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With origins dating back to ancient Greece, democracy is regarded as one of the staple and founding features of the United States. It is a political system and a means for the people of a nation to choose their leaders and keep them accountable for their actions and policies. This can only be accomplished through the maintenance and preservation of four fundamental pillars: protection of the people’s human rights, a due process of law, active political involvement by the people, and fair and free election. This stresses the importance of having a strong and stable core government that prohibits the opportunity of a monarchy to arise. For this reason, I argue that the system of checks and balances is the most pivotal factor for fostering American democracy. While resonating the voices and intent of the framers of the Constitution, the system of checks and balances unifies the citizens of the country regardless of ethnicity, background, socioeconomic echelon, gender, and political party under one systemic idea for which the growth of democracy could be viable.
Prior to the creation and development of the United States were the original 13 colonies that fought for the possibility of everything we have today. However, the real driving force and key instigator was the tyranny of the British throne. The monarchy back in the motherland (Britain) provided the colonists with the right fuel for revolution such as: the Stamp Act, establishment of a tyrannical authority as substitute for a representative government, rejection of legislation proposed by the colonies, replacing colonial governments with his personal ministers, etc. (Kennel et Al. 2016). Not only did this pave the road for a revolution, but it also created the fundamental need for a representative democracy rather than another tyrannical monarchy.
Fearing another case of King George III, the Fathers established the system of checks and balances largely based on the French philosopher Charles, Baron de Montesquieu who argued that, “the concentration of government power could be effectively limited by locating the several functions of government—legislative, executive, and judicial—in separate and independent institutions.” Simply put, the system would enable each of the three branches of government to limit, or overpower the authority of the other two (Kennel et Al. 2016, 59). This implementation was definitely a direct consequence to the perceived horrors of monarchy rule. Luckily for us, this gave rise to a new form of governing in America—democracy.
The removal of the possibility of a tyranny is fundamental to American democracy in that it allows it (American democracy) to exist. Without ways to safeguard our government from the possible takeover by a superior branch or a sector with too much power, democracy would be eradicated and the people would have to answer to one leading power (monarchy). The founders of our country recognized this potential issue and implemented two systems: separation of powers and the system of checks and balances. The latter can be seen throughout history and even in modern times whenever the Executive branch vetoes bills from the Legislative while the Judicial may declare executive actions unconstitutional and so forth. Even today, the system is still very much relevant because “Of the 487 regular vetoes cast between 1945 and 2014, only 51 were overridden” (Kennel et Al. 2016, 267). This shows that the checks and balances are definitely in place even in today’s changing society and that no two branches are conspiring with one another; rather, they are implementing their respective beliefs on reforming the country in a powerful, yet respectful manner.
Personally, I believe this system is the most important function of the Constitution for American democracy because without it, democracy would simply cease to exist—there would be an obvious leader in power and the people would be left with two choices: live with the imposition of that party’s rule or revolt and reform.
In addition to my personal analysis of the system, it should also be noted that this feature is entirely successful in promoting the values and ideals addressed in the Federalist Papers. For instance, one of Madison’s essays, Federalist No. 51 is entirely about the concept of regulating governmental powers. A famous passage from the article goes:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself (Kennel et Al. 2016, 74).
Taking into account Madison’s last line, one can understand that he places great significance on the two factors that allow a government to function smoothly. The first is getting the people to accept the government model that is presented and the second is to provide a means for the government to power-check itself. The latter is the more relevant point in terms of the topic at hand. He goes on in his article and asserts that, the head of each branch must, “be made commensurate to the danger of attack.” Here he makes the point of having the authority figure of each branch be wary of the actions of the others rather than collaborating and potentially conspiring. Tying hand in hand with the idea of the system of checks and balances, Madison’s belief is fundamentally aligned with the system when he advises to “divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit” (Kennel et Al. 2016, 76). Conclusively, Madison is depicting a situation where dividing power aims to check its growth in any single direction. Specifically, he is talking in support of dividing Congress into two branches, the House of Representatives and the Senate which highlights the framers’ overall wishes to safeguard democracy by diversifying government branches to reduce the risk of a tyranny. Furthermore, this ideal ties with the system of checks and balances since they both aim to make it difficult for a single group to accumulate too much power.
Giving the people a voice in shaping their country is at the heart of the founding of the United States. This historically and modernly significant idea of American democracy is an effective and fair ruling system that must be protected. For this reason, the Federalist belief that the system of checks and balances goes hand in hand with the government is of utmost importance and makes the system a major key in fostering democracy.
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