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Brief american history



The constitution is inspired by 18th century philosophers and thinkers such as Locke and Monstesqieu.


Its 4 main principles are:

  • Separation of powers: to protect citizens against an excessive concentration of authority.
  • Republicanism and popular representation by direct suffrage.
  • Federalism: to create a balance between the powers of the federal government in Washington and the power of the 50 states.
  • Defense of individual rights: enumerated in the Bill of Rights

The thirteen colonies on the American continent become independant.

The Declaration of Independance is adopted by Congress.

A convention of 55 delegates, the Founding Fathers, meets in Philadelphia and elaborates the document wich becomes the Constitution of the United States.

The American Constitution is designed to form the American federal government and set the laws of the land.

The 7 articles which make up the American Constitution are adopted.


(July 4th)





The 7 articles adopted in 1787 are followed by 10 amendments called the Bill of Rights which are ratified. The Bill of Rights is meant to protect the rights of US citizens against the tyranny of a centralised government.


(15th December)

Six emblematic american presidents

Democrat, Republican (or none), these presidents have had a special role or destiny in the history of the USA.

First president of the US and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

Issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which led to the American Civil War. He was assasinated in 1865.

Suggested a New Deal to restore prosperity and help the nation recover after WWII. He took active part in the planning of the United Nation Organization.

George Washington


Abraham Lincoln


Franklin D. Roosvelt


Launched very successful economic programs and paid particular attention to culture and arts. He opposed Russia in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

John F. Kennedy


Succeded in ending American fighting in Vietnam and improving relations with the USSR and China. But the Watergate scandal brought new division to the country and led to his resignation.

Dealt with a global financial crisis. He ended American presence un Iraq and ordered the mission which led to the killing of the leader of the terrorist group ISIS. He took several measures to fight climate change and had a health care reform (Obamacare) passed.

Richard Nixon


Barack Obama


The conquest of the west

Ever since the first settlers, a spirit of exploration and conquest has shaped the American identity. In the 19th century, the expression "Manifest Destiny" referred to the Americans' belief that they were destinated by God to spread civilisation across the whole North American continent.

"The frontier"

Refers to the vast, untamed, still to be conquered land stretching at the pioneers' feet unlike its European meaning of stable, fixed limit.
Suggests the progress of a nation, a civilisation and democratic ideals and is the symbol of "the American spirit" synonymous of individualism, self-reliance and courage.

American Progress by John Gast, 1872


The Cherokees living in Georgia are deported to Oklahoma. Their deadly journey is known as the "Trail of Tears".


The California Gold Rush attract thusands of hopeful "forty-niners".


Hundred of thousands of American pioneers move west on the Oregon Trail.


350 American Indians are slaughtered at the Battle of Wounded Knee.



Westward expansion




Louisiana is purchased from France: the size of the US is doubled.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition is commissioned to explore the far west.


Indian Removal Act: thousands of Native Amercans are forced to relocate in a faraway reservations West of the Mississippi river.


Three branches of power :
  • Legislative power
  • Executive power
  • Judicial power

Each has control over the other two, to avoid abuse of power -> system called "checks and balances".

Legislative power

The US Congress, at the Capitol

Its powers are enumerated in the Constitution: taxation, trade, army, diplomacy, budget...

Congress has a right of impeachment (= removal from office) against high federal officials and the president, if charged with misconduct.

Executive power

The president of POTUS, at the White House

A president can serve two terms. "The presidential ticket" (= POTUS + vice president) is elected for a four-year term. The president substitutes for the president in case he dies, resigns or is incapacitated from office.

The president has power shared with Congress: he is Commander in Chief of the armed forces, he nominates federal officials and Supreme Court judges with the Senate's approval.
Exclusive power: he can grant pardon. The president gives the State of the Union Address.

Judicial power

The Supreme Court, or SCOTUS

The Supreme Court of The United States reviews the laws voted in Congress (= it checks their conformity with the Constitution).

Nine judges, called "Justices", sit in the Supreme Court. They are appointed for life by the president with the approval of the Senate. They cannot be replaced, except by process of impeachment, or if they die or resign.




