Constitution 101: The Meaning and History of the Constitution

"Consent of the Governed & the Separation of Powers"


The Constitution is a product of the ideas and the experience of the Founders. The Founders’ experience of government under the Articles of Confederation—which led to legislative tyranny of the majority and the general incompetence of government—taught the Founders that consent must be structured, that good government requires something more than a legislative branch.

The key feature of the Founders’ constitutionalism is separation of powers, which produces two important results. First, separation of powers links constitutional means and personal motives in order to prevent one branch from dominating the other two. By connecting personal motives or ambition to constitutional means such as checks and balances or the presidential veto, separation of powers works to prevent tyranny. Second, separation of powers recognizes the existence of three powers in nature—executive, legislative, and judicial—and by keeping them effectively separated allows each one to do its job well. The separation of powers fosters good government—a deliberate legislature, an energetic executive, and a judicious judiciary.


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Discussion Questions

  1. What was the prevailing view of the form or shape that republican government should take prior to the American Founding?
  2. Why must consent be structured in a certain way to bring about a just political result?
  3. How does separation of powers work to prevent tyranny and foster good government?

Q & A Session

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Kevin Portteus is an Associate Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, where he has taught since 2008. Dr. Portteus is faculty advisor for the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program, and teaches courses in American political thought and American political institutions.

A visiting graduate faculty member in the American History and Government program at Ashland University, Dr. Portteus formerly taught at Belmont Abbey College and Mountain View College, in Dallas. Having published online through the Washington Times, Human Events, and, his book, Executive Details: Public Administration and American Constitutionalism, is under review for publication. He received his B.A., summa cum laude, from Ashland University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in politics from the University of Dallas.