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Origins of American Government. Section 1: The Roots of American Democracy Section 2: American Independence Section 3: Articles of Confederation Section 4: The Constitutional Convention Section 5: Ratification and the Bill of Rights. Section 1 at a Glance. The Roots of American Democracy

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Origins of American Government

Section 1:The Roots of American Democracy

Section 2:American Independence

Section 3:Articles of Confederation

Section 4:The Constitutional Convention

Section 5:Ratification and the Bill of Rights

Section 1 at a Glance

  • The Roots of American Democracy

  • The English political heritage of representative government, limited

  • government, and individual rights influenced the development of

  • government in the United States.

  • From the start, the English colonies in North America experimented with forms of self-government.

  • The English colonists were influenced by ideas from various intellectual traditions, ranging from republicanism to natural rights theory, Judeo-Christian ideals, and the work of Enlightenment thinkers.

The Roots of American Democracy

Main Idea

American democracy was shaped by our English political heritage, colonial experiments in self-government, and a range of intellectual influences.

  • Reading Focus

  • Which American political ideas derived from an English political heritage?

  • How did colonial governments give English colonists experience in self-rule?

  • What intellectual influences shaped the development of American political philosophy?

Representative Government

Limited Government

  • Began in 1215 when King John signed Magna Carta

  • Moved from rule of man to rule of law

  • Outlined individual rights which king could not violate

  • Included taxation and trial provisions

  • Tradition began in 11th century.

  • Evolved into bicameral, or two-chamber, legislature

  • Nobles comprised Upper House.

  • Local representatives participated in House of Commons.

English Political Heritage

Colonial government would never be an exact copy of the British system. Colonial leaders adapted old ideas, based on English traditions, to a new environment.

English Political Heritage (cont’d.)

  • Individual Rights

  • 1628: King Charles required to sign Petition of Right

  • Required monarchs to obtain Parliamentary approval before levying new taxes, also could not unlawfully imprison people or establish military rule during times of peace

  • Extended conflict between Charles and Parliament erupted into civil war in 1642.

  • Charles defeated, beheaded!!

  • 1685: renewed conflicts and rebellion between the Crown and Parliament

  • 1689: William and Mary chosen to rule, but had to govern according to statutes of Parliament

  • 1689: English Bill of Rights passed

  • Free speech and protection from cruel and unusual punishment guaranteed

  • Glorious Revolution established constitutional monarchy.

Experiments in Early Governance

Types of English Colonies

  • Jamestown’s House of Burgesses, 1619

  • Mayflower Compact, 1620

  • Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, 1639

  • Massachusetts Body of Liberties, 1641

  • Each charter guaranteed colonists the “rights of Englishmen.”

  • Three types established

  • Proprietary, based on land grant to individual or group

  • Royal colonies, directly controlled by king through appointed governor

  • Charter colonies, operated under charters agreed to by colony and king; had most independence from the Crown

The English Colonies

English colonists began to settle parts of North America in the early 1600s, bringing English political theories and methods of governance.

Intellectual Influences

In addition to English traditions, ideas were key to transforming loyal English colonists first into revolutionaries and then into founders of a new nation.

  • Republicanism

  • Idea of representative government going back to Greece and Rome

  • Highly values citizen participation, public good, civic virtue

  • Influences included Aristotle, Machiavelli, de Montesquieu, others

  • Judeo-Christian Influences

  • Religious heritage common to both Christianity and Judaism

  • Law and individual rights of divine origin

Intellectual Influences (cont’d.)

  • Enlightenment Thinkers

  • Enlightenment—Intellectual movement in 18th century Europe

  • Classical liberal concerns addressed in Enlightenment

  • Framers of U.S. Constitution believed in people’s natural rights to life, liberty, and property.

  • Social contract—People form a government to protect their rights

  • Philosophers John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau important contributors

  • Economic and civil liberties important as well

  • Other influences included Adam Smith, Voltaire, William Blackstone.

  • American Independence

  • After the French and Indian War, the colonists rebelled against British attempts to assert control over the colonies and against new British taxes.

  • In 1775 the Second Continental Congress called for the writing of a formal Declaration of Independence.

