• Definition of Limited Government

  • Meaning of Limited Government

  • Examples of Limited Government

  • American Limited Government

  • Limited Government in the Constitution

  • Limited Government - Key Takeaways

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Limited Government

Americans may seem hopelessly divided on many issues, but the concept of limited government is widely supported. But what exactly is limited government, and why is it crucial in the American system?

Definition of Limited Government

The principle of limited government entails clear restrictions on government and its rulers to safeguard the natural rights of citizens. The founders of America were influenced by Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke, who emphasized natural rights.

Natural rights are inherent rights belonging to all humans, independent of government.

The American founders embraced Locke's belief that government's role is to protect individual natural rights.

Locke proposed two key limits on government: the existence of standing laws known to citizens and the government's duty to preserve personal property.

Central to Locke's philosophy is the idea that governments must have the consent of the governed.

Consent of the Governed: Governments derive power from citizens, who have the right to choose their rulers. If the government fails its duties, citizens have the right to revolt.

Locke's ideas on consent of the governed and natural rights laid the foundation for America's system of limited government.

Meaning of Limited Government

Limited government means certain individual liberties and rights are beyond government control. This concept contrasts with historical authoritarian regimes where rulers held absolute power.

Colonists sought independence from Britain due to King George III's oppressive rule, aiming to establish a government respecting individual liberties.

Examples of Limited Government

American democracy exemplifies limited government through representative democracy, separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism.

Representative Democracy

In American democracy, power lies with voting citizens who elect representatives and vote for the president.

Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances

American government divides power among legislative, executive, and judicial branches, ensuring checks and balances.


Federalism shares power among different levels of government, ensuring responsiveness to citizens' needs.

Other countries with limited governments include the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, and Germany.

An authoritarian government contrasts with limited government, where unchecked rulers hold absolute power. In the American system, checks and balances prevent abuse of power.

American Limited Government

The foundation of the American government rests on limited government principles like natural rights, republicanism, popular sovereignty, and the social contract.

Republicanism: Citizens elect representatives to govern and create laws.

Popular Sovereignty: Government is created and subject to the people's will.

Social Contract: Citizens surrender some rights for government benefits, with the right to establish a new government if promises are unfulfilled.

Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence embodies these ideas, asserting the people's right to rule.

That all men are created equal, endowed with unalienable rights, and governments derive power from the consent of the governed.

Limited Government in the Constitution

The Constitution establishes limited government in the US, emphasizing written limitations on government and protection of individual rights.

The Constitutional Convention aimed to create a system spreading power among branches and levels of government, with checks and balances proposed by James Madison.

Articles 1-3

The Constitution's first three articles organize a limited government, defining the responsibilities and checks of each branch.

The Constitution lists enumerated powers of each branch, with implied powers beyond explicit enumeration.

Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights reinforces limited government, protecting individual liberties through amendments guaranteeing rights like freedom of speech and religion.

Limited Government - Key Takeaways

  • Limited government restricts government and rulers to protect citizens' natural rights.
  • The American system is inspired by Enlightenment ideas, emphasizing individual rights and consent of the governed.
  • The Constitution, Bill of Rights, and federalism establish and maintain limited government in the US.

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