press, 2017, pp. 5–23.
“The Declaration of Independence”. ConstitutionFacts.
“The Federalist Papers No. 39”. The Avalon Project.