Рефераты. The USA: its history, geography and political system

bison) were slaughtered until only fragments remained, and many other

species were driven to the brink of extinction. Rivers were dammed and

their natural communities disrupted. Forests were destroyed by excess

logging, and landscapes were scarred by careless mining.

A counterweight to the abuse of natural resources took form in the American

conservation movement, which owes much of its success to Americans'

reluctance to see frontier conditions disappear entirely from the

landscape. Conservationists were instrumental in establishing the first

national park, Yellowstone, in 1872, and the first national forests in the

1890s. More recently, the Endangered Species Act has helped stem the tide

of extinctions.

Environmental programs can be controversial; for example, some critics

believe that the Endangered Species Act hampers economic progress. But,

overall, the movement to preserve America's natural endowment continues to

gain strength. Its replication replication in many other countries around

the world is a tribute to the lasting influence of the American frontier.

A responsive government.

Separation of powers and the democratic process.

The early American way of life encouraged democracy. The colonists were

inhabiting a land of forest and wilderness. They had to work together to

build shelter, provide food, and clear the land for farms and dwellings.

This need for cooperation strengthened the belief that, in the New World,

people should be on an equal footing, with nobody having special


The urge for equality affected the original 13 colonies' relations with

the mother country, England. The Declaration of Independence in 1776

proclaimed that all men are created equal, that all have the right to

"Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

The Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution after it, combined

America's colonial experience with the political thought of such

philosophers as England's John Locke to produce the concept of a democratic

republic. The government would draw its power from the people themselves

and exercise it through their elected representatives. During the

Revolutionary War, the colonies had formed a national congress to present

England with a united front. Under an agreement known as the Articles of

Confederation, a postwar congress was allowed to handle only problems that

were beyond the capabilities of individual states.


The Articles of Confederation failed as a governing document for the

United States because the states did not cooperate as expected. When it

came time to pay wages to the national army or the war debt to France, some

states refused to contribute. To cure this weakness, the congress asked

each state to send a delegate to a convention. The so-called Constitutional

Convention met in Philadelphia in May of 1787, with George Washington


The delegates struck a balance between those who wanted a strong central

government and those who did not. The resulting master plan, or

Constitution, set up a system in which some powers were given to the

national, or federal, government, while others were reserved for the

states. The Constitution divided the national government into three parts,

or branches: the legislative (the Congress, which consists of a House of

Representatives and a Senate), the executive (headed by the president), and

the judicial (the federal courts). Called "separation of powers," this

division gives each branch certain duties and substantial independence from

the others. It also gives each branch some authority over the others

through a system of "checks and balances."

Here are a few examples of how checks and balances work in practice.

8. If Congress passes a proposed law, or "bill," that the president

considers unwise, he can veto it. That means that the bill is dead

unless two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate vote

to enact it despite the president's veto.

9. If Congress passes, and the president signs, a law that is challenged

in the federal courts as contrary to the Constitution, the courts can

nullify that law. (The federal courts cannot issue advisory or

theoretical opinions, however; their jurisdiction is limited to actual


10. The president has the power to make treaties with other nations and to

make appointments to federal positions, including judgeships. The

Senate, however, must approve all treaties and confirm the

appointments before they can go into effect.

Recently some observers have discerned what they see as a weakness in the

tripartite system of government: a tendency toward too much checking and

balancing that results in governmental stasis, or "gridlock."


The Constitution written in Philadelphia in 1787 could not go into effect

until it was ratified by a majority of citizens in at least 9 of the then

13 U.S. states. During this ratification process, misgivings arose. Many

citizens felt uneasy because the document failed to explicitly guarantee

the rights of individuals. The desired language was added in 10 amendments

to the Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights guarantees Americans freedom of speech, of religion,

and of the press. They have the right to assemble in public places, to

protest government actions, and to demand change. There is a right to own

firearms. Because of the Bill of Rights, neither police officers nor

soldiers can stop and search a person without good reason. Nor can they

search a person's home without permission from a court to do so. The Bill

of Rights guarantees a speedy trial to anyone accused of a crime. The trial

must be by jury if requested, and the accused person must be allowed

representation by a lawyer and to call witnesses to speak for him or her.

Cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden. With the addition of the Bill of

Rights, the Constitution was ratified by all 13 states and went into effect

in 1789.

Since then 17 other amendments have been added to the Constitution.

Perhaps the most important of these are the Thirteenth and Fourteenth,

which outlaw slavery and guarantee all citizens equal protection of the

laws, and the Nineteenth, which gives women the right to vote.

The Constitution can be amended in either of two ways. Congress can

propose an amendment, provided that two-thirds of the members of both the

House and the Senate vote in favor of it. Or the legislatures of two-thirds

of the states can call a convention to propose amendments. (This second

method has never been used.) In either case a proposed amendment does not

go into effect until ratified by three-fourths of the states.


The legislative branch -- the Congress -- is made up of elected

representatives from each of the 50 states. It is the only branch of U.S.

government that can make federal laws, levy federal taxes, declare war, and

put foreign treaties into effect.

Members of the House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms.

Each member represents a district in his or her home state. The number of

districts is determined by a census, which is conducted every 10 years. The

most populous states are allowed more representatives than the smaller

ones, some of which have only one. In all, there are 435 representatives in

the House.

Senators are elected to six-year terms. Each state has two senators,

regardless of population. Senators' terms are staggered, so that one-third

of the Senate stands for election every two years. There are 100 senators.

To become a law, a bill must pass both the House and the Senate. After the

bill is introduced in either body, it is studied by one or more committees,

amended, voted out of committee, and discussed in the chamber of the House

or Senate. If passed by one body, it goes to the other for consideration.

When a bill passes the House and the Senate in different forms, members of

both bodies meet in a "conference committee" to iron out the differences.

Groups that try to persuade members of Congress to vote for or against a

bill are called "lobbies." They may try to exert their influence at almost

any stage of the legislative process. Once both bodies have passed the same

version of a bill, it goes to the president for approval.


The chief executive of the United States is the president, who together

with the vice president is elected to a four-year term. As a result of a

constitutional amendment that went into effect in 1951, a president may be

elected to only two terms. Other than succeeding a president who dies or is

disabled, the vice president's only official duty is presiding over the

Senate. The vice president may vote in the Senate only to break a tie.

The president's powers are formidable but not unlimited. As the chief

formulator of national policy, the president proposes legislation to

Congress. As mentioned previously, the president may veto any bill passed

by Congress. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The

president has the authority to appoint federal judges as vacancies occur,

including justices of the Supreme Court. As head of his political party,

with ready access to the news media, the president can easily influence

public opinion.

Within the executive branch, the president has broad powers to issue

regulations and directives carrying out the work of the federal

government's departments and agencies. The president appoints the heads and

senior officials of those departments and agencies. Heads of the major

departments, called "secretaries," are part of the president's cabinet. The

majority of federal workers, however, are selected on the basis of merit,

not politics.


The judicial branch is headed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is the only

court specifically created by the Constitution. In addition, Congress has

established 13 federal courts of appeals and, below them, about 95 federal

district courts. The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., and the other

federal courts are located in cities throughout the United States. Federal

judges are appointed for life or until they retire voluntarily; they can be

removed from office only via a laborious process of impeachment and trial

in the Congress.

The federal courts hear cases arising out of the Constitution and federal

laws and treaties, maritime cases, cases involving foreign citizens or

governments, and cases in which the federal government is itself a party.

The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and eight associate

justices. With minor exceptions, cases come to the Supreme Court on appeal

from lower federal or state courts. Most of these cases involve disputes

over the interpretation and constitutionality of actions taken by the

executive branch and of laws passed by Congress or the states (like federal

laws, state laws must be consistent with the U.S. Constitution).


