Government Encyclopedia

Government Encyclopedia

If you would like to prepare for school subjects or simply increase your general knowledge, then enjoy our government encyclopedia. We tried to focus only on very important terms and definitions. We also kept our terminology very brief so that you absorb the concept more quickly and easily.

Government Glossary (Page 1)


527 ORGANIZATION: A political group organized under section 527 of the IRS code that may accept and spend unlimited amounts of money on election activities so long as they are not spent on broadcast ads run in the last 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election in which clearly identified candidate is referred to and a relevant electorate is targeted.
527 ORGANIZATIONS: Interest groups organized under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code may advertise for or against candidates. If their source of funding is corporations or unions, they have some restrictions on broadcast advertising. 527 organizations were important in recent elections.
ADMINISTRATIVE DISCRETION: Authority given by Congress to the Federal bureaucracy to use reasonable judgment in implementing the laws.
ADVERSARY SYSTEM: A judicial system in which the court of law is a neutral arena where two parties argue their differences.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Policy or program designed to redress historic injustices committed against racial minorities and other specified groups by making special efforts to provide members of these groups with access to educational and employment opportunities. -,.
ALIEN: Anyone not a citizen of the country in which he or she lives.
AMENDMENT (CONSTITUTIONAL): Changes in, or additions to, a constitution. Proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of the state legislatures. Ratified by approval of three-fourths of the states.
AMERICAN DREAM: The widespread belief that the United States is a land of opportunity and that individual initiative and hard work can bring economic success.
AMICUS CURIAE BRIEF: A "friend of the court" brief brief filed by a third party (not directly involved) in a case aimed at influencing a decision of the Supreme Court.
ANARCHY: Absence of formal legal order; also the social context in which legitimate political authority does not exist.
ANNAPOLIS CONVENTION: A convention held in September 1786 to consider problems of trade and navigation, attended by five states and important because it issued the call to Congress and the states for what became the Constitutional Convention.
ANTIFEDERALISTS: Group opposed to the ratification of the Constitution on the grounds that it gave too much power to the national government at the expense of the states. Later became one of the first two major political parties in America. See also federalists.
ANTITRUST LEGISLATION: Federal laws (starting with the Sherman Act of 1890) that tried to prevent a monopoly from dominating an industry and restraining trade.
ANTITRUST POLICY: Collection of national and state laws (including the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890) aimed at preventing a single business from gaining monopoly control over a particular sector of the economy.
APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Authority to hear appeals of cases arising in a particular geographic area or sphere of the law. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over all cases arising under the Constitution of the United States. See also original jurisdiction.
APPROPRIATION: Allotment of specific dollar amounts for specific programs or purposes.
ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION: First constitution of the United States, 1781. Created a weak national government, replaced in 1789 by the Constitution of the United States.
ATTENTIVE PUBLIC: Those citizens who follow public affairs carefully.
AUSTRALIAN BALLOT: A secret ballot printed by the state.
AUTHORITY: Right to control or direct the actions of others, legitimized by law, morality, custom, or consent.
AUTHORIZATION: Creation and empowerment of a program to spend money for specified purpose.
BAD TENDENCY DOCTRINE: Interpretation of the First Amendment that would allow the Congress or state legislatures to prohibit or limit speech or expression that had the tendency to cause or incite illegal activity.
BAD TENDENCY TEST: Interpretation of the First Amendment that would permit legislatures to forbid speech encouraging people to engage in illegal action.
BALLOT INITIATIVE: A public policy question decided by a vote of the people. The placement of the question on the ballot is initiated by the people (usually by petition). Used only at the state level.
BICAMERAL: Term describing a legislative branch that is divided into two houses, such as the United States Congress which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
BICAMERALISM: The principle of a two-house legislature.
BILL OF ATTAINDER: A bill passed by a legislature imposing a penalty or inflicting a detriment on a particular individual or group of individuals. Forbidden by Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution. See "Other Rights.".
BILL OF RIGHTS: First ten amendments to the Constitution. Ratified in 1791, these amendments limit governmental power and protect basic rights and liberties of individuals.
BILL OF RIGHTS OF 1689: See English Bill of Rights.
BIPARTISAN CAMPAIGN REFORM ACT (BCRA): Largely banned party soft money, restored a long-standing prohibition on corporations and labor unions for using general treasury funds for electoral purposes, and narrowed the definition of issue advocacy.
BIPARTISANSHIP: Cooperation and colaboration between members of the two major political parties (Republicans and Democrats).
BLOCK GRANTS: These are broad state grants to states for prescribed activities-welfare, child care, education, social services, preventive health care, and health services-with only a few strings attached. States have greater flexibility in deciding how to spend block grant dollars, but when the federal funds for any fiscal year are gone, there are no more matching federal dollars.
