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FOUNDATIONS:. BACKGROUND TO AMERICAN HISTORY. The Big Questions:. What do the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights say? What has been the importance of these three documents to American history?

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The big questions

The Big Questions:

  • What do the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights say?

  • What has been the importance of these three documents to American history?

  • What qualities led to America’s exceptional success as a democratic republic?

  • How did the characteristics of American culture found by John de Crevecoeur compare to those later identified by Alexis de Tocqueville?

The american revolution in a nutshell

The American Revolution (in a nutshell)

  • After the French and Indian War (1754-1763) the British Gov’t. had a huge debt

  • To help pay this, they imposed a series of new taxes on the colonists (Stamp, Tea, Townshend)

  • Colonists had no representation and saw this as a violation of their rights (Taxation without Representation)

Early events of the revolution

Early events of the Revolution

  • Boston Tea Party (1773) – protesters (disguised as Indians) threw tea off British ships in Boston harbor

  • British soldiers and colonists fired on one another at Lexington and Concord (1775)

  • The Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington to command the Continental Army

Supporters of the revolution

Supporters of the Revolution

  • Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. – Governor of Connecticut who supported the colonists and spoke against English abuses

  • John Peter Muhlenberg – Protestant minister who enlisted over 100 men into the Continental Army. Part of the “Black Regiment”. Rose to the rank of General

The declaration of independence

The Declaration of Independence

  • A “Committee of Five” was appointed by the 2nd Continental Congress to draft a Declaration of Independence, but the committee decided Thomas Jefferson should write most of it.

  • Final was issued on July 4, 1776

  • It freed the colonists from Britain, but also put forward a theory of government

  • Many ideas were borrowed from John Locke, such as the idea of protection of unalienable, or natural, rights.

  • Argued that ordinary citizens had the right to overthrow an oppressive gov’t. if it failed to protect their rights

  • Listed grievances against King George III and tyrannical rule.

Signers of the declaration of independence

Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Signers of the Declaration were representatives from all 13 colonies (there were 56 in all). Signing was an act of treason and was punishable by hanging

  • John Hancock – most recognizable signature. A prosperous merchant from Boston (president of the Continental Congress)

  • Benjamin Rush – a physician, educator, and humanitarian. Sometimes known as the “Father of American Medicine”, a pioneer of physiology and psychiatry, proposed a national public university to train public servants, favored female education, and established and financed the oldest African-American church in the country.

Signers continued

Signers continued…

  • Charles Carroll of Carrollton – one of the wealthiest men in the colonies, he helped finance the Revolution with his own money. Argued for armed resistance. Helped get recognition for the acceptance of the Roman Catholic religion in America.

  • John Witherspoon – Scottish immigrant who became a leading member of the Continental Congress and believed the colonies were ready for independence. A Presbyterian clergyman, he eventually became president of what is now Princeton University.

The u s constitution


  • Replaced the weak first constitution, The Articles of Confederation

  • The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, decided to abandon the Articles, and wrote a new constitution

  • Established the basic structure of our national government

  • Sought to defend the nation’s interests and promote its general welfare

  • Made federal law supreme over state law

The federalist papers

The Federalist Papers

  • A series of essays arguing strongly for ratification of the Constitution

  • John Jay

    • Absent during the signing of the Declaration, but helped negotiate the peace treaty with England

    • Wrote three of the essays in the Federalist Papers

    • Appointed first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

    • Became governor of New York (introduced penal reform, abolition of slavery, and extensive road and canal projects)

The bill of rights

The Bill of Rights

  • First 10 amendments to the Constitution

  • Approved by members of the first congress in order to get the Constitution ratified

  • Came into effect in 1791

    Individual rights for all:

    • 1st Amendment – Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly

    • 2nd Amendment – Right to bear arms and maintain a militia

    • 3rd Amendment – Prohibits quartering of troops



Rights of the accused:

  • 4th Amendment – protects against “unreasonable” search and seizures

  • 5th Amendment – “due process of law”, ensures indictment, grand jury, protection from double jeopardy and self-incrimination

  • 6th Amendment – fair and impartial trial for criminal charges, trial by jury, and representation by lawyer

  • 7th Amendment – same as 6th for civil cases

  • 8th Amendment – protects against excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment



  • 9th Amendment – Rights not specifically mentioned are held by the people

  • 10th Amendment – All powers not mentioned in the Constitution as belonging to the federal government are reserved for the states or the people



  • Create an illustrated story book of the Bill of Rights

    • Make sure you include all 10 amendments

    • Define the amendment (tell what rights it provides for or protects)

    • Include a picture that describes the amendment

Five values of america s success as a constitutional r epublic

Five Values of America’s Success as a ConstitutionalRepublic

  • Egalitarianism – social equality (regardless of wealth , power, intelligence)

  • Populism (popular sovereignty) – participation of the common people in politics with a goal of peace and prosperity

  • Liberty – protection from tyrannical government (rule of law)

  • Individualism – freedom to flourish without hereditary distinctions (the “American dream”)

  • Laissez-Faire – a hands off approach to the economy (no government interference in business)

The evolution of mid nineteenth century america 1830 1865


  • In the early 19th century, the three main sections of the U.S. were affected very differently by industry (North, South, West)

  • These differences eventually led to the Civil War (1861-1865)

  • After 4 years the North was able to defeat the South due to its greater population and resources

  • Following the Civil War, a group of important amendments were passed

  • Northern armies occupied the South during Reconstruction

Civil war amendments

“Civil War Amendments”

  • 13th Amendment – abolished slavery

  • 14th Amendment – guaranteed ALL citizens “due process rights” and “equal protection” of the laws from state governments

  • 15th Amendment – prohibited denying individuals their voting rights based on race

Growth of the nation


  • Federal gov’t. secured its supremacy over states

  • The Great Plains were opened to settlement

  • New railroad lines criss-crossed the nation

  • The Northeast accelerated its industrial growth

    The notion that Americans stand together is expressed in the motto of the Great Seal of the U.S. “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many comes one)

    Our national motto “In God We Trust” has been used on coins since 1864.



  • Don’t forget to write a summary for your Cornell notes

  • Create a storyboard of the Foundations: Background to American History notes/power point

    • Choose any four topics

    • Each section will have a subtitle, summary, picture, and question

    • This will go on the left side of your interactive notebook, and will be for a grade.

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