Although the three branches are said to be equal, often the Supreme Court

has the last word on an issue. The courts can rule a law unconstitutional,

which makes it void. Most such rulings are appealed to the Supreme Court,

which is thus the final arbiter of what the Constitution means. Newspapers

commonly print excerpts from the justices' opinions in important cases, and

the Court's decisions are often the subject of public debate. This is as it

should be: The decisions may settle longstanding controversies and can have

social effects far beyond the immediate outcome. Two famous, related

examples are Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education of

Topeka (1954).

In Plessy the issue was whether blacks could be required to ride in

separate railroad cars from whites. The Court articulated a "separate but

equal" doctrine as its basis for upholding the practice. The case sent a

signal that the Court was interpreting the Thirteenth and Fourteenth

Amendments narrowly and that a widespread network of laws and custom

treating blacks and whites differently would not be disturbed. One justice,

John Marshall Harlan, dissented from the decision, arguing that "the

Constitution is color-blind."

Almost 60 years later the Court changed its mind. In Brown the court held

that deliberately segregated public schools violated the Fourteenth

Amendment's equal protection clause. Although the Court did not directly

overrule its Plessy decision, Justice Harlan's view of the Constitution was

vindicated. The 1954 ruling applied directly only to schools in the city of

Topeka, Kansas, but the principle it articulated reached every public

school in the nation. More than that, the case undermined segregation in

all governmental endeavors and set the nation on a new course of treating

all citizens alike.

The Brown decision caused consternation among some citizens, particularly

in the South, but was eventually accepted as the law of the land. Other

controversial Supreme Court decisions have not received the same degree of

acceptance. In several cases between 1962 and 1985, for example, the Court

decided that requiring students to pray or listen to prayer in public

schools violated the Constitution's prohibition against establishing a

religion. Critics of these decisions believe that the absence of prayer in

public schools has contributed to a decline in American morals; they have

tried to find ways to restore prayer to the schools without violating the

Constitution. In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Court guaranteed women the right

to have abortions in certain circumstances -- a decision that continues to

offend those Americans who consider abortion to be murder. Because the Roe

v. Wade decision was based on an interpretation of the Constitution,

opponents have been trying to amend the Constitution to overturn it.


Americans regularly exercise their democratic rights by voting in

elections and by participating in political parties and election campaigns.

Today, there are two major political parties in the United States, the

Democratic and the Republican. The Democratic Party evolved from the party

of Thomas Jefferson, formed before 1800. The Republican Party was

established in the 1850s by Abraham Lincoln and others who opposed the

expansion of slavery into new states then being admitted to the Union.

The Democratic Party is considered to be the more liberal party, and the

Republican, the more conservative. Democrats generally believe that

government has an obligation to provide social and economic programs for

those who need them. Republicans are not necessarily opposed to such

programs but believe they are too costly to taxpayers. Republicans put more

emphasis on encouraging private enterprise in the belief that a strong

private sector makes citizens less dependent on government.

Both major parties have supporters among a wide variety of Americans and

embrace a wide range of political views. Members, and even elected

officials, of one party do not necessarily agree with each other on every

issue. Americans do not have to join a political party to vote or to be a

candidate for public office, but running for office without the money and

campaign workers a party can provide is difficult.

Minor political parties -- generally referred to as "third parties" --

occasionally form in the United States, but their candidates are rarely

elected to office. Minor parties often serve, however, to call attention to

an issue that is of concern to voters, but has been neglected in the

political dialogue. When this happens, one or both of the major parties may

address the matter, and the third party disappears.

At the national level, elections are held every two years, in even-

numbered years, on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in

November. State and local elections often coincide with national elections,

but they also are held in other years and can take place at other times of


Americans are free to determine how much or how little they become

involved in the political process. Many citizens actively participate by

working as volunteers for a candidate, by promoting a particular cause, or

by running for office themselves. Others restrict their participation to

voting on election day, quietly letting their democratic system work,

confident that their freedoms are protected.

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