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255 Cards in this Set

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academic freedom
The right of teachers and students to express their ideas in the classroom or in writing, free from political, religious, or institutional restrictions, even if these ideas are unpopular.
affirmative action
A term referring to various government policies that aim to increase the proportion of African-Americans, women, and other minorities in jobs and educational institutions historically dominated by white men. The policies usually require employers and institutions to set goals for hiring or admitting minorities.
‡ Affirmative action has been extremely controversial. Supporters maintain that it is the only way to overcome the effects of past discrimination and promote integration. Critics dismiss it as “reverse discrimination,” denying opportunities to qualified whites and men. (See Bakke decision).
Abbreviation for the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations, two groups that merged in 1955 to become the largest federation of labor unions in the United States. Member unions, including a variety of workers from machinists to musicians, make up over seventy percent of the unionized labor force in the United States.
‡ Though officially nonpartisan, the AFL-CIO has strong traditional ties with the Democratic party.
Alaskan pipeline
An oil pipeline that runs eight hundred miles from oil reserves in Prudhoe Bay, on the northern coast of Alaska, to the port of Valdez, on Alaska’s southern coast, from which the oil can be shipped to markets. Also called the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
‡ After oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, construction of the pipeline was delayed for several years, as conservationists warned against the effects of the pipeline on the ecosystems through which it would run.
‡ In 1989 an environmental disaster occurred when an oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground and leaked millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history
(AWL-duhr-muhn) A member of a city council. Aldermen usually represent city districts, called wards, and work with the mayor to run the city government. Jockeying among aldermen for political influence is often associated with machine politics
American Civil Liberties Union
An organization founded in 1920 in the wake of the red scare to defend civil liberties. The ACLU has often defended the rights of individuals aligned with unpopular causes, including American communists and Nazis.
American Dream
A phrase connoting hope for prosperity and happiness, symbolized particularly by having a house of one’s own. Possibly applied at first to the hopes of immigrants, the phrase now applies to all except the very rich and suggests a confident hope that one’s children’s economic and social condition will be better than one’s own.
American Legion
The largest organization of American veterans, open to those who participated in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and subsequent conflicts, such as America’s war on terrorism. The American Legion has established an influential political position, gaining support in Congress and the federal executive branch for veterans’ interests; its efforts contributed to the creation of the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides medical services and other benefits to veterans and their families. Traditionally conservative, the American Legion promotes patriotism and a strong military defense. (See also Veterans of Foreign Wars.)
amicus curiae
(uh-MEE-kuhs KYOOR-ee-eye) See friend of the court.
antitrust legislation
Laws passed in the United States, especially between 1890 and 1915, to prevent large business corporations, called trusts, from combining into monopolies to restrict competition. The laws were instituted to encourage free enterprise. (See also trust busting.)
‡ The enforcement of antitrust laws has been inconsistent.
‡ Although the Bell Telephone system was declared a monopoly and forced to break up, huge corporations continue to merge.
The allocation of seats in a legislature or of taxes according to a plan. In the United States Congress, for example, the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives is based on the relative population of each state, whereas the apportionment in the Senate is based on equal representation for every state. (See also gerrymander.)
The grant of money by a legislature for some specific purpose. The authority to grant appropriations, popularly known as the power of the purse, gives legislatures a powerful check over executive branches and judicial branches, for no public money can be spent without legislative approval. Congress, for example, can approve or reject the annual budget requests of the executive branch for its agencies and programs, thereby influencing both domestic and foreign policy. (See also checks and balances and pork-barrel legislation.)
The settling of disputes (especially labor disputes) between two parties by an impartial third party, whose decision the contending parties agree to accept. Arbitration is often used to resolve conflict diplomatically to prevent a more serious confrontation.
Atomic Energy Commission
An agency of the United States government from 1946 to 1974 that was charged with controlling and developing the use of atomic energy for civilian and military purposes. In 1974, the AEC was abolished, and its duties were divided between two new agencies: the Energy Research and Development Administration (now a part of the Department of Energy) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
attorney general of the United States
The head of the United States Department of Justice and a member of the president’s cabinet. The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government
block grant
A financial aid package that grants federal money to state and local governments for use in social welfare programs, such as law enforcement, community development, and health services. Block grants provide money for general areas of social welfare, rather than for specific programs. This arrangement not only reduces bureaucratic red tape, but also allows grant recipients more freedom to choose how to use the funds. A product of Republican administrations in the 1970s and 1980s, block grants reduce federal responsibility for social welfare. (See federalism.)
blue laws
Laws that prohibit certain businesses from opening on Sunday or from selling certain items on that day. Blue laws often apply to bars and to alcohol sales. Originally enacted to allow observation of Sunday as a Sabbath, blue laws have come under attack as violating the separation of church and state. The courts, however, have upheld most blue laws, on the basis that their observance has become secular and promotes Sunday as a day of rest and relaxation.
branches of government
The division of government into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In the case of the federal government, the three branches were established by the Constitution. The executive branch consists of the president, the cabinet, and the various departments and executive agencies. The legislative branch consists of the two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and their staff. The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court and the other federal courts.
broad construction
A theory of interpretation of the Constitution that holds that the spirit of the times, the values of the justices, and the needs of the nation may legitimately influence the decisions of a court, particularly the Supreme Court. Sometimes called judicial activism. (See Earl Warren.)
The movement of students from one neighborhood to a school in another neighborhood, usually by bus and usually to break down de facto segregation of public schools.
‡ A Supreme Court decision in 1971 ruling that busing was an appropriate means of achieving integrated schools (see integration) was received with widespread, sometimes violent, resistance, particularly among whites into whose neighborhoods and schools black children were to be bused. In 1991, the Court ruled that school districts could end busing if they had done everything “practicable” to eliminate the traces of past discrimination.
A group of presidential advisers, composed of the heads of the fourteen government departments (the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of the Interior, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Department of the Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the attorney general (head of the Department of Justice)—all of whom are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate) and a few other select government officials. Theoretically, the cabinet is charged with debating major policy issues and recommending action by the executive branch; the actual influence of the cabinet, however, is limited by competition from other advisory staffs.
campaign finance reform
A movement, fueled in recent decades by political candidates’ increasing dependence on expensive television advertisements, to restrict the amount of money that individuals and interest groups can contribute to political campaigns. Although limits have been placed on individual contributions, a loophole has been left for political action committees. Both parties pay lip service to the principle of campaign finance reform, but neither fully supports it. Some liberals see it as the best way to secure the independence of politicians from moneyed interests; some conservatives view it as a threat to freedom of speech.
capital offense
A crime, such as murder or betrayal of one’s country, that is treated so seriously that death may be considered an appropriate punishment.
capital punishment
The infliction of the death penalty as punishment for certain crimes. (See capital offense.)
‡ In the United States, capital punishment has been an extremely controversial issue on legal, moral, and ethical grounds. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was not, in principle, cruel and unusual punishment (and not, therefore, unconstitutional), but that its implementation through existing state laws was unconstitutional. In 1976, the Supreme Court again ruled that the death penalty was not unconstitutional, though a mandatory death penalty for any crime was. Thirty-nine states now practice the death penalty.
Capitol Hill
A hill in Washington, D.C., on which the United States Capitol building sits. (See photo, next page.) The House of Representatives and the Senate meet in the Capitol. (See on the Hill.)
(KAW-kuhs) A meeting of members of a political party to nominate candidates, choose convention delegates, plan campaign tactics, determine party policy, or select leaders for a legislature.
Central Intelligence Agency
An agency of the United States government, responsible for coordinating information-gathering activities outside the United States in the interest of national security. The CIA works with the Department of State and a variety of civilian and military organizations to protect American interests abroad and recommend directions for American foreign policy.
‡ The extreme secrecy of many of the CIA’s operations has enhanced its reputation as an organization of espionage and intrigue.
