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Unit 1 Historical and Philosophical Foundations of American Government . Essential Question. What Are the Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System?. Unit Overview. Lesson 1:     What Did the Founders Think about Constitutional Government?

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Unit 1

Historical and Philosophical Foundations of American Government

essential question
Essential Question

What Are the Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System?

unit overview
Unit Overview
  • Lesson 1:     What Did the Founders Think about Constitutional Government?
  • Lesson 2:     What Ideas about Civic Life Informed the Founding Generation?
  • Lesson 3:     What Historical Developments Influenced Modern Ideas of Individual Rights?
  • Lesson 4:     What Were the British Origins of American Constitutionalism?
  • Lesson 5:     What Basic Ideas about Rights and Constitutional Government Did Colonial Americans Hold?
  • Lesson 6:     Why Did American Colonists Want to Free Themselves from Great Britain?
  • Lesson 7:    What Basic Ideas about Government and Rights Did the State Constitutions Include?
unit 1 purpose
Unit 1 Purpose

This unit provides an overview of some important philosophical ideas and historical events that influenced the writing of the Constitution.

This unit also offers a frame of reference and basis for understanding the other units in this text.

Following this unit, you will appreciate why our history as a people has been a great adventure in ideas and in trying to make these ideas a reality.


Lesson 1: What Did the Founders Think about Constitutional Government?

Created by Tom Driscoll

Slideshow Accompanies The Center for Civic Education’s “We the People: The Citizen & The Constitution” Curriculum

lesson 1 purpose
Lesson 1 Purpose

This lesson introduces the basic ideas and experiences the founding generation drew on to create the kind of government they believed would best protect natural rights and the common good.

Participation in colonial self-government and early America’s diversity fostered rich dialogue about the purpose of government and how it should be organized.

lesson 1 objectives
Lesson 1 Objectives
  • Describe the diverse features of the early American colonies and their populations.
  • Explain what the Founders learned about government from history and their firsthand experiences of government and how this shaped their thinking.
  • Explain the meanings of the terms “constitution” and “constitutional government” and describe the forms of constitutional governments.
  • Evaluate, take, and defend positions on
    • the sources that should be consulted if a new constitution were written today.
    • whether the founders’ concerns about abuse of power are still valid.
    • the importance of written Constitutions.
lesson 1 terms concepts
Lesson 1 Terms & Concepts
  • constitution
    • A plan of government that sets forth the structures and powers of government. In democracies, a constitution is an authoritative law through which the sovereign people authorize a government to be established and grant it certain powers.   
  • constitutional government
    • Limited government; the rule of law. A form of government in which a written, unwritten, or partly written constitution serves as a higher or fundamental law that everyone, including those in power, must obey. The rule of law is an essential feature of constitutional government. 
  • democracy
    • Literally defined as "rule of the people," democracy is a form of government in which all citizens exercise political power, either directly or through their elected representatives.
  • forms of government
    • (1) Aristotle's idea of three forms of government based on the number of people exercising power. Each has a "right" form and a "corrupt" form. The right form of government by a single person is a "monarchy." The right form of government by a few people is an "aristocracy." And the right form of government by many people is called "polity." (2) Types of democratic governments. For example, parliamentary systems, such as those of Britain and India; separation of powers systems, such as that of the United States; and presidential systems, such as that of France. (3) General forms of government, such as monarchies, republics, and autocracies.   
lesson 1 terms concepts1
Lesson 1 Terms & Concepts
  • limited government
    • In natural rights philosophy, a system restricted to protecting natural rights that does not interfere with other aspects of life. More generally, limited government is constitutional government governed by the rule of law. Written or unwritten constitutions are used to empower and limit government.   
  • Parliament
    • The British legislature, which consists of two houses: the House of Lords, which once represented the nobility, and the House of Commons, which formally represents the common people. Most members of the House of Lords are appointed for life by the government of the day and are not members of the hereditary aristocracy, who once dominated it.   
  • republic
    • According to James Madison, a form of government that derives its powers directly or indirectly from the people, is administered by officials holding power for a limited time, and incorporates representative institutions.    
  • unwritten constitution
    • The body of political practices developed through custom and tradition. Only three of the world's major democracies have constitutions that are not single, written documents: Britain, Israel, and New Zealand. In each of these nations, the constitution is a combination of written laws and precedents.   
  • written constitution
    • A written plan of government that sets forth the structures and powers of government.
characteristics of colonial america
Characteristics of Colonial America
  • Europeans first settled two centuries before the Treaty of Paris (1783)
  • Native American Population on the Decline (war, disease)
  • Diverse European backgrounds (German, French, Dutch)
    • Came for religious (Puritans) and economic (Jamestown) reasons
characteristics cont
Characteristics (cont…)

