Constitution Week: Lessons for Homeschoolers
Day Three: Checks and Balances
Have you ever played a board game with your older brother or sister, and while you’re playing, your brother or sister makes a move that you think is breaking the rules. ‘Hey, you can’t do that!” “Yes I can!” So how do you settle such an argument? You have to get the box. You will look at the written rules to settle a disagreement on how to play the game.
Our Constitution is the written set of rules that tells how our country is supposed to be run. The most important purpose of the Constitution is to protect our unalienable rights:
In our Day Two video on democracy versus republic, we learned about our republican form of government, and we learned that “We The People” elect our representatives, who then make laws on our behalf. Once we elect our representatives, what mechanism prevents power from concentrating in the hands of just a few elected officials?
Our Constitution calls for checks and balances among 3 branches of government to share power. The three branches of government are:
The greatest share of power is vested in the legislative branch, which is our Congress. Article 1, Section 1 calls for all legislative powers to be vested in a Congress, made up of a Senate and a House of Representatives. To prevent power from concentrating even within the Congress, power is divided into an upper chamber, the Senate, and a lower chamber, the House of Representatives. Both chambers must agree to the same version of a bill before it can be presented to the President for his signature. Members of the House are elected by the common man in local congressional districts. Senators were originally elected by the state legislatures, creating a vital link to the federal government from the state house.
Unfortunately, the 17th Amendment broke that link by allowing for direct election of senators by the common man, greatly minimizing the state’s influence in the federal government.
The executive branch is headed by the President of the United States, also known as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The President’s role is to carry out or enforce the laws passed by congress, but if he doesn’t like the law, he can check their power with a veto. But he alone cannot stand in the way of the people’s elected representatives by having a poison veto pen. The Congress can override his veto if they have enough votes. The Commander in Chief can send troops into action, but the Congress alone has the power to declare war. A president can sign a treaty, but it must be ratified by 2/3 of the Senate.
The judicial branch is made of the Supreme Court, and any lower federal courts to assist them. Supreme Court justices are appointed by the President, but the appointees must be confirmed by the Senate. If a justice must be removed, the Congress can attempt to remove him/her via the impeachment process.
To prevent these branches of government from competing for power among themselves, the Framers put into the Constitution a set of Checks and Balances whereby each branch exercises delegated authority, but is also subject to checks on that power by the other branches. The Framers created the Constitution to have natural tensions built in for the purposes of preventing power from being concentrated into any one branch.
Many times we complain that Congress moves too slowly, and doesn’t get anything done. May it be so! The faster that the Congress moves, the faster we may lose our liberty. The Framers designed Congress to move very slowly so that they would carefully consider the matters before them, and allow the public to weigh in on laws being considered.
When writing the Constitution, time and time again, the Anti-Federalists (the group most concerned about a return to tyranny) and the Federalists (seeking a more influential federal government) argued about how power would be delegated, and how the Constitution would protect the rights of the citizens from government encroachment. After many months of debate, they settled on the system of 3 branches of government, and they
settled on a method of checks and balances.
Over time, we have seen unintended changes in the way our Constitutional Republic operates day to day. We the people have seen many of our rights eroded because our government has done what all governments tend to do, and that is to take more power
for themselves. It’s also because in many cases, we the people have not done our part in checking the power of government by keeping current on laws being considered, by voting, or by supporting the elections of liberty-minded candidates.
Our Constitution has survived longer than any other Constitution in world history, but the Framers admitted that unless those who held elected office did so with integrity, tyranny would reign. They also made clear that unless we the people each did our part by checking the power of the government, the republic could not survive.
How are you doing your part as a citizen of America? Discuss our responsibilities as Americans with your children, and consider the way you model citizenship to them. We the people play an important part in our Constitutional system of Checks and Balances.