‡ The operations of the CIA are directed by the National Security Council.
checks and balances
A fundamental principle of American government, guaranteed by the Constitution, whereby each branch of the government (executive, judicial, and legislative) has some measure of influence over the other branches and may choose to block procedures of the other branches. Checks and balances prevent any one branch from accumulating too much power and encourage cooperation between branches as well as comprehensive debate on controversial policy issues. For example, to enact a federal law, the Senate and the House of Representatives must each vote to pass the law. In this sense, each house of Congress can check the other. Furthermore, even if the two houses do agree, the president must sign the law. If he chooses to veto the law, it can still be enacted if two-thirds of the members of both houses vote to override the veto. Under this arrangement, both Congress and the president can check each other. (See also appropriation, impeachment, judicial review, and separation of powers.
civil liberties
In general, the rights to freedom of thought, expression, and action, and the protection of these rights from government interference or restriction. Civil liberties are the hallmark of liberal, democratic “free” societies. In the United States, the Bill of Rights guarantees a variety of civil liberties, most notably freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, expressed in the First Amendment. (See civil rights.)
civil rights
A broad range of privileges and rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and subsequent amendments and laws that guarantee fundamental freedoms to all individuals. These freedoms include the rights of free expression and action (civil liberties); the right to enter into contracts, own property, and initiate lawsuits; the rights of due process and equal protection of the laws; opportunities in education and work; the freedom to live, travel, and use public facilities wherever one chooses; and the right to participate in the democratic political system.
‡ Efforts to redress the situation of inequality, such as the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, have resulted in legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in affirmative action, and in the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
clear and present danger
The standard set by the Supreme Court for judging when freedom of speech may lawfully be limited. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., illustrated the point by arguing that no one has a constitutional right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater when no fire is present, for such action would pose a “clear and present danger” to public safety. (See First Amendment.)
closed primary
A type of direct primary limited to registered party members, who must declare their party affiliation in order to vote. The closed primary serves to encourage party unity and prevent members of other parties from infiltrating and voting to nominate weak candidates. (Compare open primary.)
(KLOH-chuhr) A vote of a legislature used to stop debate on an issue and put the issue to a vote. (See filibuster.)
coattail effect
The tendency for a popular political party leader to attract votes for other candidates of the same party in an election. For example, the party of a victorious presidential candidate will often win many seats in Congress as well; these congressmen are voted into office “on the coattails” of the president.
commander in chief
The role of the United States president as highest ranking officer in the armed forces. The Constitution provides this power, but, through the system of checks and balances, gives Congress the authority to declare war. During periods of war, presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, George H. W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush have taken active roles as commander in chief.
confirmation hearings
Meetings held by the Senate to gather information about candidates for federal office nominated by the president of the United States. Under the Constitution, the president has the right to appoint whomever he wants to various government offices, including members of the cabinet and federal judges, but each appointment must be approved by the Senate as part of the separation of powers.
The legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Popularly elected, senators and representatives are responsible for advocating the interests of the constituents they represent. Numerous congressional committees are organized to study issues of public policy, recommend action, and, ultimately, pass laws. Congress plays an important role in the system of checks and balances; in fact, the two-house (bicameral) organization of Congress acts as an internal check, for each house must separately vote to pass a bill for it to become a law. In addition to lawmaking, Congress has a variety of functions, including appropriation of funds for executive and judicial activities; instituting taxes and regulating commerce; declaring war and raising and supporting a military; setting up federal courts and conducting impeachment proceedings; and approving presidential appointments.
Congressional Medal of Honor
The highest military decoration in the United States armed services, often called the Congressional Medal of Honor. It recognizes valor and bravery in action “above and beyond the call of duty.” There have been some 3,400 recipients of the medal, which was established by an act of Congress in 1862.
Congressional Record
A published account of the votes, speeches, and debates of the United States Congress.
conscientious objector
A person who refuses to render military service on the grounds of moral principle or religious belief. A CO must demonstrate a sincere, active, and long-standing objection in order to receive an exemption from armed service. The United States and some European governments officially recognize CO status; approved COs are usually required to perform social service or noncombat military service in place of armed duty. (See also draft, draft dodger, and Selective Service System.)
Constitution, United States
A document that embodies the fundamental laws and principles by which the United States is governed. It was drafted by the Constitutional Convention and later supplemented by the Bill of Rights and other amendments. (See Preamble to the Constitution.)
containment, policy of
A United States foreign policy doctrine adopted by the Harry S. Truman administration in 1947, operating on the principle that communist governments will eventually fall apart as long as they are prevented from expanding their influence.
‡ The policy of containment was used to justify American involvement in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
contempt of Congress
The deliberate obstruction of the workings of the federal legislative branch. For example, a witness under subpoena who refuses to testify before Congress can be cited for contempt of Congress.
contempt of court
The deliberate obstruction of a court’s proceedings by refusing to obey a court order or by interfering with court procedures. Contempt of court can be punished by fine, imprisonment, or both.
court of appeals
Courts, also called appellate courts, that are designed as part of the system of due process. Cases may be presented to these courts if a party is dissatisfied with the original court’s decision. An appeal must demonstrate that a new decision is warranted, usually in light of new evidence or a persuasive argument that the Constitution was improperly interpreted. A case may be appealed to successively higher state or federal appellate courts until it reaches the United States Supreme Court. There are twelve federal courts of appeal, each covering a group of states called a “circuit.”
cruel and unusual punishment
Punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Cruel and unusual punishment includes torture, deliberately degrading punishment, or punishment that is too severe for the crime committed. This concept helps guarantee due process even to convicted criminals. Many people have argued that capital punishment should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
dark horse
An unexpected winner. In politics, a dark horse is a candidate for office considered unlikely to receive his or her party’s nomination, but who might be nominated if party leaders cannot agree on a better candidate
de facto segregation
(di FAK-toh, day FAK-toh) Racial segregation, especially in public schools, that happens “by fact” rather than by legal requirement. For example, often the concentration of African-Americans in certain neighborhoods produces neighborhood schools that are predominantly black, or segregated in fact (de facto), although not by law (de jure).
The party that is being sued in court. (Compare plaintiff.)
A member of the Democratic party.
Department of Agriculture
A department of the federal executive branch that provides services for farmers, including agricultural research, soil conservation, and efforts to regulate and stabilize the farming economy.
Department of Commerce
A department of the federal executive branch whose responsibilities include management of the census and the United States Patent Office. Through a variety of bureaus and agencies, such as the Industry and Trade Administration and the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, the Department of Commerce works to promote American business interests at home and abroad.
Department of Defense
A department of the federal executive branch entrusted with formulating military policies and maintaining American military forces. Its top official is the civilian secretary of defense. It is headquartered in the Pentagon.
Department of Education
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for providing federal aid to educational institutions and financial aid to students, keeping national educational records, and conducting some educational research.
Department of Energy
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for developing policies for effective use of the nation’s energy resources. The Department of Energy is involved in energy conservation, regulating oil pipelines, and encouraging research on new sources of energy
Department of Health and Human Services
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the Social Security Administration, the Public Health Service, and other programs designed to promote public welfare. It was originally called the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, until the separate Department of Education was created in 1979.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for home finance, promoting civil rights in housing, urban renewal, and the development of new communities.
Department of Justice
A department of the federal executive branch, headed by the attorney general, which administers the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), prosecutes violations of federal law, and is responsible for enforcing all civil rights legislation.
Department of Labor
A department of the federal executive branch concerned with improving working conditions and employment opportunities for laborers. Its programs include job training (especially for the poor), appraising manpower resources and needs, and regulating occupational safety.
Department of State
A department of the federal executive branch primarily responsible for making and conducting foreign policy. It is commonly called the State Department and is headed by the secretary of state. Its activities include negotiating treaties, coordinating correspondence and information programs with foreign governments, and administering economic aid to developing nations.
Department of the Interior
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and a variety of programs designed to preserve natural resources in the United States and its territories and possessions in the Pacific Ocean.
Department of the Treasury
A department of the federal executive branch; it includes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Department of the Treasury has general responsibility for setting federal fiscal policy by collecting taxes and customs duties, administering the public debt, keeping all government accounts, minting currency, and licensing ships engaged in international and interstate commerce. The Department of the Treasury administers the Secret Service.
Department of Transportation
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.
