Articles of Confederation


The Articles of Confederation were the first written plan of government for the United States. A confederation is a group of states that cooperate for a common purpose.

Shays' Rebellion


Shays's Rebellion (1786): Massachusetts farmer Daniel Shays led rebellion against government to stop courts from taking farms. Proof that Articles were failing to keep the peace in the U.S. Reaction to Shays's Rebellion was to call for a convention to revise the Articles.

Northwest Ordinance


Northwest Ordinance: set up system for new western sections to be governed and become states. 5,000+ free adult males = elect legislature. 60,000+ total = apply to become state. Slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory.

Constitutional Convention


Delegates from 12 colonies gathered at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation to give more power to the federal government instead of just the states.

New Jersey vs. Virginia Plan


The Virginia Plan suggested that representation be based on population, as this would benefit large states.

The New Jersey Plan suggested that representation be equal from each state, as this would benefit small states.

Great Compromise


Delegates compromised on states’ representation in the federal government: House of Representatives would be based on population (to appeal to large states); Senate would receive 2 senators from each state (equal vote to appeal to small states).

Three-Fifths Compromise


Delegates compromised on how to count slaves for representation and taxes. Slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a person.

U.S. Constitution


"We the People of the United States..." 

Replaced the Articles of Confederation as the Supreme Law of the United States government. Ratified June 21, 1788.



A government in which people vote for their political representatives. This is seen in Articles I and II.

Checks & Balances


Each branch of government can check, or control, the other branches to make sure the branches work together fairly. This is seen in articles I, II, and III.



A system of government in which power is divided between a central government and state governments. This is seen in Articles IV, V, VI, and VII.

Limited Government


The power of the government is restricted, and everyone – citizens and leaders alike – must obey all the laws. This is seen in Articles I, II, III, IV, V, and VII.

Popular Sovereignty


A government in which the people rule. The Constitution states the people give the government its power. This is seen in Article V and VII.

Individual Rights


Personal liberties and privileges are protected by the Constitution, and the government can’t step on them. This is seen in the Bill of Rights (amendments 1-10).

Separation of Powers


Basic government roles are divided among 3 branches, so no one section of the government ever gets too much power. This is seen in Articles I, II, and III.

Checks & Balances


A fundamental principle of American government, guaranteed by the Constitution, whereby each branch of the government (executive, judicial, and legislative) has some measure of influence over the other branches and may choose to block procedures of the other branches.

Legislative Branch


Legislative Branch is made up of Congress, which is the House of Representatives and the Senate. This branch makes and passes laws.

Executive Branch


Executive Branch is made up of the President, Vice President, and the president’s cabinet (advisors). This branch enforces the laws.

Judicial Branch


Judicial Branch is made up of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. This branch interprets the laws and makes sure they are all in line with the constitution and that they are fair.

Federalists vs Anti-Federalists


Federalists were people who supported a stronger federal government, just like the Constitution created; did not support the addition of a Bill of Rights.

Federalist Papers


To convince people to support the constitution, 3 Federalists (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay) began writing a series of essays discussing all the pros of the constitution. 

Federalist Paper No. 10


Federalist Paper, No. 10, Madison responded that large republics actually prevented special interests from taking over. Madison said that in a large republic, “. . . you take in a greater variety of . . . interests; you make it less probable that a majority . . . will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens . . . .” In other words, in a large republic, the special interests balance each other out.

Federalist Paper No. 51


In Federalist Paper, No. 51, Madison told why government is needed. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” He then explained why government needs checks on it. “If angels were to govern men,” no checks would be needed. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men,” he continued, “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.” In other words, government had to have power, but not too much power.

Bill of Rights


First 10 amendments to the US Constitution. Proposed by the anti-federalists, these amendments guarantee citizens their most basic rights.

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Key Figures & Events