The Congress is composed of two chambers:

The House of Representatives:

  • 435 members: each state has at least one representative.
  • The representation of a state is proportional to its population: a census is conducted every ten years.
  • Representatives are elected by universal suffrage and serve a two-year term, with no limit to the number of terms.

The Senate:

  • 100 senators (two per state)
  • Senators are elected for 6 years by universal suffrage.
  • One third of the Senate is renewed every two years to insure political stability.
  • The vice president of the USA is also the president of the Senate.

The legislative process


  • Founded in 1854 by Abraham Lincoln to oppose the expansion of slavery.
  • The Republicans are conservative and defend the traditional values of the white capitalist community. They advocate economic liberalism (="laisser faire"=, and defend the rights of the individuals against the federal government which they distrust.
  • Their support is strongest among educated people with high income. Recently, with President Trump, the GOP has appealed the the white, poor, uneducated working-class voters who are easily convinced by populist ideas. The Bible Belt, roughly encompassing the south-east states, is a traditional stronghold of the GOP.

The Republican Party or "Grand Old Party" (the GOP)

  • Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1792.
  • Democrats advocate state intervention in economic and social affairs.
  • They are often considered to be more sympathetic to the less well-off and more supportive of government programmes ot help minorities. Their electoral base is found among low-income groups, racial and religious minority groups. The Rust Belt, the former industrial region covering the Great Lakes area in the North-Est of the US, is traditionally pro-Democrat.

The Democratic Party

Political parties in the USA

There are two American political parties:

Electing the American president

The American electoral process

1) People vote for Electors who sit in an Electoral College

2) The Electoral College elects the POTUS (the President Of The United States)



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Stage 1: Each state elects its delegates

In early February of the election year
In presidential primaries:
  • "Super Tuesday = The day the greatest number of states hold primary elections.
  • Open primary: every registered voter(1) can vote regardless of his/her party affiliation.
  • Closed primary: only registered members of that party can vote.
In January of the election year
In caucuses:
Caucus =
  • party member's meeting
  • a delegate is chosen by the members of the party.

--> by counting the number of elected delegates who support them nation wide, candidates to the nomination know how likely they are to become the nominees(2) at the party's national convention.

  1. A registered voter: person on the electoral register
  2. A nominee: political candidate

Stage 2: The national convention

In the summer
A national convention is held in the 2 major parties and the elected delegates choose their "presidential ticket" (= a president and vice-president).
After the convention, the chosen candidates running for the presidency in November canvass(1) the country to defend their platforms(2).

  1. To canvass the country: to campaign/to sollicit votes throughout the country.
  2. The party platform: the party program (= set of principal goals supported by a political party)

Stage 3: The popular vote

On the 1st Tuesday following the 1st Monday in November

  • People go to the polls to vote for a fixed list of Presidential Electors who promise to vote for one particular "ticket". The President is not elected at this stage.

  • Voters chose between the Democratic and the Republican lists in each state (each state has a number of Electors equal to its representation in Congress, depending on how densely populated the state is).
Example: 4 electors for New Hampshire and 55 for California. There
are 538 Electors (number equivalent to the 435 Representatives
+ 100 Senators + 3 members for D.C.)

  • According to the "winner-take-all" rule, the "ticket" receiving the largest number of votes gets the entire list of Presidential Electors of the state. Consequently, the result does not necessarily reflect voters' opinion. Moreover, states which have more Electors than others, owing to their larger populations, are crucial to ensure victory.

  • The name of the future president is known as soon as the results of the popular vote are known.

To win the election, a candidate must gather 270 electoral votes.

Stage 4: The electoral vote

(In December: meeting of the Electoral College:
simple formality)

  • The president-elect (= elected) is sworn into office (= he swears on the Bible to defend the Constitution) on January 20th of the following year and delivers his Inaugural Address(1).

  • The president can only be elected twice, must be a natural-born US citizen, have resided in the US for at least 14 years, and be at least 35 years old. He and his vice-president are elected for 4 years.

  1. The Inaugural Address = speech given during the ceremony which informs the people of their intentions as a leader.

The end