The United States Constitution is the founding document that established the structure, powers, and limits of the federal government of the United States. It was ratified in 1788 and is the oldest written national constitution still in effect.
Some key facts about the US Constitution
- It established the three branches of the federal government – legislative, executive, and judicial.
- It outlines the powers and responsibilities of each branch. For example, it vests Congress with the power to make laws, the President to execute laws, and the Supreme Court to interpret laws.
- It created a federal system of government in which power is shared between national and state governments.
- It contains the Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments that guarantee certain individual liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, press, and the right to bear arms.
- It can be amended through a difficult process requiring approval by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures. There are currently 27 amendments.
- It is the shortest written constitution in the world with just 4,543 words including all amendments. This brevity makes it a flexible document.
- It established the democratic principles of popular sovereignty, limited government, separation of powers, and federalism.
- It does not mention the words “democracy” or “God” even once.
- It went into effect in 1789, replacing the weaker Articles of Confederation that had held the states together during the Revolutionary War.
- It was a product of intense debate and compromise between factions known as the Federalists and Anti-Federalists during the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Unicameral Definition and Interesting Facts
A unicameral legislature has only one legislative chamber or house. This contrasts with a bicameral legislature which has two chambers, usually an upper and a lower house.
Some interesting facts about unicameral legislatures:
- The word unicameral comes from Latin “uni” meaning one and “camera” meaning chamber.
- Nebraska has the only state unicameral legislature in the United States. It has been unicameral since 1937 when an amendment to the state’s constitution changed it from bicameral.
- About half of the world’s sovereign states have unicameral national legislatures. Some examples are Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, Peru, and Bulgaria.
- Unicameral legislatures are seen to have clearer lines of accountability and fewer gridlocks. The tradeoff is less institutional checks and balances on the legislative process.
- Countries with unicameral legislatures tend to be small or mid-sized nations with relatively less complex governance needs compared to large diverse nations.
- Proponents argue unicameralism allows for more efficient lawmaking, reduces costs, and does not inherently favor one class of citizens over another.
- Opponents contend unicameralism concentrates too much power in one body and removes an important mechanism of checks and balances as found in an upper house.
- Of the 193 UN member states, 79 have a unicameral legislature while 104 are bicameral. The remaining 10 are either not sovereign states or have no legislature.
- The world’s smallest unicameral legislature belongs to the Micronesian island nation of Tuvalu with just 15 members in its Parliament.
Sovereign Definition and Interesting Facts
Sovereign refers to a government or governing entity that holds absolute authority over a region or people. A sovereign state is independent, has defined borders, a permanent population, and can engage in diplomatic relations.
Interesting facts about sovereign states:
- There are currently 206 sovereign states in the world that are recognized members of the United Nations.
- The Peace of Westphalia treaty in 1648 helped establish guiding principles of sovereignty between European powers by outlawing meddling in other nation’s domestic affairs.
- Four main attributes generally define a sovereign state: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government with control over affairs within the territory, and legal recognition by other sovereign states.
- The Montevideo Convention of 1933 outlined the most widely accepted legal criteria for statehood and sovereignty.
- Countries like Taiwan meet most objective criteria for sovereignty but lack universal diplomatic recognition due to geopolitical disputes.
- Sealand is a self-declared “micronation” in the North Sea off Britain. Despite claiming to be a sovereign state, it is not recognized as such by world governments.
- The Holy See (Vatican City) has sovereignty but depends on Italy for defense and infrastructure. It has the smallest population of any sovereign state at around 800 people.
- The concept of Westphalian sovereignty is being challenged by globalization, economic interdependence, and supranational organizations like the United Nations and European Union.
- Sovereignty implies legal equality between states – an equal right to self-determination and non-interference under international law.
Confederation Definition and Interesting Facts
A confederation is a union or alliance of otherwise autonomous and sovereign states or territories. The central government’s power in a confederation is extremely limited.
Interesting facts about confederations:
- One of the first historical examples of a confederation was the Achaean League in ancient Greece formed in 280 BCE as an alliance against foreign threats.
- The United States was initially established as a confederation in 1781 under the Articles of Confederation. The states retained most powers.
- Modern examples of confederations include the United Arab Emirates, an alliance of seven emirates with autonomy over their own affairs.
- The Swiss Confederation was formed in 1291 as a defensive alliance between three cantons. Over time, more cantons joined to make modern Switzerland.
- Confederations tend to be relatively weak associations held together by the collective self-interests of their members. There is usually very little centralization of power.
- Member states in a confederation generally maintain their independence and sovereignty but agree to coordinate on issues like security, trade, and currency.
- Confederations allow small states to gain some of the advantages of forming a larger country while still preserving a high degree of autonomy and self-governance.
- Critics argue confederations can be ineffective due to their decentralized nature, making coordinated action difficult. This was a factor in the demise of America’s first confederation.
- Confederations are considered intermediate governmental structures between a unitary state and a fully sovereign federation. They share attributes of both.
Dictatorship Definition and Interesting Facts
A dictatorship is a form of government ruled by one person or a small clique with absolute power. Individual freedoms and representative governance are suppressed under dictatorships.
Here are some interesting facts about dictatorships:
- Dictatorship comes from the Latin title dictātor, an emergency appointment in the Roman Republic reserved for crises.
- Some of history’s most notorious dictators include Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Muammar Gaddafi, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco and Hideki Tojo.
- While often associated with totalitarianism, dictatorships can come in different flavors like fascist, military, communist, theocratic or absolute monarchies.
- Dictatorships are characterized by centralization of authority under one ruler, limited political freedoms, government propaganda, nationalism, militarism, and oppression of dissent.
- According to Democracy Index research, in 2020 there were 54 countries worldwide considered dictatorships – representing over 1/3 of the global population.
- Some dictatorships start out invoking emergency powers after crises but then eventually consolidate absolute rule by subverting democratic checks and balances.
- Modern dictators frequently rely on advanced surveillance and security forces to monitor citizens and crack down on opposition movements.
- While many dictatorships curb civil liberties, some offer social welfare programs as a way to gain popular support and obedience.
- Most dictatorships claim legitimate sovereign power, but their authority is not considered valid under international human rights principles of self-determination.
- Non-violent revolutions, foreign interventions, economic collapse, and overextension of military power have led to the fall of dictatorships like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Autocracy Definition and Interesting Facts
An autocracy is a governmental system where one person possesses unlimited power. The term derives from the Greek autos, meaning “self,” and kratos, meaning “rule”.
Here are some interesting facts about autocratic governments:
- Unlike democracies where citizens hold political power through elections, autocracies concentrate power in the hands of one person who rules by decree.
- Hereditary rule passes power to family members. An example is absolute monarchies where a king or queen’s child automatically becomes the new monarch.
- Autocrats often claim authority based on religious, ideological, historical or cult of personality justifications rather than the will of the people.
- Autocracy differs from dictatorship in that autocracies can emerge through legitimate openings like elections and initially work within legal frameworks.
- Autocratic power is maintained through secrecy, censorship,cronyism, co-opting elites, control of law enforcement, and sometimes outright repression.
- Modern examples of autocracies include Russia under Vladimir Putin, Turkey under Recep Erdogan, and Hungary under Viktor Orban. Their leaders consolidate control over branches of government and