Principles & Values of the United States Government

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  • 0:14 The Founding of the…
  • 0:57 Defining ~'Federal Republic~'
  • 2:09 Defining ~'Liberty~'
  • 2:36 Defining ~'Equality~'
  • 3:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson you will explore the principles and values that are fundamental parts of how the United States government was formed and still operates. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The American Government

As Americans, we are familiar with many of the foundational principles of our government. Of the people, by the people, and for the people, right? But aside from encouraging our patriotism, what does this really mean?

Since the United States was originally a series of British colonies, the American government had to be intentionally and carefully designed after achieving independence. The men and women who were key figures in designing our government had a distinct goal: to protect the people of the nation from ever having to live under the tyranny of an oppressive government ever again.

They were not the only people to think like this. Across the world, people were demanding more rights and arguing that governments needed to protect, not abuse, their citizens. However, while European nations needed to overthrow old governments before new ones could be formed, the founders of the United States were in a prime position to create a government based on the rights of the people.

The Federal Republic

The United States was formed as a federal republic, the form of government the founders felt best supported their ideals. A republic is a form of government in which citizens elect officials to represent them in a government. America is simply too large to give every citizen an equal voice in government; we would never have time to do anything but vote and debate. So, we elect representatives who we decide are qualified to speak on our behalf. Since we choose our representatives through popular elections, we are specifically considered a democratic republic.

So we are a republic, but what does it mean to be a federal republic? Federal refers to the fact that our nation is composed of states with their own governments, unified by a central government. In a purely centralized nation, the national government has absolute power. In a federalist nation, like ours, states have their own power. This is why every state has its own constitution, legislature, and government. The system of the federal republic is designed to prevent the central government from becoming too powerful.

Liberty and Equality

Of all the values that the founding figures of America built into the government, two stand out. First is liberty. This is the idea that citizens have a right to express their free will in government. In political terms, liberty refers to the political freedoms that are guaranteed to all citizens in the nation. American liberties, or political rights, include freedom of speech, freedom to bear arms, and equal protection. These are a few of the liberties guaranteed to all American citizens by the federal government.

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