What Does Limited Government Mean?

Written by pamela martin
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What Does Limited Government Mean?
The U.S. has a limited government. (us capitol image by Ritu Jethani from Fotolia.com)

A limited government has restrictions on those that are in power. These limits are enforced by laws or other practices, including free, regularly scheduled elections. With the ratification of the United States Constitution, the Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances to protect the states and their citizens from an overreaching government.

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The U.S. Constitution places many limits on the Federal government. For example, it forbids the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, except in emergencies. The writ of habeus corpus requires a court hearing to determine whether an imprisonment is arbitrary or improper. The Constitution also prohibits ex post facto, or retroactive, criminal laws.

Constitutional Effects

The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves all powers not specifically granted to the Federal government for the states and individual citizens. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution lists the powers that the Federal government has; these are known as the enumerated powers.


During the 17th century, John Locke and other philosophers argued that governments were limited to actions that protected the natural rights of life, liberty and property. When the framers of the U.S. Constitution considered a new form of government, they set limits to guarantee these rights and prevent the abuse of power that led to the American Revolution.

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