Department of Veterans Affairs
The second-largest cabinet department, the VA coordinates the distribution of benefits for veterans of the American armed forces and their dependents. The benefits include compensation for disabilities, the management of veterans’ hospitals, and various insurance programs.
direct primary
An election in which voters choose candidates to run on a party’s ticket in a subsequent election for public office.
district attorney
An official responsible for representing the government in court cases and for prosecuting criminals.
dollar diplomacy
The use of diplomatic influence, economic pressure, and military power to protect a nation’s economic and business interests abroad. The term was first used to describe the exploitative nature of United States involvement in Latin America.
domino theory
The idea that if one key nation in a region fell to control of communists, others would follow like toppling dominoes. The theory was used by many American leaders to justify American intervention in the Vietnam War. (See policy of containment.)
A symbol of the Democratic party, introduced in a series of political cartoons by Thomas Nast during the congressional elections of 1874. (Compare elephant.)
double jeopardy
Trying a person twice in the same jurisdiction for the same crime, a practice prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. (See due process of law.)
A system for selecting young men for compulsory military service, administered in the United States by the Selective Service System. At present the United States relies on a volunteer military and does not have a draft, though young men are required by law to register with the Selective Service. (See also conscientious objector and draft dodger.)
draft dodger
Someone who illegally evades the draft, as opposed to a conscientious objector, who is granted official, legal exemption from military duty. In active protest against United States involvement in the Vietnam War, many Americans publicly burned draft registration cards, risking imprisonment; others fled to other countries, such as Canada.
Drug Enforcement Administration
An agency in the United States Department of Justice that enforces federal laws and regulations dealing with narcotics and other dangerous drugs. It cooperates with the FBI and with local law enforcement agencies.
due process of law
The principle that an individual cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without appropriate legal procedures and safeguards. The Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guarantee that any person accused of a crime must be informed of the charges, be provided with legal counsel, be given a speedy and public trial, enjoy equal protection of the laws, and not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, unreasonable searches and seizures, double jeopardy, or self-incrimination.
E pluribus unum
(EE PLOOR-uh-buhs YOOH-nuhm, OOH-nuhm) A motto of the United States; Latin for “Out of many, one.” It refers to the Union formed by the separate states. E pluribus unum was adopted as a national motto in 1776 and is now found on the Great Seal of the United States and on United States currency.
Eastern Establishment
The elite universities and financial institutions of major cities in the northeastern United States. These institutions, by virtue of their long-standing economic and social dominance, are often believed to exert an influence out of proportion to their size. In American politics, the Eastern Establishment often takes a liberal Republican stand. (See also Ivy League, Madison Avenue, power elite, and Wall Street.)
Electoral College
(i-LEK-tuhr-uhl) The presidential electors who meet after the citizens vote for president and cast ballots for the president and vice president. Each state is granted the same number of electors as it has senators (see United States Senate) and representatives combined. These electors, rather than the public, actually elect the president and the vice president. The Founding Fathers assumed that electors would exercise discretion and not necessarily be bound by the popular vote, but the rise of political parties undermined this assumption. Electors are now pledged in advance to vote for the candidate of their party, and nearly always do so. Thus, the vote of the Electoral College is largely a formality.
‡ There have been several attempts to abolish the Electoral College. In the 2000 presidential election, the candidate with the plurality of popular votes lost the electoral vote, a situation that also occurred in the 1876 and 1888 elections.
A symbol of the Republican party, introduced in a series of political cartoons by Thomas Nast during the congressional elections of 1874. (Compare donkey.)
Federal programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, that disburse money according to fixed formulas to citizens who fall into designated categories. Because entitlements do not require annual congressional appropriations, their cost tends to rise steadily and, in the view of some, out of control.
Environmental Protection Agency
An agency established by the United States government to coordinate federal programs aimed at combating pollution and protecting the environment.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
An agency established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to investigate racial and sexual discrimination. The National Organization for Women (NOW) was organized in the 1960s when the EEOC failed to act upon the Civil Rights Act’s sexual discrimination clause
equal opportunity
The goal of giving all persons an equal chance to an education and employment, and to protect their civil rights, regardless of their race, religious beliefs, or gender. In the United States, various minority groups have been fighting for equal opportunity over the last 150 years. (See affirmative action, civil rights movement, equal protection of the laws, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Organization for Women, segregation, sexism, suffragist, and women’s movement.)
equal protection of the laws
A phrase in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution requiring that states guarantee the same rights, privileges, and protections to all citizens. This doctrine reinforces that of due process of law and prevents states from passing or enforcing laws that arbitrarily discriminate against anyone.
Equal Rights Amendment
A twice-proposed but never ratified amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit denial or abridgement of rights on the basis of sex. First proposed in 1923, the amendment was passed by Congress in 1972 but failed ratification by the requisite number of states. It was a major rallying point of the women’s movement.
equal time
A ruling of the United States government, administered by the Federal Communications Commission, requiring that all candidates for public office be given equal access to the free or paid use of radio and television.
ex post facto
(eks pohst FAK-toh) A descriptive term for an explanation or a law that is made up after an event and then applied to it: “The chairman’s description of his plan sounds like an ex post facto attempt to justify an impulsive action.” Ex post facto is Latin for “from after the deed.”
ex post facto law
A law that makes illegal an act that was legal when committed, increases the penalties for an infraction after it has been committed, or changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier. The Constitution prohibits the making of ex post facto law. (See ex post facto.)
executive branch
The branch of federal and state government that is broadly responsible for implementing, supporting, and enforcing the laws made by the legislative branch and interpreted by the judicial branch. At the state level, the executive includes governors and their staffs. At the federal level, the executive includes the president, the vice president, staffs of appointed advisers (including the cabinet), and a variety of departments and agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Postal Service (see postmaster general). The executive branch also proposes a great deal of legislation to Congress and appoints federal judges, including justices of the Supreme Court. Although the executive branch guides the nation’s domestic and foreign policies, the system of checks and balances works to limit its power.
farm bloc
A group of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress from the farming states of the Middle West that pressures the federal government to adopt policies favorable to farmers.
favorite son
A political figure nominated for the presidency by his or her state’s delegation to the national nominating convention of a major party. Favorite sons are rarely serious candidates for the party’s nomination. By nominating a favorite son, the delegation honors its nominee while delaying its commitment until the more serious contenders for the nomination can be sorted out.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
An agency of the United States federal government, long headed by J. Edgar Hoover, which investigates violations of federal (rather than state or local) laws, including kidnaping, smuggling narcotics, and espionage.
‡ Established in 1908 under the Department of Justice, the FBI earned its reputation in the 1920s and 1930s by apprehending notorious bank robbers and gangsters
A system of government in which power is divided between a national (federal) government and various regional governments. As defined by the United States Constitution, federalism is a fundamental aspect of American government, whereby the states are not merely regional representatives of the federal government, but are granted independent powers and responsibilities. With their own legislative branch, executive branch, and judicial branch, states are empowered to pass, enforce, and interpret laws, provided they do not violate the Constitution. This arrangement not only allows state governments to respond directly to the interests of their local populations, but also serves to check the power of the federal government. Whereas the federal government determines foreign policy, with exclusive power to make treaties, declare war, and control imports and exports, the states have exclusive power to ratify the Constitution. Most governmental responsibilities, however, are shared by state and federal governments: both levels are involved in such public policy issues as taxation, business regulation, environmental protection, and civil rights.
‡ The precise extent of state and federal responsibility has always been controversial. Republican administrations, for example, have tended to grant more authority to the states, thereby encouraging political and economic freedom but discouraging comprehensive social welfare. Until the middle of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court left the interpretation of many civil rights guarantees to the states, resulting in widespread discrimination against minorities.
fellow traveler
One who supports the aims or philosophies of a political group without joining it. A “fellow traveler” is usually one who sympathizes with communist doctrines but is not a member of the Communist party. The term was used disparagingly in the 1950s to describe people accused of being communists.
(FEL-uh-nee) A grave crime, such as murder, rape, or burglary, that is punishable by death (see capital offense) or imprisonment in a state or federal facility.
Fifth Amendment
One of the ten amendments to the United States Constitution that make up the Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment imposes restrictions on the government’s prosecution of persons accused of crimes. It prohibits self-incrimination and double jeopardy and mandates due process of law.
‡ To “take the Fifth” is to refuse to testify because the testimony could lead to self-incrimination
(FIL-uh-bus-tuhr) A strategy employed in the United States Senate, whereby a minority can delay a vote on proposed legislation by making long speeches or introducing irrelevant issues. A successful filibuster can force withdrawal of a bill. Filibusters can be ended only by cloture.