American Independence

Main Idea

The British imposed new policies on their American colonies, sparking rebellion and, in time, the American Revolution.

  • Reading Focus

  • How did British colonial policies lead to American independence?

  • What were the aims of the Continental Congress?

  • Which ideas and events inspired the Declaration of Independence?

  • How did the first state governments reflect the conflict that led to the American Revolution?

Early Attempts at Unity

Growing Tensions

  • 1643: New England Confederation formed to defend against threats from Native Americans and Dutch colonies

  • 1854-1763: French and Indian War spurred new drive toward unity

  • 1754: Great Britain urged signing of treaty with Iroquois Confederation

  • Ben Franklin proposed Albany Plan of Union to control trade, raise armies, build settlements, equip fleets

  • Mid-1700s: colonists used to handling affairs without interference from British

  • 1760: King George III began to tighten control over colonies

  • Most colonists viewed selves as loyal subjects of British Crown

  • Parliament began to think colonies had become too independent

  • Following French and Indian War, Parliament placed new financial burdens on colonists

The Road to Independence

The road that led the American colonies to unite with one another and break with Great Britain was long and fraught with conflict.

  • Changes in British Policies

  • British victorious in French and Indian War, but incurred massive debts

  • Parliament looked to colonies to offset cost of war, defense of colonies

  • Enforced trade restrictions benefiting Britain, including series of taxes

  • Colonists resented being taxed without their consent.

  • The Stamp Act Congress

  • 1765: Stamp Act: Parliament’s first attempt to tax colonists directly

  • Required tax stamp on paper goods such as legal documents and newspapers

  • Angry colonists responded with protests; in 1765, delegates from 9 colonies sent strong protest to king declaring power to tax should remain with colonial assemblies.

  • Colonial Protests

  • 1766: Stamp Act repealed; colonies protested, organized resistance; Boston Massacre

  • 1773: Boston Tea Party protested American tea trade given to one British company.

  • 1774: New harsh laws, Intolerable Acts, ended all forms of self-rule in Massachusetts.

The Continental Congress

  • Compromise

  • Most colonists held out hope for compromise to roll back taxes.

  • Virginia and Massachusetts assemblies called for meeting of colonies in Philadelphia.

  • First Continental Congress

  • 1774: First Continental Congress passed Declaration and Resolves demanding repeal of Intolerable Acts.

  • 1775: British rejected demands; British troops clashed with colonial militia at Lexington and Concord—the first armed resistance by colonists.

  • Second Continental Congress

  • 1775: Second Continental Congress organized Continental Army, named George Washington as commander

  • Revolutionary War began as colonists sought independence from Britain

  • Common Sense of Democracy

  • 1776: The Common Sense pamphlet argued case for break with England.

  • Thomas Paine: independence was the only “common sense” for colonists

  • Saw history of world hanging on outcome of colonies’ rebellion

The Declaration of Independence

  • Armed conflict continued for months before independence officially declared

  • June 7, 1776: resolution proposed to Second Continental Congress to officially declare independence from Great Britain; resolution passed July 2

  • Committee appointed to write formal statement justifying resolution

  • Thomas Jefferson wrote most of document, drawing on Virginia Declaration of Rights adopted by Virginia House of Burgesses one month earlier

  • Virginia declaration declared “all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights” that cannot be denied.

  • Echoed philosophy of John Locke that people have rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”

  • Also echoed idea of government as social contract based on consent of the people

  • July 4, 1776: Declaration of Independence was adopted. Britain’s thirteen colonies ceased to exist as new nation emerged.


Separation of Powers

  • All new state constitutions established republican governments with strong legislatures with elected representatives.

  • Voting rights varied from state to state.

  • Some states granted the right to vote to adult male taxpayers, others had property qualifications; only New Jersey allowed women to vote.

  • Three branches of government: legislative, executive, judicial

  • States had real power to govern.

  • Powers included conducting foreign affairs, declaring war

  • Most legislatures had two houses.

  • Some elected governors and judges.

The State Constitutions

By 1780, each of the 13 newly independent states had adopted its own written constitution. Each tested ideas about how to design a republican government that protected individual rights.