Vast estates in Middle to South, smaller towns in New England

Southern farms grew export crops, were larger with many more slaves

New England – subsistence farming, livestock, local markets

how did the founders learn about government
How Did The Founders Learn About Government?
  • Read classical texts about gov’t & politics (Aristotle)
  • Studied newer 16th & 17th c. philosophers (Locke)
  • Also fell back on 150 years of local self-government
    • Free white men served on juries, attended town meetings, and voted in local elections
what did the founders learn
What did the Founders Learn?

Government should be a servant, not the master, of the people

A fundamental higher law, or constitution, should limit government

forms of government
Forms of Government
  • Aristotle’s forms of government
    • Rule of One= Monarchy (corrupt = Tyranny)
    • Rule of Few= Aristocracy (corrupt = Oligarchy)
    • Rule of Many= Polity (corrupt = Democracy)
  • Aristotle feared that in a direct democracy, the poor would seize the wealth of the rich through warfare
  • Founders favored a representative (republican) form of government
what is a constitution
What is a Constitution?
  • Def: A plan that sets forth the structure and powers of a government
  • Constitutional government also means limited government
    • Government limited by the provisions of the constitution
  • Written Constitutions are controversial since it involved interpretation, change, and the power of who has the final say
characterizing higher law
Characterizing Higher Law
  • Different from legislative statute in following ways:
    • Sets forth basic rights of citizens
    • Establishes responsibility of the gov’t to protect those rights
    • Establishes limitations on gov’t power regarding rights, distribution of resources, and conflict management
    • Can be changed only with consent of the people and according to established procedures
characterizing higher law1
Characterizing Higher Law
  • Different from legislative statute in following ways:
    • Sets forth basic rights of citizens
    • Establishes responsibility of the gov’t to protect those rights
    • Establishes limitations on gov’t power regarding rights, distribution of resources, and conflict management
    • Can be changed only with consent of the people and according to established procedures

Lesson 2:  What Ideas about Civic Life Informed the Founding Generation?

Created by Tom Driscoll

Slideshow Accompanies The Center for Civic Education’s “We the People: The Citizen & The Constitution” Curriculum

lesson 2 purpose
Lesson 2 Purpose

People’s judgment about government may reflect ideas about human nature, the proper function and scope of government, the rights of individuals, and other values.

Political philosophers have discussed these matters for thousands of years.

This lesson examines important concepts such as the common good, civic virtue, the state of nature, natural rights, consent, and the social contract.