First Amendment
An amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteeing the rights of free expression and action that are fundamental to democratic government. These rights include freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. The government is empowered, however, to restrict these freedoms if expression threatens to be destructive. Argument over the extent of First Amendment freedoms has often reached the Supreme Court. (See clear and present danger, libel, and obscenity.)
‡ The First Amendment begins the Bill of Rights.
Foggy Bottom
A nickname for the United States Department of State, whose offices were built in a formerly swampy area of Washington, D.C., known as Foggy Bottom because of vapors rising from the swamp.
Foreign Relations Committee
A committee of the Senate charged with overseeing the conduct of foreign policy.
Foreign Service
The professional arm of the executive branch that supplies diplomats for the United States embassies and consulates around the world. Ambassadors, though officially members of the Foreign Service, are sometimes friends of the president of the United States appointed in gratitude for support given during elections.
Fourteenth Amendment
An amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1868. It was primarily concerned with details of reintegrating the southern states after the Civil War and defining some of the rights of recently freed slaves. The first section of the amendment, however, was to revolutionize federalism. It stated that no state could “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Gradually, the Supreme Court interpreted the amendment to mean that the guarantees of the Bill of Rights apply to the states as well as to the national government.
In politics, the right to vote. The Constitution left the determination of the qualifications of voters to the states. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, states usually restricted the franchise to white men who owned specified amounts of property. Gradually, poll taxes were substituted for property requirements. Before the Civil War, the voting rights of blacks were severely restricted, but the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declared ratified in 1870, prohibited states from abridging the right to vote on the basis of race. Nevertheless, southern states used a variety of legal ploys to restrict black voting until passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Women were not guaranteed the right to vote in federal elections until ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. In 1971 the Twenty-sixth Amendment lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. (See suffrage and suffragette.)
freedom of assembly
The right to hold public meetings and form associations without interference by the government. Freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
‡ Segregation has been described as a violation of freedom of assembly.
freedom of association
The right to form societies, clubs, and other groups of people, and to meet with people individually, without interference by the government.
freedom of religion
The right to choose a religion (or no religion) without interference by the government. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. (See separation of church and state.)
freedom of speech
The right to speak without censorship or restraint by the government. Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. (See clear and present danger.)
freedom of the press
The right to circulate opinions in print without censorship by the government. Americans enjoy freedom of the press under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
friend of the court
An individual or group interested in influencing the outcome of a lawsuit but not an actual party to the suit. The statement presented to the court is an amicus curiae brief; amicus curiae is Latin for “friend of the court.”
gay rights
The movement for civil rights for homosexuals. It originated after a police raid on a gay bar in New York City in 1969, which triggered a riot and launched the grassroots reform movement seeking to end social and legal discrimination against gays. (See Stonewall Riot.)
gender gap
A phrase marking the trend in recent U.S. presidential elections, whereby more female than male voters support the Democratic party candidate and more male than female voters support the Republican party candidate.
(JER-ee-man-duhr) To change the boundaries of legislative districts to favor one party over another. Typically, the dominant party in a state legislature (which is responsible for drawing the boundaries of congressional districts) will try to concentrate the opposing party’s strength in as few districts as possible, while giving itself likely majorities in as many districts as possible.
Good Neighbor policy
A United States foreign policy doctrine, adopted by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, designed to improve relations with Latin America. A reaction to the exploitative dollar diplomacy of the early 1900s, the Good Neighbor policy encouraged interaction between the United States and Latin America as equals. In the post–World War II era, however, the United States has often reverted to dollar diplomacy and gunboat diplomacy to impose its will on the countries of Latin America.
Abbreviation of Grand Old Party, a nickname for the Republican party in the United States
grand jury
A jury that decides whether the evidence warrants bringing an accused person to trial. Once indicted (see indictment) by a grand jury, a person must stand trial.
guilt by association
The attribution of guilt to individuals because of the people or organizations with which they associate, rather than because of any crime that they have committed.
gunboat diplomacy
A policy toward a foreign country that depends on the use, or threat of the use, of arms. (See big stick diplomacy.)
habeas corpus
(HAY-bee-uhs KAWR-puhs) A legal term meaning that an accused person must be presented physically before the court with a statement demonstrating sufficient cause for arrest. Thus, no accuser may imprison someone indefinitely without bringing that person and the charges against him or her into a courtroom. In Latin, habeas corpus literally means “you shall have the body.”
hawks and doves
Popularly, “hawks” are those who advocate an aggressive foreign policy based on strong military power. “Doves” try to resolve international conflicts without the threat of force.
Information heard by one person about another. Hearsay is generally inadmissible as evidence in a court of law because it is based on the reports of others rather than on the personal knowledge of a witness.
(HOM-uh-seyed) The killing of one person by another, whether intended (murder) or not (manslaughter). Not all homicide is unlawful; killing in self-defense, for example, is not a crime.
House of Representatives
The lower house of the United States Congress. With 435 popularly elected officials, the House (as it is often called) is the most representative body in the federal government. House seats are apportioned (see apportionment) relative to each state’s population. Because of its larger size, the House tends to maintain a closer link to local constituent concerns than the Senate, though both houses of Congress participate in virtually all aspects of legislation and policymaking. The Speaker of the House is one of the most influential officials in Washington, D.C., and is second in succession to the presidency, after the vice president.
hung jury
A jury that is unable to reach a verdict of guilty or not guilty. The result is a mistrial, and legal proceedings must be reinitiated to bring the case to trial again. Trying the case a second time does not constitute double jeopardy.
(in-KUM-buhnt) One who holds a public office. By virtue of their experience in office, their exposure to the public, and their ability to raise campaign funds, incumbents usually have a significant advantage over opponents if they choose to run for reelection.
A formal accusation of wrongdoing against a public official. According to the United States Constitution, the House of Representatives can vote to impeach an official, but the Senate actually tries the case. Several presidencies have been blemished by impeachment or the threat of impeachment: President Andrew Johnson was impeached after the Civil War but was acquitted. President Richard Nixon resigned from office as the House of Representatives prepared to initiate impeachment proceedings. President William Jefferson Clinton was impeached in 1998 but was acquitted by the Senate the following year.
(in-DEYET-muhnt) A formal accusation of a crime, presented to the accused party after the charges have been considered by a grand jury.
A court order that either compels or restrains an act by an individual, organization, or government official. In labor–management relations, injunctions have been used to prevent workers from going on strike.
The free association of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds (see ethnicity); a goal of the civil rights movement to overcome policies of segregation that have been practiced in the United States.
‡ Those favoring integration of schools by such forceful means as busing or affirmative action have frequently argued that integration of schools will lead to integration of society as a whole. (See separate but equal.)
interest group
An organized group that tries to influence the government to adopt certain policies or measures. Also called pressure group. (See lobby.)
Internal Revenue Service
Part of the United States Department of the Treasury. The IRS is responsible for the collection of all federal taxes, except customs duties.
Interstate Commerce Commission
A federal agency that monitors the business operations of carriers transporting goods and people between states. Its jurisdiction includes railroads, ships, trucks, buses, oil pipelines, and their terminal facilities.
‡ The ICC was established in 1887 as the first federal agency.
The doctrine that a nation should stay out of the disputes and affairs of other nations. The United States practiced a policy of isolationism until World War I and did not pursue an active international policy until after World War II. (See “entangling alliances with none.”)
