Part I: the ap united states government course examination


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Few Americans believe that the federalist system should be abandoned, but the nature of federalism is still a controversy today, and Americans still disagree about the balance of power between national and state governments.




1. Mobilization of political activity

The various levels of government provide many alternatives for a citizen to be heard regarding a concern. If a local official won't listen, a citizen may appeal to someone on the state or national level.

1. Confusion of political activity

The various levels of government can be confusing to a citizen, so that he or she does not know which official to contact.

2. Interest groups cannot easily take over the government. Powerful interest groups cannot force their will upon less powerful groups because in order to control, they would have to take over not only the national government, but state and local governments as well. Small groups of people have a chance to be heard and influence legislation.

2. Small but motivated interest groups can block the will of the majority for extended periods of time. Sometimes small groups of people can impose their will for extended periods of time on the majority. For example, a relatively small group of southern senators blocked civil rights legislation for many years after most citizens favored such legislation.

3. Diversity of policies among states encourages experimentation and creativity.

50 different state governments tackle similar issues, and a good solution in one state can be modeled in another. For example, if a state finds a good way to finance public education, other states can mimic the plan, altering for special needs. On the other hand, if a state tries something that fails, at least it affects only one state, not all.

3. Diversity of policies among states creates inequality between citizens of different states.  Because states provide different levels of support, citizens in some states have more advantages than those in other states. For example, welfare benefits vary widely among the states, as do funding levels for public education.

4. Diverse policies among states are good because uniform laws don't make sense in many areas.

For example, speed limits on highways should be under state and local control, as should the minimum age for obtaining a driving license. Crowded New Jersey should not have the same speed limits as does wide-open Montana. Young people in farm states should be allowed to drive at early ages in order to help support the farm.

4. Diverse policies among states even for speed limits and driving ages creates confusion and inequality.

Although speed limits obviously need to vary, arbitrary differences in state laws are confusing and outdated in this era of interstate highways. Differences in driving ages are not fair to young people in states with higher age requirements.

An individual's attitude about federalism depends partly on how much he or she values equality vs. freedom. Uniform laws passed by a unitary government tend to emphasize equal treatment of citizens. Diverse laws by their very nature allow a great deal of individual freedom.


Although the trend toward national supremacy has continued throughout most of American history, a movement has begun in recent years to devolve more responsibilities back to the states. The movement began as a Republican initiative shortly after the 1994 elections, when the Republicans became the majority party in both houses of Congress. The new conservative leadership looked for ways to scale back the size and activities of the national government. A major focus was the welfare system, and as a result, the welfare to work legislation passed in 1996 has led to a major shift of responsibility for welfare programs from federal to state governments. The national government continues to give block grants to states, but overall federal funding for welfare programs has decreased dramatically.

Although the balance of power between national and state governments has varied over time, the federalist system is an essential building block of American government. States sponsor major programs to fund education, help distressed cities, and provide welfare. Local governments have wide controls over a myriad of services and regulations. The federalist system is rooted in the Constitution, and governmental powers certainly will continue to be shared among national, state, and local levels.


block grants

categorical grants

the commerce clause

concurrent powers

confederal systems

creeping categorization

delegated powers

devolution revolution

federal systems


grants-in-aid system

loose construction


national supremacy

necessary and proper clause


reserved powers

revenue sharing

strict construction

unitary governments


1. Upon which of the following principles of human nature did Thomas Hobbes and John Locke most likely AGREE?

        a. Life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

        b. All people are born with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and property.

        c. The most important basis of government is the social contract.

        d. People are incapable of self rule, and must rely on the judgement of monarchs.

        e. Humans are basically self-centered, and governments must be based on the realities of human nature.

(Questions 2 and 3 are based on the following quote:)

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object,

evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their

duty, to throw off such government..."