lesson 2 objectives
Lesson 2 Objectives
  • Describe how and why natural rights philosophy differs from classical republicanism.
  • Describe how both systems of thought influenced the founding generation.
  • Explain challenges society faces when it strives to preserve the rights to life, liberty, property, and the “pursuit of happiness,” while also promoting the common good and civic virtue.
  • Evaluate, take and defend positions on
    • the importance of civic virtue today.
    • the role of political philosophy in thinking about government.
lesson 2 terms concepts
Lesson 2 Terms & Concepts
  • civic virtue
    • The dedication of citizens to the common welfare of their community or country, even at the cost of their individual interests. Traditionally considered most relevant to republics, since republican citizens are responsible for the well-being of their country.   
  • classical republicanism
    • The ideals and practices of ancient Greek or Roman city-states that emphasized civic participation and the responsibility of citizens for the well-being of their polity, or country. Acts by citizens that placed the public good, or common welfare, above private interest were especially prized.   
  • common good
    • The good of the community as a whole, as contrasted with private interests that may conflict with public interest. Also known as the public good. 
  • consent of the governed
    • Agreement by citizens to obey the laws and the government they create. Consent is the foundation of government's legitimacy.   
lesson 2 terms concepts1
Lesson 2 Terms & Concepts
  • divine right
    • The idea prevalent in early modern Europe that monarchs derive their authority directly from God. Adherents to this doctrine claimed that to disobey such monarchs, to attempt to replace them, or to limit their powers is contrary to the will of God. Also known as the divine right of kings.   
  • inalienable rights
    • Fundamental rights inherent to being human that every person therefore possesses that cannot be taken away by government or another entity. This phrase was used in the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. 
  • natural rights
    • The doctrine that people have basic rights, such as those to life, liberty, and property in a state of nature. Some writers, especially those influencing the American Founders, argued that certain of these rights are inalienable-inherent in being human-and that people create governments to protect those rights.   
  • political legitimacy
    • Acceptance by the governed that the claim to authority by those who govern is justified. In democratic societies, legitimacy is achieved only when those who govern gain power through the free consent of the governed in free and fair elections.   
  • popular sovereignty
    • The natural rights concept that ultimate political authority rests with the people. 
lesson 2 terms concepts2
Lesson 2 Terms & Concepts
  • pursuit of happiness
    • An "unalienable" right stated in the Declaration of Independence. It is the right of Americans to pursue personal fulfillment in their own way, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. Within certain limits, this right denies the legitimacy of government to decide what kind of happiness one ought to seek.   
  • right to revolution
    • The right of the sovereign people of any democratic state or regime to depose a government after it has attacked citizens' basic rights for a significant period of time. This right, espoused by English philosopher John Locke, was asserted in the Declaration of Independence to justify separation from Britain and the overturning of the authority of King George III. 
  • social contract theory
    • Presumption of an imaginary or actual agreement among people to set up a government and obey its laws. The theory was developed by the English natural rights philosopher John Locke, among others, to explain the origin of legitimate government.   
  • state of nature
    • The condition of people living in a situation without government; anarchy. Natural rights philosophy inquired about what rights, moral rules, or laws applied in such circumstances and what rights, if any, people retained after agreeing to leave the state of nature to form a politically organized society or state.   
the founding generation s values
The Founding Generation’s Values
  • Classical Republicanism (Ancient Rome)
    • Place the needs of people as a community above individual liberty and self-determination (Promoting the common good)
  • Three Main Aspects of Classical


    • Small, uniform communities
      • Good gov’t is only possible in

small communities because people

are able to know and care for one other

and discern the common good.

the founding generation s values cont
The Founding Generation’s Values (Cont…)
  • Citizenship & Civic Virtue
    • Citizens should set aside personal interests to promote common good. (ex. Cincinnatus / Washington)
  • Moral Education
    • Children must learn
      • rituals & values of society
      • skills to speak & reason well
      • Values of civic virtue
      • Skills to participate in political debate
the role of philosophy in the study of gov t
The Role of Philosophy in the Study of Gov’t
  • New philosophies challenges Divine Right of Kings in 1600s
    • Idea that monarchs derive their authority to rule from God
  • New thinkers suggested that self-government was required for social peace and a just society.
  • Natural Rights philosophy suggest what life would be like in a complete state of nature (no government)
natural rights philosophy
Natural Rights Philosophy
  • Social Contract Theory
    • 17th c. - Thomas Hobbes proposes that people enter a contract with government to maintain stability & peace.
    • John Locke
      • People possess inalienable rights (life, liberty, property)
      • Government protects natural rights, but can be replaced if it fails to protect those rights
natural rights influence on the founders
Natural Rights’ Influence on the Founders
  • Individual Rights
    • Inalienable rights exist regardless of wealth, social status, or birth.
  • Popular Sovereignty
    • The government derives its authority from the people. (social contract)
    • People have the right to create whatever government they feel is best.
  • Limited Government
    • Authority is limited by the purpose for which government is created.
  • Human Equality
    • All people are free from another’s control and are equal to another.
    • Colonial American enjoyed more social equality than Europe, but huge social inequalities remained. (SLAVERY)

Lesson 3:

  • What Historical Developments Influenced Modern Ideas of Individual Rights?

Created by Tom Driscoll

Slideshow Accompanies The Center for Civic Education’s “We the People: The Citizen & The Constitution” Curriculum

lesson 3 purpose
Lesson 3 Purpose

The previous lessons explored philosophical ideas that shaped the Founders’ thinking about constitutional government and civic life.

This lesson examines important historical developments that also influenced their ideas.

lesson 3 objectives
Lesson 3 Objectives
  • Explain the differences between classical republican and Judeo-Christian ideas about the importance of the individual.
  • Explain how certain historical development influenced modern ideas about government, constitutionalism, and individual rights.
  • Evaluate, take, and defend positions on
    • Approaches to theories of morality
    • The importance of the rise of capitalism
    • How the enlightenment inspired the founders.
lesson 3 terms concepts
Lesson 3 Terms & Concepts
  • capitalism
    • An economic system in which the means of producing and distributing goods are privately owned and operated for profit in competitive markets.   
  • city-state
    • A politically independent community consisting of a city and its surrounding territory.
  • feudalism
    • A system of social, economic, and political organization in Europe from the ninth to about the fifteenth century in which a politically weak monarch shared power with the nobility. The nobility required work and services from the common people, known as serfs, in return for allowing them to live on and make use of the noble's land and benefit from the noble's protection.  
  • Judeo-Christian
    • Ideas, beliefs, and practices that have their historical roots in Judaism and Christianity.  
lesson 3 terms concepts1
Lesson 3 Terms & Concepts
  • nation-state
    • As currently used, a country; the standard unit of political organization in the world. The nation-state received its name from the idea of a people, or "nation," organizing itself politically for self-rule. Many countries today, however, are composed of two or more distinct peoples.    
  • private morality
    • An individual's ideas about right and wrong to be practiced in one's personal life. These are derived from religious, philosophical, familial, and other sources, including individual conscience.  
  • public morality
    • The values and principles of right and wrong pertaining to public policies and actions.   
judeo christian heritage of human rights
Judeo-Christian Heritage of Human Rights
  • Greek & Roman = Public Morality
    • Virtues important for acting in the community
  • Judeo-Christian = Private Morality
    • Virtues of inner faith & obedience to God
  • Christian teaching of individual dignity & worth contributed to Founders’ belief in individual rights
  • The church was a major unifying social institution during the Middle Ages, however…
    • Political loyalties remained local
    • No nations (in modern sense) to compete for loyalties
european concepts of the individual society middle ages
European Concepts of the Individual & Society (Middle Ages)
  • Feudal Society
    • Highly fragmented, isolated communities
    • “Land for service”
    • Class system with strict rights & responsibilities (Royalty, serf)
    • Hierarchical – no equality among groups and classes
    • Social relationships were permanent & hereditary
    • Property only gained or passed on through inheritance
    • No concept of natural rights belonging to individual
the renaissance
The Renaissance
  • “Rebirth” – period marked by revival of intellectual life in Europe (14th c.)
  • Educated people rediscover ancient Greek & Roman culture & teachings
  • Protestant Reformation & printing press encourage people to read and form opinions for themselves
  • This spirit developed into modern individualism
    • Many begin to challenge authority of the church and established institutions
rise of the nation state
Rise of the Nation-State

1648 – Peace of Westphalia: national sovereignty was agreed upon among several nation-states

Each “nation-state” had a right to an independent existence with its own institutions (gov’t & religion)

People begin to think of themselves as members of a nation, with public rights and duties.

Political thought now shifted to what kind of gov’t would be best.

capitalism the new economic system
Capitalism – The New Economic System

The means of producing and distributing goods and services became privately owned and operated for profits in competitive markets

More choice of occupations, shifting attention to private interests (away from common good)

  • Many became wealthy through commerce, not just inherited land (a challenge to royalty)
  • Power begins to shift towards rising class of capitalists
the enlightenment
The Enlightenment
  • 18th c. period of scientific & intellectual movement
  • Philosophers embrace scientific reasoning (Locke, Hobbes) in study of government
    • Ideas founded on notion that human behavior could be understood, predicted, and controlled
  • Founders believed that through reason, observation, and the study of philosophers’ writings, they could understand the workings of government and social institutions.

Lesson 4:

  • What Were the British Origins of American Constitutionalism?

Created by Tom Driscoll

Slideshow Accompanies The Center for Civic Education’s “We the People: The Citizen & The Constitution” Curriculum

lesson 4 purpose
Lesson 4 Purpose

This lesson describes the evolution of British constitutional government.

It examines the early stages of English government in the feudal period.

It also traces the development of representative institutions in England, English common law, the relationship between legal and constitutional structures, and the difference between British and American constitutionalism.

lesson 4 objectives
Lesson 4 Objectives
  • Explain how rights and representative government evolved in England and how this evolution influenced the Founders.
  • Identify the origins of some of Americans’ most important constitutional rights.
  • Evaluate, take, and defend positions on
    • The influence of the Magna Carta on the development of rights.
    • The importance of habeas corpus and trial by jury.
lesson 4 term concepts
Lesson 4 Term & Concepts
  • Common Law
    • The body of unwritten law developed in England from judicial decisions based on custom and earlier judicial decisions. Constitutes the basis of the English legal system and became part of American law, except in Louisiana, which inherited its civil law system from France.
  • Magna Carta
    • King John of England agreed to this document in 1215… The Magna Carta granted certain civil rights and liberties to English nobles and to all "freemen," such as the right to a jury of one's peers and the guarantee against loss of life, liberty, or property except in accordance with law. Some rights were guaranteed for all the king's subjects, free or not free. In doing so, the Magna Carta limited the power of the king, who agreed that his will could be bounded by law, and became a landmark in the history of constitutional government
  • Precedent
    • Previous court decisions upon which legal issues are decided.
  • Redress of Grievances
    • The correction of complaints. The First Amendment protects the right of the people to petition government to obtain remedies for claimed wrongs.
lesson 4 terms concepts continued
Lesson 4 Terms & Concepts (Continued)
  • Rights of Englishmen
    • Refers to certain historically established rights, beginning with the rights of the Magna Carta, that all English subjects were understood to have. These included the right not to be kept in prison without a trial, the right to trial by jury, security in one's home from unlawful entry, and no taxation without consent, among others.
  • Rule of Law
    • The principle that both those who govern and those who are governed must obey the law and are subject to the same laws. This principle is contrasted to the "rule of men," in which those in power make up the rules as they please. The rule of law requires an independent judiciary that is immune from political or other manipulation.
  • Stare Decisis
    • Latin: "Let the precedent (decision) stand." The doctrine that a court should follow the previous decisions of other courts on cases in which the facts are substantially the same. This principle plays a key role in common law systems such as those of Britain and the United States.
  • Writ of Habeas Corpus
    • Latin: "You shall/should have the body." A court order directing that a prisoner be brought to court before a judge to determine whether that prisoner's detention is lawful.
roots of english government
Roots of English Government
  • After fall of the Roman Empire, England divided into tribes
  • 1066 – William the Conquer unites tribes into a single Kingdom. (EstablishesFeudalism)
  • English monarch
    • Made laws
    • Supervised law enforcement
    • Heard court cases
    • Defended the kingdom
  • The kings advisers evolved into

Parliament & the Royal Court

parliamentary government begins
Parliamentary Government Begins
  • 1295 - Edward Isummons “Model Parliament”
    • 2 Representative Parts (Houses)
      • House of Lords: Nobility & Church officials
      • House of Commons: Citizens & Knights (w/ wealth & status)
  • For monarchs, Parliament was a convenient way to negotiate with all of the country’s interests at once
  • English subjects found it to be an effective way to voice grievances & limit monarchs power
the development of common law
The Development of “Common Law”

To simplify complicated web of local legal systems, William the Conqueror creates a common law for entire kingdom

Judges required to publish decisions (creates precedents used to decide future cases)

This system establishes predictability and stability to laws

the rights of englishmen
The “Rights of Englishmen”
  • Rights of Englishmen
    • Over time, monarchs and judges came to recognize certain personal rights (trial by jury of one’s peers)
  • Magna Carta (1215) – King John forced to sign a charter confirming certain traditional rights
    • Rule of Law
      • Every member of society (even Monarch) must obey laws
      • Outlaws arbitrary government
    • Basic Rights
      • Establishes redress of grievances (compensation for loss or wrong done to those if the Crown infringes on their common law rights)
    • Government by Contract
      • Established principle of drawing up agreements between parties as a basis for legitimate government
the british constitution
The British Constitution
  • Not a single document, instead consists of common law, important acts of Parliament, and tradition.
  • Important documents include Magna Carta (1215), Petition of Right (1628), English Bill of Rights (1689).
  • Habeas Corpus Established
    • Government must justify why a person is held in custody.
    • Limits government from jailing persons arbitrarily or indefinitely
english bill of rights
English Bill of Rights
  • Influences on Founders
    • Rule of Law
      • Restated idea in Magna Carta that rule of law is the foundation of limited government
    • Representative Government
      • Only representative government is legitimate
      • Americans reject representation by social classes, instead favoring the idea of social equality

Lesson 5:     What Basic Ideas about Rights and Constitutional Government Did Colonial Americans Hold?

Created by Tom Driscoll

Slideshow Accompanies The Center for Civic Education’s “We the People: The Citizen & The Constitution” Curriculum

lesson 5 purpose
Lesson 5 Purpose

This lesson describes how basic ideas of Constitutional government were developed and used in the American colonies before independence.

It also explains how social and economic conditions in America sometimes required old ideas about government to be adapted or discarded.

Occasionally the colonists needed to create entirely new institutions.

lesson 5 terms concepts
Lesson 5 Terms & Concepts
  • Charter
    • A written document from a government or ruler that grants certain rights to an individual, group, organization, or to people in general. In colonial times, a charter granted land to a person or company along with the right to found a colony on that land.
  • Constituent
    • A person represented by an elected official.
  • Covenant
    • A binding agreement made by two or more persons or parties. In Protestant churches during the Reformation, a covenant was an agreement made in the sight of God. The Mayflower Compact was such a covenant.
  • Indentured Servant
    • A person who voluntarily sold his or her labor for a set period of time in return for the cost of passage to the American colonies. Indentured servants provided the most important source of labor in the colonies in the seventeenth century and for a large part of the eighteenth century.
lesson 5 terms concepts continued
Lesson 5 Terms & Concepts (Continued)
  • Magistrate
    • A lower-level judicial officer, usually elected in urban areas, who handles traffic violations, minor criminal offenses, and civil suits involving small amounts of money. More generally, magistrate means public official.
  • Mayflower Compact
    • An agreement to form a political body signed on November 21, 1620, by all adult males aboard the Mayflower before the ship landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The signers agreed to submit to "just and equal Laws" put into effect under the compact "for the general good of the Colony."
  • Suffrage
    • The right to vote.
lesson 5 objectives
Lesson 5 Objectives
  • Describe the early development of America’s traditions of constitutional government.
  • Explain why American colonists attached special importance to such constitutional principles as written guarantees of basic rights and representative government.
  • Evaluate, take, and defend position on
    • The differences between life in colonial American and in England during the same period.
    • The relationship between natural rights theory and slavery in America
    • How natural rights philosophy and history help to explain the colonists’ views of the proper role of government.
colonial settlements constitutional experiments
Colonial Settlements = Constitutional Experiments
  • England provided two incentive plans for settlers
    • Royal Proprietorship (11 of 13 colonies)
      • Land given to friends of the king
      • Proprietors then found ways to lure settlers to their colony
    • Joint-Stock Company (Virginia)
      • Land given to companies in order to generate profits (business)
  • Mayflower Compact
    • Pilgrims lay foundation for Massachusetts gov’t
    • Early example of social contract theory
the unique american experience
The Unique American Experience

Higher wages and more land available

Colonists ignore many English land customs (primogeniture: land passed down to eldest son)

Wealth & family name did not mean automatic success / Ambition & hard work as, if not more, important for success

The chance to improve one’s life became a fundamental ideal of America

the rights of colonial charters
The Rights of Colonial Charters
  • Many royal charters (written documents that granted rights) echo ideals of Magna Carta
  • Tradition of expressing rights in writing became an essential part of American constitutions
  • Examples of rights granted
    • Habeas Corpus
    • Trial by Jury
    • Right to own property
    • Avoid self-incrimination
    • Free from cruel & unusual


whose rights were excluded
Whose Rights Were Excluded?
  • In some colonies the following rights were restricted
    • Only Protestant White Men could vote
    • Women not granted political rights
    • ½ to 2/3 immigrants were indentured servants (similar to slavery until period of indenture ended)
    • Native Americans treated as foreigners, often removed from land
    • African slavery
      • 1760 - 20% of population
      • Treated as property, denied basic human rights
colonial ideas of constitutional gov t
Colonial Ideas of Constitutional Gov’t
  • Fundamental Rights
    • Started as fundamental rights of Englishmen
    • Developed into protections under natural rights philosophy
  • Rule of Law
    • Government official must obey the laws and could not exercise power arbitrarily
  • Separation of Powers
    • Legislatures – Make laws
    • Governors - Enforce laws
    • Courts – Interpret laws
colonial governments more representative than britain
Colonial Governments: More Representative Than Britain?

Property requirements for voting

Land in American relatively easily to obtain, so % of eligible voters larger than in England

Colonial legislatures served shorter terms, meaning more voter choice

Members of colonial legislatures needed to live in the district they represented, unlike England


Lesson 6:

  • Why Did American Colonists Want to Free Themselves from Great Britain?

Created by Tom Driscoll

Slideshow Accompanies The Center for Civic Education’s “We the People: The Citizen & The Constitution” Curriculum

lesson 6 purpose
Lesson 6 Purpose

The growth of the American colonies raised issues with Great Britain that were difficult to resolve peacefully.

This lesson describes the circumstances that produced the Declaration of Independence and the major ideas about government and natural rights included in that document.

lesson 6 objectives
Lesson 6 Objectives
  • Describe the British policies that some American colonists believed violated basic principles of constitutional government and their rights as Englishmen.
  • Explain why Americans resisted those policies and how that resistance led to the Declaration of Independence.
  • Evaluate the arguments that the colonists made to justify separation from Great Britain.
  • Evaluate, take, and defend positions on
    • Violations of colonists’ rights before the Revolution.
    • Important questions about the meaning and implications of the Declaration of Independence.
lesson 6 terms concepts
Lesson 6 Terms & Concepts
  • Compact
    • A formal contract or agreement between or among two or more parties or states. (ex. The Mayflower Compact of 1620)
  • Law of Nature
    • In natural rights philosophy, moral rules found out by correctly applied reason or right reason, telling persons what they may and may not do in various circumstances. In philosophy, laws of nature have often referred to the rules that would prevail in the absence of man–made law. Natural law is conceived to contain standards of justice that apply to all people.
  • Sovereignty
    • The ultimate, supreme power in a state. Democratic theory states that the people as a whole are sovereign; the citizens of the United States constitute the sovereign people.
  • Writ of Assistance
    • A document giving a governmental authority the power to search and seize property without restrictions. Abolished in American law, the use of such writs by the British government was a major issue during some phases of the American Revolution.
a change in british policy
A Change in British Policy
  • Generations of colonists had little interference from British government in their daily affairs.
  • However, in 1763
    • Britain wants colonists to help pay for war w/ French (7 Years War, 1756-1763)
    • Proclamation Act ‘63– Bans colonial settlements west of Appalachians
    • Stamp Act ’65 – New taxes on colonists to raise revenue
    • Quartering Act ‘65 – Required colonists to shelter British troops in their homes
colonial resistance
Colonial Resistance
  • New restrictions & taxes caused some economic hardship & challenged colonists’ understanding of representative government.
  • “No taxation w/o representation.”
  • Sons of Liberty help organize popular resistance.
    • Rarely used violence, but political agitation precipitated crowd action.
colonial resistance continued
Colonial Resistance (Continued)
  • ’66 – Parliament repeals Stamp Act, but passes Declaratory Act, which asserts Britain's full power & authority over colonies.
  • Parliament offers Writs of Assistance to officials to search & seize colonial property.
  • ‘70 – Clash between British Troops and colonists, 5 colonists killed (Boston Massacre)
  • ’73 – Colonists protest Tea Act by dumping 45 tons of tea into Harbor (Boston Tea Party)
  • British Respond with “Intolerable Acts”
    • Closed Boston Harbor, granted more power to Royal Governors, limited town meetings, authorized British troop occupation
organized resistance
Organized Resistance
  • ‘74 – Colonial representatives meet in Philadelphia , vote to ban trade w/ Britain (1st Continental Congress)
  • Radical colonists plan to overthrow gov’t since it no longer protected colonists’ rights. (Minutemen)
  • ‘75 – British march to Concord, MA to seize hidden arms & ammunition & arrest Patriot leaders
  • Revere rides through countryside

warning that …

  • “Shot heard round the world…”
purpose of the declaration
Purpose of the Declaration

Continental Congress appoints committee to prepare a declaration of independence from Britain

Jefferson’s draft rejects the British government’s sovereignty over the colonies

The Founders knew it was important to justify this action to other nations and to identify the basic principles of a legitimate government

the declaration s main arguments ideas
The Declaration’s Main Arguments & Ideas
  • The Declaration renounces the monarchy and appeals to natural rights common to all
  • Asserts ideal of popular sovereignty
  • Natural Rights
    • Constitutions & governments cannot violate them
    • Social Contract
  • Human Equality
    • Humans are politically equal, neither God nor nature appointed some at birth to rule over others
  • Government by Consent
    • People grant consent to gov’t to protect natural rights
the declaration s main arguments ideas1
The Declaration’s Main Arguments & Ideas
  • “A Long Train of Abuses”
    • Destroying colonial legislatures
    • Limiting role of colonial judges
    • Keeping standing British armies in peacetime
    • Quartering soldiers among civilian population
    • Imposing taxes without colonial consent
    • Depriving colonists trial by jury
    • Changing constitutions of colonial government
  • Right of Revolution
    • If British government has become corrupt and fails to perform its proper duties, colonist have right to establish their own free and independent nation

Lesson 7:

  • What Basic Ideas about Government and Rights Did the State Constitutions Include?

Created by Tom Driscoll

Slideshow Accompanies The Center for Civic Education’s “We the People: The Citizen & The Constitution” Curriculum

lesson 7 purpose
Lesson 7 Purpose

After declaring Independence, the Founders designed new state government to protect individual rights and promote the common good

This lesson shows how the Constitution of Massachusetts in particular was designed to achieve these ends.

It also shows how State constitutions served as a model and had great influence on the development of the U.S. Bill of Rights.

lesson 7 terms concepts
Lesson 7 Terms & Concepts
  • Checks & Balances
    • In American constitutional thought, distributing and balancing the powers of government among different branches so that no one branch or individual can completely dominate the others.
  • Legislative Supremacy
    • A system of government in which the legislative branch has ultimate power. Parliamentary government is such a system.
  • Veto
    • The right of a branch of government to reject a proposed law that has been passed by another branch in an effort to delay or prevent its enactment. Under the U.S. Constitution, it is the power of the president to refuse to sign a bill passed by Congress, thereby preventing it from becoming a law
lesson 7 objectives
Lesson 7 Objectives
  • Explain the basic ideas about government and rights that are included in state constitutions.
  • Explain how the experiences of the states in developing their constitutions and bill of rights influenced the framing of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  • Evaluate, take, and defend positions on
    • The theory of legislative supremacy.
    • The importance of the Virginian Declaration of Rights, and the role of declaration of rights in early state constitutions.
the colonies status following the declaration
The Colonies’ Status Following the Declaration
  • States were not yet a “country,” only united by fight against Great Britain
  • Between ‘76 – ’80, each stated adopted a new constitution
    • All based upon natural

rights, rule of law,

republicanism, and

constitutional gov’t

basic ideas of state constitutions
Basic Ideas of State Constitutions
  • Higher Law and Natural Rights
    • Constitutions limit governmental power
    • Purpose of gov’t is to protect natural rights
  • Social Contract
    • Each constitution created through an agreement w/ the people
  • Popular Sovereignty
    • Ultimate governing authority rests with the people
  • Representative Government
    • All legislature composed of representative elected by voters
basic ideas of state constitutions1
Basic Ideas of State Constitutions
  • Legislative Supremacy
    • Legislatures (makes laws) most powerful branch
    • Leg. Most capable of reflecting will of the people
    • Executive (enforces laws) is less accountable to people and should not be trusted with too much power
    • Judiciary (judges) should not be trusted w/ too much power either
  • Checks & Balances
    • Parts of each legislature checked (limited) power of other
    • Usually done through multiple houses (House of Reps & Senate)
how did massachusetts differ
How Did Massachusetts Differ?
  • Strong Executive
    • Governor popularly elected
    • Governor’s salary was fixed (could not be changed by Leg.)
    • Governor could revise laws, appoint Leg. officials and judges
  • Representation of Various Economic Classes (ClassicalRepublicanism)
    • Large Property Owners = Can elect governor (Executive)
    • Mid-level “ “ = Can elect upper house members (Legislative)
    • Low-level “ “ = Can elect lower “ “ “ “ “ “
the virginia declaration of rights
The Virginia Declaration of Rights
  • Listed specific rights of the people, including:
    • Freedom of the press
    • Rights of criminal defendants
    • Gov’t cannot deprive natural rights
    • All power is derived & kept by the people
    • Gov’t is instituted for common benefit, protections, and security. If not, it can be abolished. (Class. Repub., Social Contract)
    • Freedom of religion