The State Constitutions (cont’d.)

  • Limited Government

  • Strong legislative bodies reflected general mistrust of monarchy.

  • Colonists did not grant unlimited power to legislatures.

  • Annual elections, term limits, separation of powers established as checks

  • Kept powers of governors deliberately weak, limited term

  • Individual Rights

  • Protecting people’s rights seen as way to protect from excesses of government

  • 1780: Massachusetts constitution included bill of rights to protect individual liberties.

  • Liberties included trial by jury, freedom of assembly, and speech.

  • Articles of Confederation

  • In 1777 the Second Continental Congress passed the first official plan for national government, the Articles of Confederation.

  • After the Revolutionary War, weaknesses in the Articles led to conflicts among the states, sparking calls for a stronger national government.

Articles of Confederation

Main Idea

The states’ first attempt to build a national government, the Articles of Confederation, proved too weak to last.

  • Reading Focus

  • How was the first national government organized under the Articles of Confederation?

  • What were the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation?

  • What events convinced some American leaders that a stronger national government was needed?

First National Government

  • Articles of Confederation

  • June 1776: new model of government crafted to build “firm league of friendship” among states, retaining “sovereignty, freedom and independence”

  • June 12, 1777: Articles of Confederation adopted

  • Had to be ratified before going into force

  • A Delay in Ratification

  • Disputes over control of western lands delayed the ratification process.

  • Small states feared large states with claims to western lands would overpower them.

  • Articles were changed to allow Confederation control over western lands.

  • Articles finally ratified in 1781

First National Government (cont’d.)

  • Powers of the National Government

  • Created weak national government; did not provide for national court system

  • One-house Congress: power to act on matters of common interest; admit new states; settle disputes; coin money; raise army; declare war; conduct foreign policy

  • State Powers

  • States retained all powers not specifically given to Congress

  • Powers included: ability to collect taxes, enforce national laws

  • States required to contribute funds to national government as they saw fit

Weaknesses of the Articles

  • Articles gave Congress key responsibilities, but placed limits that kept it from effectively enforcing laws and policies

  • Without executive branch, national government lacked means to carry out Congress’s laws

  • Without national court system, Congress had to rely on state courts to apply national laws

  • Mostly importantly, Articles denied Congress power to tax

  • Difficult to raise funds to repay money borrowed during Revolution

  • Lacked authority to regulate trade

  • Congress had power to coin money, but not sole power to do so; created barrier to trade, major obstacles to economic development

  • Congress required to have 9 of 13 states to ratify laws, while only one state could raise objections to block changes in Articles—weakened Congress’s ability to act swiftly and decisively

Northwest Ordinance

Dangers and Unrest

  • 1787: Northwest Ordinance planned for settling Northwest Territory

  • Included areas now in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin—disputed western lands that had delayed ratification of the Articles

  • Created system for admitting new states, banned slavery, included bill of rights

  • Most pressing problem: war debts

  • 1783: Congress tried to approve tax on imports but act never ratified and government went broke

  • Postwar depression struck

  • States pursued own interests, flouting national laws; like “13 sovereignties pulling against each other”

Pressures for Stronger Government

Its independence secured with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the United States faced a range of challenges that the national government was ill-equipped to meet. The shortcomings of the government created by the Articles of Confederation would lead to calls for a new plan of government.

Pressures for Stronger Government (cont’d.)

  • Shay’s Rebellion

  • September 1786: rebellion of Massachusetts farmers facing prospect of losing land

  • Revolutionary War Captain Daniel Shays led attacks on courthouses to prevent judges from foreclosing on farms.

  • Shay’s Rebellion swelled to nearly 2,500 by 1787.

  • Massachusetts legislature asked Congress for help; Congress had no money or forces

  • Shay’s Rebellion showed how feeble the Confederation Congress was and hastened moves to revise the Articles.

  • Calls to Revise the Articles

  • March 1785: Washington invites representatives from Virginia and Maryland to his home at Mount Vernon to discuss resolving trade dispute.