BRITISH CONSTITUTION: Framework for running the British government. The British constitution is unwritten, consisting of common law, acts of Parliament, and political customs and traditions.
BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION (1954): Supreme Court case which declared that "separate-but-equal" educational facilities are inherently unequal and therefore a violation of equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
BUNDLING: A tactic in which pacs collect contributions from like-minded individuals (each limited to $2000) and present them to a candidate or political party as a "bundle," thus increasing the PAC's influence.
BUREAUCRACY: Organizations that implement government policies.
BUREAUCRAT: A career government employee.
BUSH DOCTRINE: A policy adopted by the Bush administration in 2001 that asserts America's right to attack any nation that has weapons of mass destruction that might be used against U.S. interests at home or abroad.
CABINET: Secretaries, or chief administrators, of the major departments of the federal government. Cabinet secretaries are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate.
CANDIDATE APPEAL: How voters feel about a candidate's background, personality, leadership ability, and other personal qualities.
CAPITALISM: Economic system in which goods and services are produced, exchanged and owned by individuals with minimal governmental regulation.
CASTE SYSTEM: Divisions in society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank, privilege, profession, or occupation.
CATEGORICAL-FORMULA GRANTS: Congress appropriates funds for a specific purpose, such as school lunches or for building airports and highways. These funds are allocated by formula and are subject to detailed federal conditions, often on a matching basis; that is, the local government receiving the federal funds must put up some of its own dollars. Categorical grants, in addition, provide federal supervision to ensure that the federal dollars are spent as Congress wants.
CAUCUS: A meeting of local party members to choose party officials or candidates for public office and to decide the platform.
CAUCUS (LEGISLATIVE): A group of legislators unified by common goals or characteristics. The largest congressional caucusses are the Republican and Democratic party caucuses. Other caucuses include the Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus and a variety of issue-oriented caucusses.
CAUCUS (LOCAL PARTY): Political party meeting at which voters choose nominees to represent their political parties in general election contests.
CENSUS: An official enumeration or counting of the population of the United States conducted by the national government every ten years, as dictated by the Constitution.
CENTRAL CLEARANCE: Review of all executive branch testimony, reports, and draft legislation by the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that each communication to Congress is in accordance with the president's program.
CENTRALISTS: People who favor national action over action at the state and local levels.
CHAUVINISM: Fanatical patriotism, blind devotion to and belief in the superiority of one's group.
CHECKS & BALANCES: Powers held by one branch of government that allow it to limit another branch's exercise of its own powers, e.g. The President's ability to veto legislation.
CHECKS AND BALANCES: Constitutional mechanisms that authorize each branch of government to share powers with the other branches and thereby check their activities. For example, the president may veto legislation passed by Congress, the Senate must confirm major executive appointments, and the courts may declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.
CHIEF DIPLOMAT: Role of the President as the primary point of contact between the United States of American and other nations.
CHIEF OF STAFF: The head of the White House staff.
CITIZEN: Member of a political society who therefore owes allegiance to and is entitled to protection by and from the government.
CITIZENSHIP: Status of being a member of a state, one who owes allegiance to the government and is entitled to its protection and to political rights.
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE: Deliberate refusal to obey law or comply with orders of public officials as a means of expressing opposition.
CIVIL LAW: Body of law that deals with the private rights of individuals, as distinguished from criminal law.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: Areas of personal freedom with which governments are constrained from interfering.
CIVIL RIGHTS: Protections and privileges given to all U.S. citizens by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS: Laws passed by Congress or state legislatures designed to protect the rights of individuals to fair treatment by private persons, groups, organizations, businesses, and government.
CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS: Continuing efforts to gain the enforcement of the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution.
CIVIL WAR AMENDMENTS: Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, passed following the Civil War. They freed the slaves, granted them citizenship, and guaranteed them the rights of citizens.
CLASS ACTION SUIT: Lawsuit brought by an individual or group of people on behalf of all those similarly situated.
CLASS SYSTEM: System in which members of social classes are prevented from moving into other classes.
CLASSICAL LIBERALISM: Political philosophy founded on the notion that individual human beings are autonomous agents with inviolable rights and that the powers of government arise from the people.
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER: Standard used to justify limitations on speech that will lead directly to harm to others.
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER TEST: Interpretation of the First Amendment that holds that the government cannot interfere with speech unless the speech presents a clear and present danger that it will lead to evil or illegal acts.
CLOSED PRIMARY: A primary election in which only voters that belong to a particular political party are permitted to vote, e.g. Only registered Democrats can vote in a closed Democratic party primary election.
