Key Terms of Government


Amendment – An addition to a formal document such as the Constitution.

Bicameral – Consisting of two houses, or chambers, especially in a legislature.

Bill – A proposed law.

Bill of Attainder – Punishes someone without the benefit of a trial.

Cabinet – A group of advisors to the President.

Caucus – A meeting held by a political party to choose their party’s candidate for president.

Checks & Balances – The system in which each branch of government has a check on the other two branches so that no one branch becomes too powerful.

Citizen – A person who owes loyalty to and is entitled to the protection of a state or nation.

Concurrent Powers – Powers shared by the sates and the federal government.

Constituents – People that members of Congress represent.

Constitution – A formal plan of government.

Due Process of Law – Idea that the government must follow procedures established by law and guaranteed by the Constitution.

Elastic Clause – A section in the Constitution that allows Congress to stretch their powers to fulfill their responsibilities.

Electoral College – A special group of voters selected by their state’s voters to vote for the president and vice-president.

Enumerated Powers – Powers belonging only to the federal government.

Ex Post Facto Law – Punishes someone for something they did that was not illegal at the time they did it.

Executive Branch – The branch of government headed by the president that carries out the nation’s laws and policies.

Federalism – The sharing of power between the federal and state governments.

Habeas Corpus – A legal order for an inquiry to determine whether a person has been lawfully imprisoned.  A writ of habeas corpus is used to get someone out of jail who is being held without evidence or cause.

Impeach – To bring formal charges against a public official for misconduct.

Implied Powers – Powers not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

Incumbent – Someone who currently holds an office or position.

Judicial Branch – The branch of government, including the federal court system that interprets the nation’s laws.

Judicial Review – The right of the Supreme Court to determine if a law violates the Constitution.

Legislative Branch – The branch of government that makes the nation’s laws.

Limited Power of Government – A government whose powers are outlined to restrict or limit their power.  No people or groups are above the law.

Naturalization – The process of becoming a citizen or to grant citizenship to a foreigner.

Nullify – To cancel or make ineffective.

Override – To defeat or overturn, as a bill proposed in Congress.

Partisan – Favoring one side of an issue.

Poll Tax – A tax that had to be paid in order to vote.

Popular Sovereignty – A political theory that government is subject to the will of the people.

Primary – An election in which voters choose their party’s candidate.

Ratify – To approve.

Reserved Powers – Powers retained by the states.

Separation of Powers – The division of power among the three branches of government each with their own powers and responsibilities.

Suffrage – The right to vote.

Supremacy of National Law – The Constitution is the highest law of the land.

Unconstitutional – Goes against the Constitution.

Veto – To reject a bill and prevent it from becoming a law.

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