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Limited government is a political paradigm under which the citizenry has significant power to influence the rule of law and where government is kept to a minimal size. More emphasis becomes placed on local government and policy, giving more citizen access to participate. It also provides a stronger free market system so that the citizenry have more opportunity for real success. In a limited government, the power of government to intervene in the exercise of civil liberties is restricted by law, usually in a written constitution. It is a principle of classical liberalism, free market, libertarianism, and some tendencies of liberalism and conservatism in the United States. The theory of limited government contrasts, for example, with the ideal that government should intervene to promote equality and opportunity through regulation of property and democracy wealth redistribution. As discussed in The Federalist Papers, the idea of limited government originally implied the notion of a separation of powers and the system of checks and balances promoted by the U.S. Constitution. This understanding of limited government maintains that government is internally limited by the system of checks and balances as well as the Constitution itself, which can be amended, and externally through the republican principle of electoral accountability. Such an understanding of limited government, as explained by James Madison, does not place arbitrary and ideologically biased parameters on the actions of a government thus allowing government to change as time demands.
"Limited government" stands in contrast to, among many things, the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. Under that doctrine, the King, and by extension his entire government, held unlimited sovereignty over its subjects. Limited government exists where some effective limits restrict governmental power. In Western civilization, the Magna Carta stands as the early example of a document limiting the reach of the king's sovereignty. While its limits protected only a small portion of the English population, it did state that the king's barons possessed rights which they could assert against the king. The English Bill of Rights associated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 established limits of royal sovereignty. In contrast, and as stated in the above paragraph, The United States Constitution of 1787 created a government limited by the terms of the written document itself, by the election by the people of the legislators and the executive, and by the checks and balances through which the three branches of government limited each other's power.
In the United States of America
In 1789, James Madison presented to the First United States Congress a series of ten Amendments to the United States Constitution, today known as the Bill of Rights. After enumerating specific rights retained by the people in the first eight Amendments, the Ninth Amendment and the Tenth Amendment summarily spelled out the principle of limited government. Together, these two last Amendments clarify the differences between the un-enumerated (as well as enumerated) rights of the people versus the expressly codified delegated powers of the federal government. The Ninth Amendment codified of the people do not have powers are expressly delegated to the federal government specifically by the Constitution. Government can do some things and not others.
The Constitution limits the power of the government in several ways. It prohibits the government from directly interfering with certain key areas: conscience, expression and association. Other actions are forbidden to the federal government and are reserved to state or local governments.