CLOSED RULE: Rule in the House of Representatives which forbids any amendments to a bill being considered on the floor.
CLOSED SHOP: A company with a labor agreement under which union membership can be a condition of employment.
CLOTURE: A procedure for terminating debate, especially filibusters, in the Senate.
COATTAIL EFFECT: A boost in electoral support realized by candidates lower down the ballot when a successful candidate of their party runs strong at the top of the ballot. For example, a popular Democratic presidential candidate who won a large percentage of the vote might carry other Democratic party candidates into office on his or her "coattails.
COLD WAR: War between the United States and the former Soviet Union which involved no direct conflict between the two nations but instead was characterized by a multibillion dollar nuclear arms race and numerous conflicts between secondary nations backed (sometimes publicly, sometimes secretly) by each nation.
COLLECTIVE ACTION: How groups form and organize to pursue their goals or objectives, including how to get individuals and groups to participate and to cooperate. The term has many applications in the various social sciences such as political science, sociology, and economics.
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING: Method whereby representatives of the union and employer determine wages, hours, and other conditions of employment through direct negotiation.
COLONIAL CHARTERS: Documents granting authority to the original colonies by the British.
COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF: Formal constitutional role of the President as leader of the nation's armed forces.
COMMERCE CLAUSE: The clause in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1) that gives Congress the power to regulate all business activities that cross state lines or affect more than one state or other nations.
COMMERCIAL SPEECH: Advertisements and commercials for products and services; they receive less First Amendment protection, primarily to discourage false and misleading ads.
COMMON LAW: Body of unwritten law developed in England from judicial decisions based on custom and earlier judicial decisions. It constituted the basis of the English legal system and became part of American law.
COMMON OR PUBLIC GOOD: Benefit or interest of a politically organized society as a whole.
COMMUNITY POLICING: Assigning police to neighborhoods where they walk the beat and work with churches and other community groups to reduce crime and improve relations with minorities.
COMPACT: See covenant.
COMPETITIVE FEDERALISM: Views the national government, 50 states, and thousands of local governments as competing with each other over ways to put together packages of services and taxes. Applies the analogy of the marketplace-we have some choice about which state and city we want to "use", just as we have choices about what kind of telephone service we use.
CONCURRENT POWERS: Powers that may be exercised by both the federal government and the state governments - for example, levying taxes, borrowing money, and spending for the general welfare.
CONCURRENT RESOLUTION: A statement of the "sense" or opinion of the Congress, passed by both the House and the Senate. Not binding as a matter of law.
CONCURRING OPINION: An opinion that agrees with the majority in a Supreme Court ruling but differs on the reasoning.
CONFEDERATION: Constitutional arrangement in which sovereign nations or states, by compact, create a central government but carefully limit its power and do not give it direct authority over individuals.
CONFERENCE COMMITTEE: Committee comprised of both House and Senate members charged with working out the differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.
CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE (CBO): An agency of Congress that analyzes presidential budget recommendations and estimates the cost of proposed legislation.
CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE AGREEMENT: A formal agreement between a U.S. president and the leaders of other nations that acquires approval by both houses of Congress.
CONNECTICUT COMPROMISE: Compromise agreement by states at the Constitutional Convention for a bicameral legislature with a lower house in which representation would be based on population and an upper house in which each state would have two senators.
CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED: Agreement by the people to set up and live under a government. According to the natural rights philosophy, all legitimate government must rest on the consent of the governed.
CONSERVATISM: Political philosophy that favors limited government with minimal regulation and governmental interference in the economy and other aspects of social life. In general, conservatives favor giving power to state and local governments rather than to the national government.
CONSTITUENTS: The residents of a congressional district or state.
CONSTITUTION: The structures and fundamental principles of a government, usually in written form (Great Britain is notable for its "unwritten" constitution). The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land, meaning that all other laws (including state laws), executive actions and judicial decisions must be consistent with it. Granting power to the government from the people, the Constitution of the United States can only be changed by the people (through their representatives). Read About the United States Constitution.
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT: A formally proposed and ratified change to the Constitution that becomes a fully binding provision of the Constitution itself.
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION: The convention in Philadelphia, May 25 to September 17, 1787, that debated and agreed upon the Constitution of the United States.
CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY: System of governance based on popular sovereignty in which the structures, powers and limits of government are set forth in a constitution.

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