  • Led to meeting to discuss regulating commerce between all the states

  • February 1787: James Madison persuades the Confederation Congress to endorse meeting for “purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”

  • May 1787: meeting to strengthen Articles held in Philadelphia

  • The Constitutional Convention

  • At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, delegates debated competing plans—the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan—for how the new government should be organized.

  • To finalize the Constitution, delegates compromised on key issues.

The Constitutional Convention

Main Idea

Delegates at the Constitutional Convention compromised on key issues to create a plan for a strong national government.

  • Reading Focus

  • Why did the Constitutional Convention draft a new plan for government?

  • How did the rival plans for the new government differ?

  • What other conflicts required the Framers to compromise?

Drafting a New Constitution

  • The Convention Meets

  • May 25, 1787: convention gets underway with representatives of 12 of the 13 states

  • Rhode Island, fearing weaker state powers, sent no delegation.

  • Delegates worked to draft the framework for a new government.

  • Meetings were held in strict secrecy without press or public.

  • Framers of the Constitution

  • 55 delegates, known as Framers of the Constitution

  • One-third had served in the Continental Army.

  • 8 had signed Declaration of Independence

  • George Washington, president of convention

  • James Madison a major influence

Delegates gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation, but ended up with an entirely new plan for government.

Rival Plans

  • The Virginia Plan

  • One of two rival plans for creating a new form of government which emerged at the convention

  • Based on the ideas of James Madison, The Virginia Plan called for a central government divided into three branches—legislative, executive, judicial—each branch with power to check the others.

  • Called for strong national government with power to make laws, levy taxes, control interstate commerce, override state laws

  • Called for bicameral legislature with membership based on state’s population; lower house members elected directly by the people; upper house members selected by state legislatures

Rival Plans

  • The New Jersey Plan

  • Delegates from small states concerned that Virginia Plan gave too much power to large states

  • The New Jersey Plan called for a strong central government made up of three branches, but was designed to stick closer to the Articles of Confederation.

  • Called for unicameral legislature

  • Each state would have one vote, with equal representation regardless of its population.

  • Despite support from small states, the plan was ultimately rejected at the Convention.

The Great Compromise

Compromise Over Slavery

  • June 30, 1787: Roger Sherman presented The Connecticut Compromise (The Great Compromise).

  • Elements of both plans

  • Bicameral legislature: lower house number based on state’s population, upper house with two members each

  • Lower house elected directly by the people; upper house selected by state legislatures

  • Key points: whether slaves should be counted as part of state’s population; whether importation of enslaved people should be allowed to continue

  • Counting slaves would greatly increase population and power of southern states

  • Three-Fifths Compromise: three-fifths of enslaved people would be counted to determine a state’s population.

  • Compromise on slave trade allowed it to continue protected for the next 20 years

Conflict and Compromise

For weeks after the rejection of the New Jersey Plan, the Convention was deadlocked. Tempers flared, and at times it seemed the Convention would fall apart. In the end, a series of compromises saved the Convention.

Conflict and Compromise (cont’d.)

  • Presidential Election

  • Some wanted president elected directly by the people; others by the state legislatures or the national legislature

  • Compromise: state electors

  • Number of state electors equal to number of representatives in both houses of Congress; chosen by popular vote

  • If no candidate received majority vote, House of Representatives would choose president

  • Finalizing the Constitution

  • Debated issues, settled disputes, made key decisions during summer of 1787

  • Benjamin Franklin said document was as close to perfect as possible, to overlook parts they did not like and “act heartily and unanimously” in signing Constitution

  • Some delegates refused to sign because it did not include a bill of rights.

  • 39 delegates from 12 states signed Constitution

  • Convention adjourned September 17, 1787


What compromises made the Constitution possible?

Answer(s):Compromises included the Three-fifths Compromise, the Great Compromise, compromises over the Atlantic slave trade, and the election of the president.

Section 5 at a Glance

  • Ratification and the Bill of Rights

  • Ratification of the Constitution involved a heated debate between those who supported the Constitution and those who opposed it.

  • Antifederalists opposed the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights.

  • The Federalist Papers outlined the key ideas of the Federalists, who supported the Constitution.

