A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essy about the legislative gridlock that slows down the working of the American government. Written for HIS 303: The American Constitution.





I believe that gridlock, "the natural result of those 'checks and balances' we all learned about in government class" (Neuendorf, 1994, para. 5), is essential to the preservation of personal, local, and state rights and liberties in the United States.  Without the slow and cumbersome structure of legislation, Americans would likely fall victim to "overly passionate legislation ... [and] knee-jerk mistakes" (Deck, 2009, paras. 1-2) in the creation of laws to govern this country.

The Framers of our country instituted a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government "to prevent either branch from gaining too much power" (Williams, 2009, para. 2), because they were only too aware of the abuses of power that could happen when the Executive held too much power, as they had experienced with Great Britain.  The system was nor designed to make life difficult for the lawmakers, but to preserve the quality of life for the people.  As O'Connor and Sabado (2008) tell us, "[t]he Framers, fearing tyranny, divided powers between the state and the national governments" (section 8.1, para. 10).

Over time, gridlock "actually helped Americans to avoid certain nutty laws being enacted" (Deck, 2009, para. 7).  Deck (2009) goes on to list a few of the constitutional amendments that were proposed, but that never became law because the system of checks and balances worked, including a 1914 proposal to make divorce illegal in the United States, a 1916 proposal "that all acts of war be put to a national vote.  Anyone who voted to go to war -- had to join The Army" (Deck, 2009, para. 9), and a 1938 proposal to make drunkenness illegal in the United States.

If the gridlock of checks and balances was removed from our government, then it might make the government function more efficiently, but it would do so at the expense of the rights of the states and the liberties of the people.  Allan Bevere (2006) writes that

[W]hen one party holds both Congress and the White House, after time, especially if it is more than one term, such power tends to lead to corruption ... [but] when there is gridlock, both parties are able to hold each other accountable.  (paras. 4-6)

Checks and balances keep one leader, one branch of government, or one party from riding roughshod over the liberties of the governed.  "[I]n the end [gridlock] safeguards the people from corruption of power and abuse of authority -- by either side" (Hamilton, 2004, para. 10).



Bevere, A.R. (2006, November 9).  In Praise of Gridlock.  Retrieved February 15, 2010,     from 

Deck, L.  (2009).  America LOVES Gridlock!.  Retrieved February 15, 2010, from       Gridlock.html

Hamilton, L.  (2004).  Congress and the President.  Retrieved February 15, 2010, from 

Neuendorf, D.W.  (1994).  Motherhood, Apple Pie and Gridlock.  Retrieved February 15,    2010, from

O'Connor, K. and Sabato, L.J.  (2008).  American government: Continuity and change,    [Electronic version].  New York: Pearson-Longman.


© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism welcome.

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, American government, gridlock, checks and balances, three-party system

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..