POLISCI 101 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Montesquieu
Course CodePOLISCI 101
ProfessorRaymond La Raja
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US Constitution- Basics
• The first part is called the preamble. It’s the opening announcement of purpose. It states
loudly “We the people” to emphasize how power is not from the states, but rather, from
the people. Legitimacy in the national government is rooted in the people.
• “In order to form a more perfect union”. Admitting their previous failure and desire to
• “To establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility”. These were people who were quite
optimistic about their future.
• On September 17th, 1787, it was approved by the delegates, but still not ratified. It had to
be approved by 2/3rd of the states through conventions of state legislatures.
Basic Principles of the Constitution:
• Separation of Powers:
Three branches of government. Legislative (lawmaking). Executive (executing the law) and
Judicial (interprets and applies the law).
The notion of separation of powers came from the French philosopher Montesquieu, who
described the three basic powers of govt. Montesquieu argued that to prevent tyranny, these
powers should not be concentrated into just one place in government. Each branch of
government should have a different powers that they are responsible for.
Irrespective of their different responsibilities, there had to be equality and independence of each
In the US Constitution, we have distinct institutions to reflect these separate powers that
Montesquieu laid out. We have a Congress for Legislative, Presidency for Executive and the
Courts for Judiciary.
In US, we have elections for the Congress and Presidency. Voters pick the Presidency separate
from the Members of Congress. For instance, if the majority of the Congress is Republican, that
does not necessarily mean that there will be a Republican president.
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