2. The quote is from

    a. The Declaration of Independence

    b. the Constitution

    c. the Federalist Papers

    d. Common Sense

    e. The Leviathan

3. The quote reflects most accurately which principle of government?

    a. the self interest of humans

    b. federalism

    c. the social contract

    d. separation of powers

    e. states rights

4. All of the following were characteristic of the American government under the Articles of Confederation EXCEPT:

    a. The central government consisted of a Congress in which each state was represented equally.

    b. No executive or judiciary branches were created.

    c. The central government could not regulate commerce between states.

    d. The central government could not levy taxes.

    e. The Articles could be amended by a vote of 10 of the 13 states.

5. Which of the following BEST captures the majority opinion of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention regarding the franchise?

    a. All adults should have the right to vote.

    b. All white males should have the right to vote.

    c. Only property owners should have the right to vote.

    d. No government officials should be selected by direct democratic vote.

    e. All white males and females should have the right to vote.

6. Which of the following most accurately describes the legislature created by the Connecticut Compromise?

    a. a unicameral legislature selected by popular vote

    b. a bicameral legislature, with the upper house selected by the lower

    c. an upper house appointed by the state legislatures and a lower house selected by popular vote

    d. an bicameral legislature, with both houses selected by popular vote

    e. a unicameral legislature selected by the state legislatures


7. The Constitution created the electoral college to select

    a. all major political leaders

    b. members of the legislature only

    c. Senators and the president

    d. the president and the vice president

    e. the president only

8. If "factious a flame within their particular states..." [leaders can check the spread of the] "conflagration through the other states."

The above quotes from the Federalist #10 best support the

    a. states rights point of view

    b. concern for protecting individual rights

    c. argument for a centralized government

    d. principles of federalism and separation of powers

    e. separation of the colonies from England


9. A unitary political system is one in which power is

    a. concentrated in one person, usually a dictator

    b. spread equally among subunits

    c. concentrated in one geographic area

    d. in the hands of a prime minister who leads the majority party in Parliament

    e. centered in the hands of those who control the economy


10. At which of the following times was the U.S. political system almost completely

the opposite from the British system in terms of distribution of power?

    a. during the American Revolution, under the Articles of Confederation (1776-1787)

    b. during the Early Republic, under the newly created Constitution (1789-1800)

    c. during the Civil War, when power was more concentrated in the presidency (1861-1865)

    d. during the Industrial Revolution, when politcal power was held by entrepreneurs (1865-1900)

    e. during the 1920s, when weak presidents allowed Congress to control policymaking

11. Which of the following is a concurrent power?

    a. declaration of war

    b. regulation of interstate commerce

    c. taxation

    d. issuance of mandates

    e. coining of money

(Questions 12 and 13 are based on the following quote):

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited

by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

12. In terms of the "necessary and proper debate the tenth amendment quoted above best represents the point of view of

    a. Alexander Hamilton

    b. Thomas Jefferson

    c. George Washington

    d. John Adams

    e. Benjamin Franklin

13. The principle of the tenth amendment was strongly defended in the pre-Civil War period by

    a. Alexander Hamilton

    b. James Buchanan

    c. John C. Calhoun

    d. Abraham Lincoln

    e. Stephen Douglas

14. Which of the following would be LEAST likely to support consolidation of federal categorical grants into a large block grant?

    a. a governor of a small, less populated state, who wants agricultural grants

    b. a governor of a large, more populated state who needs money for urban renewal

    c. a Democratic president that shares power with a Republican Congress

    d. a liberal senator who supports civil rights legislation

    e. a representative who wants to take credit for getting federal money for his/her district

15. Until 1997, which of the following controls allowed the federal government to require

compliance of states to federal guidelines WITHOUT providing federal money?

    a. conditions of aid

    b. nullification

    c. mandates

    d. dual federalism

    e. cross-over sanctions 



1. E

2. A

3. C

4. E

5. C

6. C

7. D

8. D

9. C

10. A

11. C

12. B

13. C

14. E

15. C




Every country has a political culture - a set of widely shared beliefs, values, and norms concerning the ways that political and economic life ought to be carried out. The political culture defines the relationship of citizens to government, to one another, and to the economy. A good understanding of a country’s political culture can help you make sense of the way a country’s government is set up, as well as the political decisions its leaders make.

