Foundations of U.S. Government

Values Underlying U.S. Government

The U.S. system of government has been influenced by beliefs in the values of liberty, justice, and equality.
Several key values have shaped the U.S. system of government. These begin with a belief in liberty. Americans believe that the political system should protect people's individual rights—that people should have the freedom to live their lives with minimal government restraint. During colonial times, many people—including the Puritans who settled in the New England colonies, the Catholics who settled in Maryland, and the Quakers and other minority religious groups who settled in Pennsylvania—came to British North America to escape religious persecution in their homelands. People who disagreed with the Puritan authorities in Massachusetts founded the colonies of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Other interrelated values that have influenced American ideas about government are justice and equality. Justice means that people should be treated equally and fairly under the law. Government decisions in a democracy should be based on the will of the majority, but government must also protect the rights of all members of society. Although the American system of government often fails to live up to these ideals, putting these values in conflict, they both remain important to Americans.
The phrase "EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW" is engraved above the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court Building, stating one of the key principles of the U.S. government.
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