Joint Chiefs of Staff
A high-level military advisory board in the Department of Defense, composed of high-ranking representatives of the army, navy, air force, and marines. The Joint Chiefs are responsible for formulating military policy and recommending action regarding issues of national security and international relations.
joint resolution
A measure approved by both houses of the United States Congress and signed by the president. Similar to an act of Congress, the joint resolution is used to approve or initiate foreign policy actions, to grant a single appropriations proposal, and to propose amendments to the Constitution.
judicial activism
A theory of interpretation of the Constitution that holds that the spirit of the times, the values of the justices, and the needs of the nation may legitimately influence the decisions of a court, particularly the Supreme Court. Sometimes called broad construction. (See Earl Warren.)
judicial branch
The court systems of local, state, and federal governments, responsible for interpreting the laws passed by the legislative branch and enforced by the executive branch. These courts try criminal cases (in which a law may have been violated) or civil cases (disputes between parties over rights or responsibilities). The courts attempt to resolve conflicts impartially in order to protect the individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution, within the bounds of justice, as defined by the entire body of U.S. law. Some courts try only original cases, whereas others act as courts of appeals. The ultimate court of appeals is the Supreme Court. On the federal level, the system of checks and balances empowers Congress to create federal courts, and all federal judges must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The courts may exercise the powers of judicial review and injunction.
judicial restraint
A view, associated with Felix Frankfurter among others, that judges should be reluctant to declare legislative enactments unconstitutional unless the conflict between the enactment and the Constitution is obvious. The doctrine is akin to, but not identical with, narrow construction, and it is the opposite of judicial activism.
judicial review
The principle by which courts can declare acts of either the executive branch or the legislative branch unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has exercised this power, for example, to revoke state laws that denied civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution. (See also checks and balances.)
(joor-is-PROOHD-ns) The philosophy of law. Jurisprudence implies creating a body of law and methods for interpreting the law, studying the relationships between law and society, and predicting the effects of legal decisions. In the United States, lawmakers, attorneys, scholars, and courts all take an active role in guiding jurisprudence.
justice of the peace
A local officer of the judicial branch empowered to try minor cases, recommend cases for trial, and perform civil ceremonies, such as marriages and oath taking. Justices of the peace are usually elected locally and are paid fees for their services.
kangaroo court
A court that ignores principles of justice; a court characterized by incompetence and dishonesty.
A descriptive term for an individual or a political faction that advocates liberal, radical, or even revolutionary policies, usually in favor of overcoming social inequalities. In the United States, left-wing groups generally support federal social welfare programs designed to open opportunities to all citizens. (Compare right-wing.)
‡ Although both major political parties in the United States have left-wing factions, left-wing policies are usually associated with the Democratic party.
lame duck
A public official or administration serving out a term in office after having been defeated for reelection or when not seeking reelection.
(LAHR-suh-nee) Theft; taking another person’s property with the intent of permanently depriving the owner.
machine, political
An administration of elected public officials who use their influential positions to solidify and perpetuate the power of their political party, often through dubious means. Machine politicians make free use of the spoils system and patronage, rewarding loyal party supporters with appointed government jobs. Other machine methods include gerrymandering election districts; planting party representatives in neighborhoods; making deals with judges, lawyers, and other professionals; and “buying” votes by offering social services to potential voters. When machine politics was especially strong in the United States, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, politicians would go so far as to offer beer for votes and would embezzle large amounts of public money. Machines also dominated party caucuses and conventions, thereby affecting politics at all levels of government.
legislative branch
(LEJ-i-slay-tiv) The branch of the federal and state government empowered to make the laws that are then enforced by the executive branch and interpreted by the judicial branch. The legislative branch consists of Congress and the fifty state legislatures. At both state and federal levels, legislatures are made up of popularly elected representatives, who propose laws that are sensitive to the needs and interests of their local constituents. After a law is proposed as a bill, it is sent to appropriate committees for several stages of discussion, research, and modification. It is then debated in both legislative houses—except in Nebraska, which has a single-house legislature—and put to a vote. If the law is passed, it is still subject to further modification and final vote by both houses. Under the system of checks and balances, the president can refuse to sign the bill into law (through the veto power). The legislature can then vote to override the veto. Other checks and balances include legislative powers to impeach public officials (see impeachment), confirm appointments to the executive and judicial branches, and vote on appropriations.
A written, printed, or pictorial statement that unjustly defames someone publicly. Prosecution of libel as a punishable offense puts some measure of restriction on freedom of the press under the First Amendment.
Library of Congress
The largest library in the United States, located in Washington, D.C., and maintained largely by federal appropriations. Its original purpose was to provide research facilities for members of Congress; today it serves the public as well. Most copyrighted publications are catalogued by the Library of Congress, whose classification system is used by major libraries around the country.
line-item veto
The authority of an executive to veto a specific appropriation in a budget passed by a legislature. Viewing the line-item veto as an effective tactic against pork-barrel legislation, presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush unsuccessfully sought this authority, which many state governors possess, from Congress. Under current law the president must choose between signing or vetoing the entire budget rather than parts (items on budget lines) of it.
A group whose members share certain goals and work to bring about the passage, modification, or defeat of laws that affect these goals. Lobbies (also called interest groups or pressure groups) can be long-standing (such as minority groups struggling to have their civil rights guaranteed) or ad hoc (such as a community threatened by proposed construction of a nuclear power plant). Lobbies may use grassroots methods, such as local rallies and campaigns, to build support for their cause and often employ professional lobbyists, who testify before congressional committees and approach policymakers in all government branches. Powerful lobbies, such as the AFL-CIO and the American Legion, with millions of members, have succeeded in establishing influence in Washington, D.C.
In politics, advance agreement by legislators to vote for one another’s bills. Logrolling is most common when legislators are trying to secure votes for bills that will benefit their home districts. For example, a group of congressmen from the Middle West pushing for higher dairy prices and a group of southern congressmen supporting higher tobacco prices might make a logrolling agreement in order to get both bills passed.
machine politics
Politics associated with political machines.
majority leader
The leader of the party that holds a majority of seats in either house of Congress or of a state legislature. Selected by their own party caucuses, majority leaders act as chief spokespersons and strategists for their parties. In the House of Representatives, the majority leader is second in command of his party, after the Speaker of the House. (See also minority leader.)
A man’s home is his castle
A proverbial expression that illustrates the principle of individual privacy, which is fundamental to the American system of government. In this regard, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution—part of the Bill of Rights—prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
‡ Disagreement over the extent of personal privacy and over interpretation of unreasonable has brought many cases before the Supreme Court.
(MAN-slaw-tuhr) The unlawful killing of a person, without malice or premeditation. Involuntary manslaughter is accidental, such as running into someone with a car. Voluntary manslaughter is committed in the “heat of passion,” as in a spontaneous fight in which one person is killed by a strong blow. Manslaughter is usually considered less serious than murder. Both murder and manslaughter are types of homicide.
massive retaliation
The doctrine that the best way to deter aggression is to threaten a potential aggressor with devastation by atomic bombs. (See hawks and doves.)
Medal of Honor
The highest military decoration in the United States armed services, often called the Congressional Medal of Honor. It recognizes valor and bravery in action “above and beyond the call of duty.” There have been some 3,400 recipients of the medal, which was established by an act of Congress in 1862.
(MED-i-kair) A federal program providing medical care for the elderly. Established by a health insurance bill in 1965, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the Medicare program made a significant step for social welfare legislation and helped establish the growing population of the elderly as a pressure group. (See entitlements.)
military-industrial complex
A general term for the cooperative relationship between the military and the industrial producers of military equipment and supplies in lobbying for increased spending on military programs.
‡ In his farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned that the growth of this relationship would increase the militarization of American society and endanger the principles of democracy.
minority leader
The leader of the political party that holds a minority of seats in either house of Congress or of a state legislature. Selected by their own party caucuses, minority leaders act as chief spokespersons and strategists for their parties.
Miranda decision
(muh-RAN-duh) A decision by the United States Supreme Court concerning the rights of persons in police custody. In the case of Miranda versus Arizona, in 1966, the Court ruled that, before questioning by the police, suspects must be informed that they have the right to remain silent and the right to consult an attorney, and that anything they say may be used against them in court. The Miranda ruling protects a suspect’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The Miranda warning, a written statement of these rights, is normally recited by a police officer before interrogating the suspect in police custody.
(mis-di-MEE-nuhr) A minor crime, punishable by a fine or a light jail term. Common misdemeanors, such as traffic violations, are usually dealt with informally, without a trial. (Compare felony.)