The American political culture may share beliefs, values, and norms, with those of others countries, but the sum and configuration of each political culture is unique. A conflictual political culture is one in which different groups (or subcultures) clash with opposing beliefs and values; a consensual political culture experiences less conflict. No matter how broadly the consensus is held, any culture contains values that overlap and conflict; the American political culture is no exception. Although many conflicts exist within the political system in the United States, American political culture is generally consensual because we have a broad based of shared political values. Most of our conflicts occur because we disagree on how these values should be implemented, not on the basic beliefs themselves.


Alexis de Tocqueville ö an early observer of American political culture ö came to the United States during the 1830s to investigate why the American democracy seemed to be so successful, especially since his native France seemed to be having so much trouble with it. Tocqueville recorded his observations in Democracy in America, a book that remains today a classic study of American political values. He identified several factors that he believed to be critical in shaping America’s successful democracy:

1.      Abundant and fertile land

2.      Countless opportunities for people to acquire land and make a living

3.      Lack of a feudal aristocracy that blocked others’ ambitions

4.      An independent spirit encouraged by frontier living

Although many years have passed since Tocqueville made his famous observations about American political culture, these factors shaped our basic values of liberty, individualism, equal opportunity, democracy, rule of law, and civic duty.


The values of the American political culture are grounded in the eighteenth century Enlightenment philosophy that so heavily influenced the founders. Over the years other values have been added, some supporting the original ones, some conflicting. American political beliefs and behaviors today reflect an accumulation of these values throughout United States history.  


The following values have shaped the political culture since the founding of the country:

  • Liberty - The value of liberty probably was the most important inspiration to the American Revolution, and it remains a core value today. Liberty was one of the natural rights first cited by John Locke and later by Thomas Jefferson: ..."that among these [rights] are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.."

  • Equality - Again, Thomas Jefferson refers to this basic value in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.." Although most Americans don't believe that everyone is equal in every sense of the word, the basic beliefs in equality of opportunity and equal treatment before the law have influenced the political system greatly.

  • Individualism - The values of equality and liberty are complemented by a commitment to the importance and dignity of the individual. Under our system of government, individuals have both rights and responsibilities. "Rugged individualism" is a reflection of this value: the belief that individuals are responsible for their own well-being and that the strength of our system lies in the ability of individuals to be left alone to compete for success. This value is associated with the a belief in the "common sense" of ordinary people and their ability to not only take care of themselves, but choose their government leaders as well.

  • Democracy - Most Americans believe that government should be based on the consent of the governed, or that legitimacy ultimately lies in the hands of the people. We also believe in majority rule, but our emphasis on liberty and individualism causes us to believe that the rights of the minority should be protected as well.

  • Rule of law - The belief that government is based on a body of law applied equally, impartially, and justly is central to American political culture. Rule of law stands in opposition to rule by an individual, which to many Americans implies following the whims of a dictator.

  • Civic duty ö Tocqueville noted that Americans of the early 19th century had a well-developed sense of community and individual responsibility to support community efforts. Although critics today observe that sense of community is not as strong in modern day, most Americans believe that they ought to be involved in local affairs and help out when they can.

Some international studies show that Americans by comparison tend to be more nationalistic, optimistic, and idealistic than people in other countries, although the scope of these studies is limited.


The firmly entrenched values of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were altered radically by the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s. The most profound economic change was the increase in the inequality in the distribution of wealth and income. By the end of the century great wealth lay in the hands of a few people - the entrepreneurs or "robber barons." In a sense, the economic development brought out some inherent conflicts between the core values already established.

        Capitalism- Before the late 1800s, most personal wealth was based on land ownership. The commitment to capitalism ö wealth based on money and other capital goods - became an additional shared political value during the Industrial Revolution, one that complements individualism and freedom.

        Free enterprise- During this same time period, American beliefs in freedom and individuals came to embrace free enterprise ö economic competition without restraint from government.

