The American Whig theory

If any name should be attached to the first American political theory, "Whig" is as good a name as any. Whig political theory is important for Americans view of themselves as a people, the initiation of the Revolution, the creation of the enduring political institutions, and the writing of the national Constitution.

In 1776, America was dominated by a Whigpolitical theory derived from English Whigtheory rooted in the seventeenth century commonwealth experience. Between 1776 and 1787 Whig political theory is foundto be inadequate for generating effective institutions at the state and national level, and by 1787 it has been superseded at least at the national level by Federalist theory. In some respects Federalist theory derives directly from Whig theory. In other respects it isin opposition, but even this opposition is a link to the earlier mode of thought.

Perhaps because they are portrayed only negatively as Anti-federalists, American Whig political theorists have been ignored and their intellectual roots forgotten. Whig theory and Federalist theory which drew most heavily upon Enlightenment thinkers interacted in the context of events between 1776 and 1787.

Some might find it most useful and accurate to view Federalist theory as a "variant" of Whig theory. Thatis, thereis enough continuity between Whig and Federalist theory to view them as stages in the development of an evolved American political theory. At the same time, the differences are not so slight as to be passed over lightly. Federalist theory changed the way Americans viewed politics,created many new institutions, and often changed the manner in which Whig-derived institutions operated.

TASK V.Read the text to explain why Americans call their sectarian diversity the glory of democratic liberty:

James Madison, fourth President of the United States, who was largely responsible for the religious freedom amendment to the American Constitution, had said, The more independent religious bodies, the more secure would be the government in its freedom from church influence. The Protestant mind mistakenly assumed that if this multiplication of sects were good for the government, it was also good for religion. Sectarian diversity was therefore accepted as an ecclesiastical virtue.

Another factor explaining the growth of so many denominations (sects) on American soil may be found in the pioneer psychology of the nation. Until recent years the American people have always lived on the frontier. New regions had to be explored, new territory cultivated, new homes and institutions established among them the churches. Except for those who were traditionally Catholic and were blessed with the services of a priest who moved along with them, the majority settled as small religious communities that were distinct from the original denomination, at first only geographically, but, later on, also in doctrine and religious discipline. Add to this fact the circumstance of size of country, and the multiplication of sects becomes a logical corollary with sectarianism being a natural necessity in the United States.

Ever since the English dissenters reached America in 1620; men in search of religious liberty have been coming to a free land, each fiercely determined to find sanctuary for his right to believe and worship as he saw fit, and as God seemed to lead. This mixture of religious sects is therefore the outgrowth of a heterogeneous assortment of individuals and groups from a variety of cultures in Europe and other parts of the world. Yet they had one thing in common: their thirst for religious liberty. Consequently, if America may be called a melting pot for diverse social and national customs, it is even more of a melting pot of denominational (sectarian) diversity.

James Madison laid down the principle which was endorsed by his compatriots, that all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience. This political expedience started us on our diversified way.

According to Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, difference of opinion in matters of religion is not only politically advantageous, but also beneficial to religion. Behind the statements from outstanding political figures, a sizable portion of American Protestants take pride in their sectarian diversity and call it the glory of democratic liberty.

Denomination a group having a distinctive interpretation of a religious faith and usually its own organization. Sanctuary -a holy place. Expedience a regard for what is politic or advantageous rather than for whatis right or just; a sense of self-interest.


TASK VI.Read the text to compare approaches to factions of David Hume (1711-1776) and James Madison (1751 1836):

Like his philosophical beliefs, Hume's essays on politics and economics were influential in his time. Historians have concluded that James Madison read Hume's Essays, Moral and Political and applied some of the ideas from this work while helping write the Constitution and The Federalist Papers. Hume was concerned about the formation of factions based on religion, politics, and other common interests. He concluded that a democratic society needs to prevent factions, which ultimately undermine the government and lead to violence. Madison agreed that factions can divide government but came to the opposite conclusion: the more factions the better. In Madison's view more factions made it less likely that any one party or coalition of parties would be able to gain control of government and invade the rights of other citizens. The system of checks and balances contained in the Constitution was part of Madison's plan for placing some limits on factions.


Read the text:

To comment on the modern definition of federalism.

To explain why federalism requires a written constitution.

To prove that federalism as a theory of government emerged after the Framers wrote the Constitution.

To discuss the alternatives to federalism in America in 1878.

To explain the essence of dual sovereignty as a compromise between a strong general government and sovereign states

The governmental system of the United States is the earliest example of federalism in the modern sense of that word. Nowadays, when the word federalism is used throughout the world, it means a system like that of the United States, with political authority divided between two spheres of authority. The American federal system is an extremely complex pattern of interrelated processes simultaneously at work, a blend of independence and interdependence. Federalism may be defined as a system of government in which there are two levels of authority, national and state, operating side by side, with each level generally supreme within its sphere of power. K. C. Wheare (19071979), a noted British authority on federalism, defines the federal principle as a method of dividing powers so that the general and regional governments are each, within a sphere, coordinate and independent, and further, that each government should be limited to its own sphere and, within that sphere, should be independent of the other. It should be added that federalism requires a written constitution. The reason is quite simple: there must be a fundamental law delineating the two spheres of authority, lest neither sphere will know the limit of its powers. If the central government acquires too much power, it may swallow up the weaker states, creating a unitary form of government. If, on the other hand, the state governments become too powerful, the union may be reduced to a league or confederation, or be abolished altogether.

Now the Framers of Americas Constitution did not create a federal pattern of politics because they had read about something of the sort in an old book. No, American federalism resulted from circumstances in the United States in the year 1787 rather than an abstract theory. True, many of the Framers saw that a weak confederation, under the Articles, was an insufficient system of government. And they perceived that centralized or unitary government (then the pattern in nearly all European states) had its grave faults. But the primary reason why the Framers chose a federal system was that the federal arrangement was just what the American people wanted, and needed, in a very practical sense, in 1787. Federalism as a theory of government, in other words, emerged after the Framers wrote the Constitution.

One alternative to federalism was simply to continue the arrangement established under the Articles of Confederation, and a good many Americans might have been content enough to do so. But this feeble confederation had major economic disadvantages and scarcely could defend itself against foreign enemies.

The other alternative to federalism was a unitary, or centralized, form of government, with all real power concentrated in the nations capital. Turgot, Condorcet, and other French political thinkers of the 1780s were surprised and almost indignant that the Americans had not formed such a political structure when they won their independence from Britain. But the American people, having thrown off the central power of the King-in-Parliament, were not disposed to establish some new central authority to tell them what to do. Besides, the great majority of American citizens were warmly attached to their State and local governments. They feared that consolidation would diminish their local and personal freedoms.

What the Framers agreed upon, then, was a satisfactory compromise between the people who desired a strong general government and the people who wanted to preserve State and local powers of decision. Under the federal arrangement something new in human society, at least on so large a scale as in the United States the several States were still called sovereign, as if there were no higher political power above them. But through the federal arrangement, there was created a general government with vastly superior powers. The Constitution allocated some powers to the Federal government, and guaranteed that all other political powers would be reserved to the States or to the people in those States. This division of powers, or dual sovereignty, though hotly debated during 1787 1788, was accepted by the States when they ratified the Constitution.

Sir Kenneth Clinton Wheare (19071979) an Australian academic, who spent most of his career at Oxford University in England. He was an expert on the history of the constitutions of the British Commonwealth.

Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) -Turgot was the French Adam Smith. His Reflections on the Production and Distribution of Wealth, which predated Smiths The Wealth of Nations by ten years, argues against government intervention in the economic sector.

Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794), known as Nicolas de Condorcet a French philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist.

TASK VIII.a) Read the text:

Whig political theory flowed from the belief that the people were a homogeneous entity. Despite gradations and ranks within the population, all people had the same rights and thus were politically indistinguishable. In the American Whig view, politics was an inevitable and perpetual battle between the people, who were trying to protect these rights, and the rulers who were constantly trying to extend their power. This traditional dichotomy between the people and their government was joined with a belief that when conflicts arose between the desires of an individual and those of the community at large the community should get its way. Thus, the interests of the community were considered superior to those of any individual, especially if the individual held political power. From this general perspective three related assumptions are derived:

1) The population is homogeneous with respect to rights.

2) The population has a community of interests in protecting and preserving these rights.

3) Community interests are superior to individual interests.

American Whigs retained the classical English view of politics insofar as the Crown was government. The Crown embodied the monarchic principle, it was the executive, it acted and thus was the essence of government. The legislature, on the other hand, was not part of government. It was indistinguishable from the people in that its members were drawn directly from the general population and then returned to experience the laws that they had approved. In this sense, and this sense only, did they represent the people. They literally represented the consent of the people to the proposals for action made by the Crown as if the people were themselves all present in the chamber.

It made little difference which individuals actually sat in the legislature as long as they were returned to the people at the end of the session. Members of American legislatures tended to come from the more propertied classes for reasons that were simple and obvious to the Whigs of the day. These men had more leisure time for such activities, they were familiar with the financial and legal complexities that a legislator faced, they had demonstrated a stake in the community by owning property in it, and these men had demonstrated superior virtue by being able to amass and retain a certain amount of property. This presumably took discipline, sobriety, hard work, and a certain amount of intelligence all of which were essential civic virtues. There was the additional belief that men of property could not as easily be bribed by the executive and thus were more likely to retain their political independence because of their economic independence.

Between 1776 and 1787 Americans lived under their state constitutions based upon Whig political theory. In the absence of a strong executive they experienced the legislatures acting, and acting in a manner affecting virtually every aspect of life. They experienced the bitter factionalism in their state legislatures as well as in the general population. They found growing economic inequality, were exposed to a stronger influx of Enlightenment ideas from continental Europe (especially in the cities and commercial towns), and they found religion to be less and less important in their lives. There was also the problem of how to govern diverse populations spread over several states, as well as the problem of bicameral legislatures not acting as they should according to Whig theory. The Whigs were sometimes puzzled, often dismayed, and frequently prone to disagreement over how to proceed, but they continued to evolve solutions based upon an essentially intact Whig political theory.

b) Use the following points to sum up the Whig story:

Equal rights homogeneous entity political unity;

Politics inevitable and perpetual battle;

The people the rulers;

The people their government;

The desires of an individual the desires of the community at large;

Individual interests the interests of the community;

The Crown the essence of government;

The legislature the people;

Men of property familiarity with the financial and legal complexities;

Men of property a stake in the community;

Men of property essential civic virtues;

Men of property economic independence;

Men of property less likelihood to be corrupt;

Men of property political independence;

State constitutions Whig political theory;

The absence of a strong executive the legislatures acting and affecting every aspect of life;

Factionalism in state legislatures;

Factionalism in the general population;

Growing economic inequality;

Diverse populations spread over several states;

New problems old solutions;

TASK IX. a) Read about Federalists and Whigs views on government:

The Federalists were more radical in their theory making if not in their economics. They rejected the Whig approach and went back to the basic assumptions underlying American politics. Their most breathtaking move was to reject completely Whig assumptions. Instead of assuming a natural community of interests arising from a homogeneous population, they believed that factions and political conflict have their roots in human nature and are thus inevitable. Some, like James Madison, went even further and argued that factions should be encouraged rather than eliminated so as to better control their effects through mutual check and balance. Federalists replaced homogeneity with heterogeneity.

The fundamental Whig deduction that government should be based upon the deliberate sense of the community is retained, although deduced from a different set of assumptions. The Whigssaw collective decisions emerging from the cool, calm deliberations of men seeking the community of interest for an organic community by looking to some standard of goodness that transcends individual and factional interests. The Federalists, on the other, hand, saw collective decisions as emerging from the interaction of factions in an arena where more virtuous men respond to factions in a frankly political manner. The deliberate sense of the community is not discovered through debate. Rather, it emerges from the political process. Delay is even more important to the Federalist not only because it takes time to produce mechanistically the fair sense of the community, but also because in the short run many people will be slow to recognize what is a fair balancing of interests.

A political culture is defined not only by a set of institutions and political principles, but also by the widely held assumptions and arguments supporting these institutions and principles. In this respect the Federalistshave made a clear break with the past. Theoretically, they have moved from an essentially organic theory with deep roots in the Middle Ages and the Reformation to a modern, mechanistic theory rooted in the Enlightenment.

This theoretical shift does not result in the rejection of old political institutions and the creation of new ones as much as it redefines the relationships between them. Government now is any institution having political power. Political power still rests in the hands of the people, but power is now viewed as homogeneous such that it can be parceled out to more than one institution. The legislature is thus by definition as much a part of government as the executive. Both embody popular consent, but both are dangerous to the rights of the people. The deliberate sense of the community is now arrived at by a government separate from the people, and the relationship between the various branches of government should be such as to produce simultaneously the deliberate sense of the community while protecting the people from the government. The assumption that power can be divided or separated into different parts provides the solution to both problems.


b) Fill in the table to compare Whigs and Federalists views discussed above:


TASK X. Read about a new concept of government organization:

Federalism definition and characteristics

The term "Federalism" "federation," "federal union," or "federal system" refers to a federated sovereign state formed by establishment of a closely-knit, or tightly-knit, union of two or more smaller political communities, which, after formation of the union, are no longer sovereign but do retain a significant degree of autonomy. The smaller political communities that are members of the larger federal union possess and exercise a substantial amount of home rule, but, at the same time, are bound by the constitution and constitutionally valid laws of the national government, or central government i.e., the general, or common, government over the entire federation and country.

The fifty smaller regional political communities comprising the membership of the federal union known as the "United States of America" are officially designated as "states." And so are the six constituent political units of the federation called the "Commonwealth of Australia." The ten regional political communities comprising the federation of Canada are officially designated as "provinces."

There are important features which distinguish federalism from unitary government on the one hand and from confederal government on the other characteristics that distinguish a federal union from a governmental system characterized by a very high degree of political centralization as well as from a governmental system that is almost completely decentralized. The distinguishing features of federalism, as a set of constitutional power relationships between a country's central government and the governments of its local or regional political subdivisions, place the federation somewhere in between the high level of centralization that characterizes the unitary state and the thoroughgoing (complete) decentralization that defines the confederation.

What are the distinguishing characteristics of federalism?

Unlike a confederation, the general government of a federation the national, or central, government of the federated sovereign state has unchallenged constitutional authority to speak, decide, and act for the entire country in its relations and dealings with foreign governments. In this sense, the national government is the sole possessor and exerciser of sovereignty. Only the national government can operate as the government of a completely independent political community with absolute power to chart its course in the arena of international relations.

The smaller regional or local political communities comprising the larger, federated sovereign community the member "states" or "provinces" of the federal union are not sovereign states (as they would be in a confederation). That is, the smaller communities are neither completely nor virtually independent. Instead, they are semiautonomous. They possess autonomy, not sovereignty. However, the degree of autonomy, or self-government, is substantial.

In the case of a federation, the national constitution the constitution over the whole country divides and distributes the constitutional powers of government between the national government and the constituent political units the smaller communities comprising the larger community. The national constitution recognizes the existence of two levels of government in the country: (1) the national, or central, government and (2) the governments of the smaller regional communities. And the national constitution grants substantial authority to each of the two levels of government national and regional. Each level of government is given the right to make final decisions on at least some governmental activities and services.

In a federal system, the national constitution protects the right of each level of government to exist. Legally, neither level of government can destroy the other level. The U.S.A., for example, has been referred to as "an indestructible union of indestructible states."

In a federal union, the national constitution gives the central government control over matters of general, or common, concern to the country as a whole and permits the constituent political communities to regulate matters of more regional or local concern.

Neither level of government in a federation receives its powers from other. The constituent communities do not receive their powers from statutes enacted by the national legislature. And the national government does not receive its powers from decisions and actions of the regional legislatures. Both levels of government national and regional receive their respective sets of powers from a common source, and that common source is the national constitution.

Both levels of government in a federal union operate through their own agents and exercise power directly over individuals. In a given geographic, or territorial, region within the country, two different governments one national, and the other regional simultaneously govern the same land and people.

Under ordinary conditions within the country, neither level of government in a federal system is dependent upon the other for enforcement of its decisions within its own constitutional sphere of authority.

b) Complete the table, 1) USA is done for you:


Federal Union Members of Federal Union
1) United States of America 50 states
2) Commonwealth of Australia  
3) Canada  
4) Federal Republic of Germany  
5) Austria  
6) Russia  
Your country  

c) Use the text to compare the following types of government:


Unitary Government Federal Government Confederal Government

d) Find the words in the text which mean:

completely independent


members of federation

partially self-governing

TASK XI.a) Read Emergency does not create power by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes (1934):

Emergency does not increase granted power or remove or diminish the restrictions imposed upon power granted or reserved.

The Constitution was adopted in a period of grave emergency. Its grants of power to the federal government and its limitations of the power of the States were determined in the light of emergency, and they are not altered by emergency. What power was thus granted and what limitations were thus imposed are questions which have always been, and always will be, the subject of close examination under US constitutional system

b) Write 5-7 sentences to show yourunderstanding of the expression Emergency does not create power




1. Constitutionalism Constitutional Government

In the American constitutional system, the authority of government is defined, limited, and distributed by law by the fundamental law of the United States Constitution. American government is conducted in accordance with and within the limits set by the fundamental law of the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution, as a body of written basic law, is superior to and takes precedence over all ordinary acts of Congress and the state legislatures and over all decisions and actions of the executive branches of the national and state governments. Under the Constitution, restrictions on the discretionary authority of public officers and institutions are clearly recognized and regularly enforced. In short, the Constitution effectively limits the power of government.

Thus, American government is limited government limited government under the Constitution. The powers of American government are effectively limited by law limited by the fundamental law of the Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution not only limits the authority of the U.S. central government, it also limits the authority of the states and their local subdivisions. The authority of a state and its local communities is further limited by its own state constitution.

American constitutionalism at the national level dictates that the central government operates in accord with the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and that it does not exceed the authority granted to it by the Constitution.
2. Republicanism Republican Government

The United States of America is a republic. There are no inherited offices in the government. Every office in the government, legislative, executive or judicial, is filled by either election direct or indirect or appointment according to law. No government office is occupied by a hereditary monarch or titled nobleman.

The U.S. Constitution prohibits both the national government and the states from granting or officially recognizing titles of nobility. (Article I, Sections 9, 10)

Moreover, the U.S. Constitution obligates the national government to guarantee each state a republican form of government. (Article IV, Section 4)

These constitutional provisions were intended to enhance the republican character of American government.

The American system of government is a constitutional republic a political regime in which the features of constitutionalism and republicanism are combined. The U.S. government is a constitutional republic, and so is each of the fifty states comprising the American federal union.
3. Separation of Powers

Three Separate Branches of Government:

The U.S. Constitution divides the national government into three separate branches -- legislative, executive, and judicial. The three branches of the national government are institutionally separate from and largely independent of one another.

Allocation of Power among the Three Governmental Branches:

The U.S. Constitution (1) grants certain powers to the national government and (2) allocates these powers among the three branches of the government. Each governmental branch is given its own set of powers; each branch has its own separate constitutional grant of authority.

Congress. The powers of Congress are mainly legislative in character primarily lawmaking powers.

The President.The powers of the President are primarily executive. Presidential power is mainly authority to enforce, or carry out, the laws.

The U.S. Courts. The powers of the U.S. Supreme Court and the other federal courts are judicial. Judicial authority is the power of the courts to interpret, or construe, the law. That is, the courts have power to decide (1) the meaning and intent of the law and (2) how the law is to be applied in particular cases.

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