Status in an international trading arrangement whereby agreements between two nations on tariffs are then extended to other nations. Every nation involved in such an arrangement will have most-favored-nation status. This policy is used, particularly by the United States, to lower tariffs, extend cooperative trading agreements, and protect nations from discriminatory treatment. Most-favored-nation agreements can also be used to apply economic pressure on nations by deliberately excluding them from international trade.
narrow construction
A theory of interpretation of the Constitution that holds that the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, should be bound by the exact words of the Constitution, or by the original intent of the framers of the Constitution, or a combination of both. (Compare broad construction.)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
An agency of the United States government, charged with directing civilian programs in aeronautics research and space exploration. NASA maintains several facilities, most notably the Johnson Space Center in Houston (which selects space crew personnel and is responsible for ground direction of space flights), and the launching pads at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
An organization that promotes the rights and welfare of black people. The NAACP is the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, founded in 1909. Among the NAACP’s achievements was a lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown versus Board of Education, in 1954, which declared the segregation of public schools unconstitutional. (See also W. E. B. DuBois and separate but equal.)
National Guard
The volunteer military forces of each state, which the governor of a state can summon in times of civil disorder or natural disaster. Through congressional and presidential order, the National Guard can be called into service in the regular United States army.
National Labor Relations Board
An agency of the United States government, charged with mediating disputes between labor and management, and responsible for preventing unfair labor practices, such as the harassment of labor unions by business corporations. The NLRB attempts to maintain a position of neutrality, favoring neither labor nor management.
National Organization for Women
A major feminist organization, founded in the middle 1960s, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission failed to enforce a clause in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender. One of its founders was Betty Friedan. NOW has worked to promote occupational opportunities for women and has supported legislative proposals that would guarantee women equality with men.
National Rifle Association
An organization that acts as a powerful lobby against governmental restrictions on the private ownership of guns. NRA supporters argue that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” They often cite the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states: “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
National Security Council
A committee in the executive branch that advises the president on matters relating to domestic, military, and foreign security. The NSC also directs the operation of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The process by which a foreign citizen becomes a citizen of a new country. Millions of immigrants to the United States have become American citizens. Requirements for naturalization in the United States include residency for several years, ability to communicate in English, demonstrated knowledge of American history and government, and a dedication to American values that includes no membership in subversive organizations, such as the Communist party.
nolo contendere
(NOH-loh kuhn-TEN-duh-ree, kuhn-TEN-duh-ray) A plea that can be entered in a criminal or civil case, by which an accused person neither admits guilt nor proclaims innocence of a charge. Nolo contendere is Latin for “I do not wish to contend.”
North American Free Trade Agreement
An agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico to establish free trade. It took effect in 1994 and is designed to eliminate trade barriers between the three nations by 2009.
‡ Many American labor unions oppose NAFTA on the grounds that it takes away jobs from American workers as manufacturers relocate in Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labor. Others argue that free trade creates more jobs in the United States than it destroys.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
An agency of the United States government responsible for licensing and regulating nuclear power plants. Created in 1974, along with the Energy Research and Development Administration, it replaced the Atomic Energy Commission.
Oak Ridge
A city in Tennessee, where uranium for the atomic bomb was produced during World War II. Since that time, the government has maintained a variety of nuclear research facilities in Oak Ridge. (See also Manhattan Project.)
Office of Economic Opportunity
A federal agency, founded in the 1960s as part of the War on Poverty conducted by President Lyndon Johnson. The OEO distributed federal money to a variety of local programs designed to promote educational opportunities and job training among the poor and to provide legal services for the poor. The OEO was abolished in the middle 1970s, and its programs have been curtailed or scattered among other federal agencies, particularly the Department of Health and Human Services.
on the Hill
A phrase referring to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where Congress meets: “They’re debating that nuclear waste issue on the Hill today.”
open primary
A type of direct primary open to voters regardless of their party affiliation. Voters need not publicly declare their party affiliation but must vote for candidates of only one party. The opposite is a closed primary, in which only registered members of a party may vote.
Oval Office
An oval-shaped room in the White House that serves as the official office of the president of the United States. Since the presidency of Richard Nixon, the term has been used to refer to the president himself: “The order came directly from the Oval Office.”
(PAY-truh-nij, PAT-ruh-nij) The power of a government official or leader to make appointments and offer favors. Once in office, a politician can use patronage to build a loyal following. Though practiced at all levels of government, patronage is most often associated with the machine politics of big cities. (See spoils system.)
Peace Corps
An agency of the United States government that sends American volunteers to developing nations to help improve living standards and provide training. Created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, under the auspices of the Department of State, the Peace Corps provides an opportunity to share American wealth, technology, and expertise. During the cold war it also served as a means for spreading American influence and values in the hope of preventing developing nations from allying themselves with the Soviet Union.
An immense five-sided building in Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., that serves as headquarters for the Department of Defense.
‡ The term is often used to refer to the Department of Defense or the military: “The Pentagon agreed today to submit the modified weapons plan to the president.”
‡ The Pentagon was severely damaged by the September 11 attacks.
The party that institutes a suit in a court. The person or entity the plaintiff sues is the defendant.
A political party’s or candidate’s written statement of principles and plans. A platform is usually developed by a committee at the party convention during a presidential campaign.
plea bargain
An agreement that permits a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge instead of pleading not guilty to a more serious one. Plea bargaining is usually undertaken by a prosecutor to obtain important information from a defendant or to avoid a long and costly trial
Pledge of Allegiance
Also called the “Pledge to the Flag.” The American patriotic vow, which is often recited at formal government ceremonies, including Independence Day ceremonies for new citizens: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
‡ The phrase under God, added in 1954 (more than sixty years after the pledge was originally published), has inspired heated debate over the separation of church and state.
power of the purse
The influence that legislatures have over public policy because of their power to vote money for public purposes. The United States Congress must authorize the president’s budget requests to fund agencies and programs of the executive branch. (See appropriation.)
pocket veto
An automatic veto of a bill that occurs if the president or governor neither signs nor vetoes a bill within ten days of receiving it—as long as the legislature adjourns during that period. If the legislature convenes during that period, the bill will automatically become law. A pocket veto cannot be overridden by the legislature, though the bill can be reintroduced at the next legislative session.
political action committees
Committees formed by interest groups to funnel donations to political candidates who are likely to support their position on various issues. Because of current campaign laws, PACs are allowed to make much larger donations than can individuals.
poll tax
A tax required as a qualification for voting. After the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution extended the vote to blacks in 1870, many southern states instituted poll taxes to prevent blacks from voting. The Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1964, prohibits poll taxes for federal elections.
The belief that greater popular participation in government and business is necessary to protect individuals from exploitation by inflexible bureaucracy and financial conglomerates. “Power to the people” is a famous populist slogan.
pork-barrel legislation
Appropriations made by a legislature for projects that are not essential but are sought because they pump money and resources into the local districts of the legislators. Local projects, such as dams, military bases, highways, housing subsidies, and job training, are often funded by pork-barrel legislation, which can be accomplished through logrolling. Successful pork-barrel legislators are likely to be reelected by their constituents.
postmaster general
The head of the United States Postal Service. Until 1970, the postmaster general was head of the federal Post Office Department and a member of the president’s cabinet. In 1970, the Postal Service was set up as an independent agency in place of the Post Office Department. The Postal Service is operated like a private corporation, although postal workers receive the benefits of federal employees.
power elite
A term used by the American sociologist (see sociology) C. Wright Mills to describe a relatively small, loosely knit group of people who tend to dominate American policymaking. This group includes bureaucratic, corporate, intellectual, military, and government elites who control the principal institutions in the United States and whose opinions and actions influence the decisions of the policymakers.
(PRESS-uh-duhnt) A previous ruling by a court that influences subsequent decisions in cases with similar issues.
pressure group
An organized group that tries to influence the government to adopt certain policies or measures. Also called an interest group. (See lobby.)
State elections of delegates to the nominating convention that chooses a major party’s presidential candidate. In some states, delegates are elected by popular vote; in other states, party caucuses or miniconventions choose delegates.
‡ Primaries occur at different times during the presidential election year, a situation that drags out the process by which parties nominate candidates but allows wide public exposure to candidates and issues.
privacy, right of
The doctrine, advanced by the Supreme Court most notably in Roe versus Wade, that the Constitution implicitly guarantees protection against activities that invade citizens’ privacy. The Constitution does not explicitly mention a right of privacy, but the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” the Ninth Amendment’s reference to “other” rights, the Court has ruled, imply a right of privacy. This doctrine exemplifies broad construction. (See Griswold versus Connecticut.)
probate court
(PROH-bayt) A court that has jurisdiction over wills, estates, and guardianship of children.
proportional representation
An electoral system in which seats in a legislature are awarded to each party on the basis of its share of the popular vote. The United States does not use a system of proportional representation. Membership in the Senate and the House of Representatives, for example, is based on individual candidates’ receiving a majority of votes. Such a system strongly encourages the formation of only two major political parties.
‡ In Israel and some nations in Europe, a system of proportional representation guarantees that small parties will have official recognition in the government, thus leading to a multiparty government.
‡ Though proportional representation has been attempted in a few American cities, many American politicians argue that it tends to fragment the government, preventing quick and decisive action.
public defender
An attorney who is appointed and paid by a court to defend poor persons who cannot afford a lawyer.
public works
Public facilities and improvements financed by the government for the public good. Public works include hospitals, bridges, highways, and dams. These projects may be funded by local, state, or federal appropriations. (See also pork-barrel legislation.)
(KWAWR-uhm) The minimum number of members of a committee or legislative body who must be present before business can officially or legally be conducted. In the United States Congress, for example, either house must have a majority (218 in the House of Representatives, 51 in the Senate) to have a quorum.
The belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them. In the United States, racism, particularly by whites against blacks, has created profound racial tension and conflict in virtually all aspects of American society. Until the breakthroughs achieved by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, white domination over blacks was institutionalized and supported in all branches and levels of government, by denying blacks their civil rights and opportunities to participate in political, economic, and social communities.
ranking member
A legislator on a committee who belongs to the majority party and, by virtue of seniority, ranks first after the committee chairman. The most senior member representing the minority party is the ranking minority member of the committee.
The approval from the legislative branch required to validate government agreements. In the United States, amendments to the Constitution require the ratification of state legislatures, and international treaties require the ratification of the Senate.
(ref-uh-REN-duhm) A direct popular vote on an issue of public policy, such as a proposed amendment to a state constitution or a proposed law. Referendums, which allow the general population to participate in policymaking, are not used at the national level, but are common at the state and local levels. A referendum is often used to gauge popular approval or rejection of laws recently passed or under consideration by a state legislature. A referendum can also be used to initiate legislative action.
Popularly elected officials who serve in state legislatures and in the House of Representatives in Congress. Representing the local districts from which they are elected, representatives support the interests of their constituents by proposing bills and programs. Elected for two-year terms, representatives in Congress must be sensitive to their constituents’ concerns in order to be reelected.
A member of the Republican party.
A provision, usually controversial and unlikely to pass on its own merits, that is attached to a popular bill in the hopes that it will “ride” to passage on the back of the popular bill.
A descriptive term for an individual or a political faction that advocates very conservative policies. Right-wing groups generally support free enterprise. In the United States, the right wing generally argues for a strong national defense program and opposes federal involvement in promoting social welfare. (Compare left-wing.)
‡ Although both major political parties in the United States have right-wing factions, right-wing policies are usually associated with the Republican party.
Robert’s Rules of Order
A handbook for running meetings effectively and efficiently, based on the procedures used in the British parliament. The principles included in the handbook are applicable to any decision-making organization, from Congress to community club committees. The handbook sets the guidelines for such issues as leading debates; recognizing speakers; defining the role of the chair and other officers; proposing, seconding, and voting on motions; and writing and amending constitutions and bylaws.
rugged individualism
The belief that all individuals, or nearly all individuals, can succeed on their own and that government help for people should be minimal. The phrase is often associated with policies of the Republican party and was widely used by the Republican president Herbert Hoover. The phrase was later used in scorn by the Democratic presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman to refer to the disasters of Hoover’s administration, during which the stock market Crash of 1929 occurred and the Great Depression began.
Scholastic Aptitude/Achievement Test
A test that purportedly measures the aptitude of high-schoolers for college. Originally devised in 1926, it was not widely employed by colleges to select students until the 1950s and 1960s.

‡ The SAT is controversial. College admissions officers have relied on it, but critics contend that it contains cultural biases that work against the admission of African-Americans and other minorities.

In the 1990s, the test's name was changed from "Aptitude" to "Achievement" recognizing that it more accurately measured what already had been learned rather than a test taker's potential to learn
Secret Service
A division of the United States Department of the Treasury, responsible for apprehending counterfeiters; investigating a variety of federal crimes; and protecting presidents and their families, presidential candidates, and foreign dignitaries visiting the United States.
secretary of defense
The civilian head of the United States Department of Defense and a member of the cabinet, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The secretary of defense works with civilian and military advisers to formulate American military policies and make foreign policy recommendations to the president.
secretary of state
The head of the United States Department of State and, as leading member of the cabinet, fourth in line of succession to the presidency. The secretary of state is charged with formulating American foreign policy and conducting relations with other nations.
The policy and practice of imposing the separation of races. In the United States, the policy of segregation denied African-Americans their civil rights and provided inferior facilities and services for them, most noticeably in public schools (see Brown versus Board of Education), housing, and industry. (See integration, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and separate but equal.)
Selective Service System
The system used in the United States to draft young people into armed service. Though the United States at present has no draft, young men are required by law to register with the Selective Service when they reach the age of eighteen.
Being forced or coerced to testify against oneself. Self-incrimination is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
‡ Under this principle, a person may choose (given certain restrictions) to “take the Fifth,” refusing to testify in court or before a legislative or executive committee.
‡ Prohibiting self-incrimination not only helps guarantee due process of law, but also maintains one of the basic principles of American law by putting the burden of proof on the prosecution. (See also Miranda decision.)
Senate, United States
The upper house of the United States Congress. Two senators are elected from each state, regardless of state population, guaranteeing each state equal representation. Senators are elected for six-year terms. The Senate tends to respond more directly than the House of Representatives to issues of national, rather than local, concern, though both houses of Congress participate in all aspects of legislation and policymaking. The Senate has the exclusive right to try cases of impeachment, approve presidential appointments, confirm treaties, and elect a vice president if no candidate receives a majority from the Electoral College. The vice president serves as presiding officer of the Senate.
separate but equal
The doctrine that racial segregation is constitutional as long as the facilities provided for blacks and whites are roughly equal. This doctrine was long used to support segregation in the public schools and a variety of public facilities, such as transportation and restaurants, where the facilities and services for blacks were often clearly inferior. For decades, the Supreme Court refused to rule the separate but equal doctrine unconstitutional, on the grounds that such civil rights issues were the responsibility of the states. In the decision of Brown versus Board of Education, in 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled separate but equal schools unconstitutional. This ruling was followed by several civil rights laws in the 1960s. (See also Plessy versus Ferguson.)
separation of church and state
The principle that government must maintain an attitude of neutrality toward religion. Many view separation of church and state as required by the First Amendment. The First Amendment not only allows citizens the freedom to practice any religion of their choice, but also prevents the government from officially recognizing or favoring any religion.
‡ The relationship between church and state has been extremely controversial since the first settlers arrived in America to escape religious persecution in Europe, and many cases involving the issue have reached the Supreme Court.
‡ Interpretation of the principle has been ambiguous: for instance, the Supreme Court has recently upheld laws prohibiting prayer in the schools but has permitted the construction of Nativity scenes on government property. (See also established church and freedom of religion.)
separation of powers
A fundamental principle of the United States government, whereby powers and responsibilities are divided among the legislative branch, executive branch, and judicial branch. The officials of each branch are selected by different procedures and serve different terms of office; each branch may choose to block action of the other branches through the system of checks and balances. The framers of the Constitution designed this system to ensure that no one branch would accumulate too much power and that issues of public policy and welfare would be given comprehensive consideration before any action was taken.
The belief that one sex (usually the male) is naturally superior to the other and should dominate most important areas of political, economic, and social life. Sexist discrimination in the United States in the past has denied opportunities to women in many spheres of activity. Many allege that it still does. (See also affirmative action, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, glass ceiling, and National Organization for Women.)
slush fund
A collection of money by a political official or administration that is used to make payments for various services. Though slush funds may be used for legitimate purposes, such as paying state employees, the term is generally used to describe money that is not properly accounted for and is being used for personal expenses and political payoffs. Money raised for political campaigns has come under increasing public scrutiny to ensure that it is not misused.
Speaker of the House
The presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. The Speaker, a member of the House, is elected by a majority party caucus. In addition to being chief spokesman for the majority party, the Speaker runs the proceedings of House debate and voting, appoints committee members, refers bills to committees for research and development, and has an influential voice in all stages of a bill’s consideration. One of the most visible and influential officials of the federal government, the Speaker is second in line, after the vice president, in succession to the presidency.
Smithsonian Institution
(smith-SOH-nee-uhn) A group of over a dozen museums and research and publication facilities, such as the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of History and Technology, the National Zoo, and the National Gallery of Art. Many of the Smithsonian’s buildings are on the Washington Mall. The institution is named after James Smithson, an Englishman whose bequest enabled its founding in the nineteenth century.
smoke-filled room
A popular expression used to describe a place where the political wheeling and dealing of machine bosses (see machine politics) is conducted. The image originated during the Republican presidential nominating convention of 1920, in which Warren G. Harding emerged as a dark horse candidate.
Social Security Administration
The American system for distributing old age and disability pensions from the federal government. Initiated through the Social Security Act of 1935, Social Security pensions are financed by contributions from workers and employers. Benefits are also available to the survivors of workers covered under Social Security.
split ticket
A vote for candidates of different political parties on the same ballot, instead of for candidates of only one party. In the presidential elections, for example, a voter may choose a Republican candidate for president, but a Democratic candidate for senator. Split-ticket voting is not allowed in primaries (see closed primary, direct primary, open primary). The increasing occurrence of split-ticket voting reflects support of individual candidates rather than unswerving party loyalty.
stare decisis
(STAIR-ee duh-SEYE-sis) A Latin phrase that literally means “to stand on the decisions.” It expresses the common law doctrine that court decisions should be guided by precedent.
State Department
A common name for the Department of State.
State of the Union address
An annual message delivered to Congress by the president of the United States, in which he describes the condition of the country, outlines the nation’s most serious problems, and proposes his annual program of legislation.
‡ The name of the address comes from a provision in the Constitution that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
states’ rights
Rights guaranteed to the states under the principle of federalism. Under the Constitution, states have considerable autonomy to pass, enforce, and interpret their own laws and to pursue their own public policy programs. Proponents of states’ rights argue that the states should be governed with a minimum of interference from the federal government.
‡ The relationship between federal and state responsibilities has often been controversial. Until the middle of the twentieth century, for example, the Supreme Court left the interpretation of many civil rights guarantees to the states, resulting in hostile and widespread discrimination against minorities.
statute of limitations
Any law that places a time restriction during which a lawsuit must be brought to court or a crime must be prosecuted.
straw poll
Originally, a small, informal opinion survey. Today, a straw poll is generally a large-scale, scientifically determined public opinion survey based on a random sample of the population. Straw polls are commonly used to test public opinion of candidates running for office.
(suh-PEE-nuh) An order of a court, a legislature, or a grand jury compelling a witness to be present at a trial or hearing, under penalty of fine or imprisonment. Subpoena is Latin for “under penalty.”
(SUF-rij) The right to vote (see franchise). In the United States, the term is often associated with the women’s movement to win voting rights. (See suffragist.)
(suf-ruh-JET) A suffragist. Today, the term suffragette is often considered demeaning
(SUF-ruh-jist) A participant in the women’s movement to win voting rights in the United States. The fight for women’s suffrage was organized in the middle of the nineteenth century. Wyoming, while not yet a state, granted women’s suffrage in 1869, though the struggle for universal suffrage was to last another fifty years. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing that no state could deny the right to vote on the basis of sex.
Supreme Court
A federal court; the highest body in the judicial branch. The Supreme Court is composed of a chief justice and eight associate justices, all of whom are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. (See photo, next page.) They serve on the Court as long as they choose, subject only to impeachment. Each state also has a supreme court; these courts are all courts of appeals, primarily hearing cases that have already been tried. The federal Supreme Court (“the” Supreme Court) has the final word on interpretation of all laws and of the Constitution itself.
‡ Supreme Court decisions have a significant impact on public policy and are often extremely controversial. In interpreting the Constitution, the justices of the Supreme Court occasionally have deduced legal doctrines that are not clearly stated (or stated at all) in the Constitution. For example, in the famous case of McCulloch versus Maryland (1819), Chief Justice John Marshall advanced the opinion, accepted by the Court, that the Constitution implicitly gives the federal government the power to establish a national bank, even though such a power is not explicitly granted by the Constitution. Similarly, in Roe versus Wade (1973), the Court ruled that state laws restricting abortion violate the right of privacy.
‡ The McCulloch and Roe decisions illustrate the principle of broad construction (interpretation) of the Constitution. The opposite is narrow construction. Those who favor broad construction, or judicial activism, believe that the spirit of the times, the values of the justices, and the needs of the nation may legitimately influence the way justices decide cases. In contrast, narrow constructionists insist that the Court should be bound by the exact words of the Constitution or by the intentions of the framers of the Constitution or by some combination of both. This view is sometimes called judicial restraint.
think tank
An institution in which scholars pursue research in public policy. Largely funded by endowments and grants, think tanks work to improve public awareness of policy issues (through publications) and to influence the government to act upon issues of national importance. (See power elite.)
the Ugly American
Pejorative term for Americans traveling or living abroad who remain ignorant of local culture and judge everything by American standards. The term is taken from the title of a book by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer.
A term used, primarily by extreme conservatives, to attack principles or practices considered to be at odds with the values of most Americans. Many object to the use of the term on the grounds that it is vague, shortsighted, and intolerant.
‡ The House of Representatives maintained a Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) for several years. It was especially known for investigation of alleged communists. (See Alger Hiss.)
Uncle Sam
A figure who stands for the government of the United States and for the United States itself. Uncle Sam—whose initials are the abbreviation of United States—is portrayed as an old man with a gray goatee who sports a top hat and Stars and Stripes clothing. During World War I and World War II, posters of Uncle Sam exhorted young men to join the armed forces. (Compare John Bull.)
United States Information Agency
A federal agency responsible for spreading information favorable to the United States around the world.
Veterans Administration
The second-largest cabinet department, the VA coordinates the distribution of benefits for veterans of the American armed forces and their dependents. The benefits include compensation for disabilities, the management of veterans’ hospitals, and various insurance programs.
Veterans of Foreign Wars
An organization of American veterans who have taken part in a foreign military campaign or expedition of the United States. Like the American Legion, it usually takes pro-defense stands on foreign policy issues.
The power of a president or governor to reject a bill proposed by a legislature by refusing to sign it into law. The president or governor actually writes the word veto (Latin for “I forbid”) on the bill and sends it back to the legislature with a statement of his or her objections. The legislature may choose to comply by withdrawing or revising the bill, or it can override the veto and pass the law, by a two-thirds vote in each house.
‡ Originally intended to prevent Congress from passing unconstitutional laws, the veto is now used by the president as a powerful bargaining tool, especially when his objectives conflict with majority sentiment in Congress. (See also checks and balances.)
victimless crime
A term sometimes used for various acts that are considered crimes under the law but apparently have no victim. One such crime is prostitution, which is viewed by some as a commercial exchange between two consenting adults.
Ways and Means Committee
A permanent committee of the House of Representatives, which makes recommendations to the House on all bills for raising revenue. The committee is the principal source of legislation concerning issues such as taxation, customs duties, and international trade agreements
In the United States Congress or state legislatures, an assistant to the majority leader or minority leader responsible for stirring up party support on issues, keeping track of party members’ votes, and acting as a general liaison between the majority leader or minority leader and other party members
write-in candidate
A candidate for public office whose name does not appear on the ballot (usually because he or she has not secured the nomination of a political party) but whose name must be written on the ballot by voters.
Originally a nickname for people from New England, now applied to anyone from the United States. Even before the American Revolutionary War, the term Yankee was used by the British to refer, derisively, to the American colonists. Since the Civil War, American southerners have called all northerners Yankees. Since World War I, the rest of the world has used the term to refer to all Americans.
‡ The expression “Yankee, go home” reflects foreign resentment of American presence or involvement in other nations’ affairs.