These values reinforced the older emphasis on individualism. Just as early Americans had sought their fortune by claiming and farming new land by their own individual efforts, entrepreneurs of the late 19th century were flexing their muscles in the new industrial economy. However, the new commitment conflicted with the old value of equality, and tensions resulted. For example, robber barons were accused of exploiting workers and limiting competition in order to get ahead themselves, not only challenging equality, but other people's liberty as well. Monopolies also caused many to question equality of opportunity. The era illustrated inherent conflicts among the core values that had been in place for more than a century. The resolution was to legislate new government regulations to ensure fair treatment in the marketplace, and another belief was added to our political culture: government responsibility for the general welfare.


Although the Preamble to the Constitution states that promotion of the General Welfare is a major purpose of government, the meaning of that value was transformed during the 1930s. The Great Depression brought about the near-collapse of capitalism, and the New Deal was an affirmation of the government's responsibility for the welfare of its people. In Roosevelt's 1944 inaugural address, he outlined a "Second Bill of Rights" that reflected his firm commitment to "economic security and independence." For example, he asserted everyone's rights to a useful job, food, clothing, a decent home, adequate medical care, and the right to a good education. These beliefs played a major role in the creation of the civil rights and welfare legislation of the 1960s, and as recently as the early 1990s, Clinton referred to Roosevelt's Second Bill of Rights when he said, "Health care is a basic right all should have." The defeat of his health care plan indicates that Americans don’t always agree on the meaning of this value. Again, the movement created tension over the value of individualism, or the individual’s responsibility to take care of himself. The government’s responsibility for the general welfare became a major issue of the 2000 election campaign as candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore debated the merits of a government-sponsored prescription plan for the elderly, and again in 2004, as President Bush supported privatization of Social Security programs, and challenger John Kerry did not.


Another American value that is easily misunderstood is political tolerance. Democracy depends on citizens being reasonably tolerant of the opinions and actions of others, and most Americans believe themselves to be fairly tolerant. Studies show that political tolerance in much more complex a value than it appears on the surface. Among their findings are:

        The overwhelming majority of Americans agree with freedom of speech, religion, right to petition - at least in the abstract.

        People are not as politically tolerant as they proclaim themselves to be.

        Americans are willing to allow many people with whom they disagree to do a great deal politically.

        Americans have become more tolerant over the last few decades.

        Most people dislike one or another group strongly enough to deny it certain political rights, although people are not always inclined to act on their beliefs. As a general rule, people are willing to deny rights to people on the opposite end of the political spectrum. For example, liberals are most likely to deny right-wing groups, such as neo-Nazis or self-styled militia groups their rights, and conservatives are most likely to deny them to groups they may disapprove of, such as gays, atheists, or black militants. In conflict with popular opinion, research does not show that liberals are necessarily more tolerant than conservatives.


A recent trend in changing American political values and beliefs is that of growing mistrust of the government. Although the trust reflected in the 1950s and early 1960s may have been artificially high, trust in government and its officials has declined significantly since the mid-1960s. Many scholars blamed the Vietnam War and Watergate for the initial, dramatic drops, but the trend is persistent into the early 21st century, with Americans in record numbers expressing disgust with politics and politicians.

Accompanying the mistrust of government has been a drop in political efficacy, a citizen’s capacity to understand and influence political events. Political efficacy has two parts:

        Internal efficacy- the ability to understand and take part in political affairs

        External efficacy - the belief of the individual that government will respond to his or her personal needs or beliefs.

Most studies find little difference over the last half-century in the levels of internal efficacy in the United States. However, there has been a big change in external efficacy, with most Americans believing that the government is not very responsive to the electorate. The levels dropped steadily during the 1960s and 70s, with many political scientists blaming the Vietnam War and Watergate for the growing belief that government officials operate without much concern for beliefs and concerns of ordinary people. The patterns continues until today, and may be one reason that incumbent presidents have had a difficult time getting reelected in recent years.

Americans seem to have come to the conclusion that government is too big and pervasive to be sensitive to individual citizens. However, international studies show that Americans feel significantly higher levels of political efficacy than do citizens of many European nations. Americans are less likely to vote than most Europeans, but they are more likely to sign petitions, work to solve community problems, and regularly discuss politics.

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