  • The struggle for ratification took place in every state.

Ratification and the Bill of Rights

Main Idea

Before the Constitution could take effect, a heated debate between those in favor of the Constitution and those who opposed it took place in all the states.

  • Reading Focus

  • What were the main points of the disagreement between the Antifederalists and the Federalists?

  • What were the main arguments made by the authors of the Federalist Papers?

  • Why was the Bill of Rights important to the ratification of the Constitution?

Antifederalists versus Federalists

  • Constitutional Convention adjourned September 17, 1787

  • Drastic changes in plan for government surprised some, angered others

  • New national government would

    • Greatly reduce powers of state legislatures

    • Completely restructure Congress

  • Framers outlined process for ratifying Constitution

    • Voters in each state to elect representatives to state ratifying convention

    • To become law, Constitution had to be ratified by 9 of 13 states

  • Two factions

    • Federalists supported Constitution

    • Antifederalists opposed Constitution

  • The Antifederalists

  • Recognized need for stronger national government but thought Constitution betrayed ideals of American Revolution

  • Saw document as assault on state sovereignty, republicanism, liberty of the people

  • Believed national government would become too powerful

  • Strongest criticism—Constitution lacked bill of rights guaranteeing civil liberties

  • The Federalists

  • Enthusiastic supporters of powerful, vigorous national government

  • Feared central government that was too strong, but feared weak government more

  • Believed sufficiently powerful national government would strengthen fragile union, promote public good

  • Government would be empowered to defend against foreign enemies, regulate trade, and put down internal disturbances.

  • Believed separation of powers in Constitution put limits on government power


Over what issues did Antifederalists and Federalists disagree?

Answer(s):strength of federal government; restructuring of Congress; power of executive branch; necessity of bill of rights

The Federalist Papers

  • Writing Team

  • Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

  • Wrote under pen name, Publius—one of founders of Roman Republic

  • Authored 85 essays total

  • Best Commentary

  • Circulated throughout the states

  • Classic statement of American political theory

  • Collectively called theFederalist Papers

  • Defended Constitution

  • Papers 10 and 51 argued Constitution would balance influence of different factions

  • Others explained how principles of government would limit national authority, preserve liberty

  • Rebuttal Essays

  • Antifederalists published own essays

  • Protecting liberty a chief concern

  • “Certain unalienable and fundamental rights…ought to be explicitly ascertainedand fixed.”

Making Inferences

Why were the Federalist Papers written?

Answer(s):to win public support for ratification of the Constitution

Winning Over the States

Bill of Rights

  • Federalists better prepared

  • Targeted small states

  • Delaware first to ratify, December 7, 1787

  • Ratification harder in larger, more powerful states

  • Promise of adding bill of rights key to winning many states

  • Eventually all 13 states ratified

  • First Congress made bill of rights one of government’s first priorities

  • Ideas for these rights had been voiced in Declaration of Independence, elsewhere

  • December 1791: 10 amendments, traditionally called the Bill of Rights, ratified

  • Protected freedom of speech, press, religion, due process, right to fair trial, trial by jury

The Fight for Ratification

Because they did not trust government, the Antifederalists wanted the basic rights of the people spelled out in the Constitution. The struggle over the Bill of Rights became a key focus in the fight over ratification.

Making Inferences

How did the promise to add a bill of rights to the Constitution influence the ratification process?

Answer(s):Some states would not agree to ratification without the promise of a bill of rights.

Landmark Supreme Court CasesSchenck v. United States (1919)

Why It Matters:

Are the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights guaranteed absolutely? The Supreme Court’s decision in Schenck v. United States considered what limits, if any, could be set on free speech without violating the individual freedoms outlined in the First Amendment.

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution

  • Individual Rights and the U.S. Constitution

  • The Framers of the Constitution believed that individual rights had to be protected from government interference. To ensure the adoption of the Constitution, they promised to add a bill of rights that would safeguard individual rights.

  • Who may hold rights?

  • What are common categories of rights?

  • What kinds of rights does the Bill of Rights protect?

  • What are the meaning and importance of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments?