Introduction to Congress 12

The following is an extract from Lesson 2 of An Introduction to the U.S. Congress. You can get all of the lessons here:

The Bill of Rights

The so-called Anti-Federalists were not satisfied the dispersal of power proposed by the Federalists was sufficient protection against tyranny.

They wanted specific remedies for some of the tensions we identified in Lesson 1. Among other things, they wanted the liberty to worship as they pleased, to engage in politics, to engage in commerce and invest in property, and to be free from unjust government prosecution.

The solution to their demands was the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution. These were the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Most of the Bill of Rights involved so-called negative rights. Negative rights prohibit Congress from making laws that limit or deny specified civil liberties.

Negative rights can be found within the Bill of Rights and the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments.

By contrast, a positive right would require the government to act to uphold a civil right. Examples of positive rights can be found in many state constitutions: the right to a public school education is an example.

To sum up, Lesson Two covered representative democracy, checks and balances through separation and sharing of powers, and the Bill of Rights. Taken together, these three elements strongly shape the powers that Congress has and how they may be used. We explore those powers next week when we start Lesson Three.

1. “The History of Parliament: British Political, Social & Local History.” From

2. “The killer king: How many people did Henry VIII execute?” From

3. There are no federal constitutional prohibitions against members of the judiciary serving in the executive branch, nor the joint holding of federal and state offices.

4. In parliamentary systems, the executive is a prime minister who derives legitimacy from their ability to command the support (“confidence”) of the parliament, to which it is accountable. Members of the cabinet are also ministers or members of the parliament. They often belong to the same party as the prime minister.

5. James Wilson, representing Pennsylvania at the Convention, cautioned that “if the Legislative authority be not restrained, there can be no liberty nor stability.” He added that legislative power “can only be restrained by dividing it within itself, into distinct and independent branches. In a single house there is no check, but the inadequate one, of the virtue [and] good sense of those who compose it.”

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