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Origins of American Government The Colonial Period English colonists brought with them a heritage of freedom and principles of government that helped shape the development of the United States. The American government was founded on five basic principles from English government. ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ Limited Government Petition of Right English Bill of Rights Representative Government New Political Ideas The concept of limited government, dating from the Magna Carta in 1215, was an accepted part of the English system. ◦ Limited government: a system in which the power of the government is limited, not absolute The rights in the Magna Carta originally applied only to the nobility. Over time the document set a precedent for more political liberties and support for the idea of constitutional government. In 1625 Charles I took the throne of England, dissolved Parliament, lodged troops in private homes, and placed some areas under martial law. When Parliament was reinstated in 1628, they forced Charles to sign the Petition of Right which severely limited the power of the English monarch. The English monarch could not: ◦ collect taxes without Parliament’s consent, ◦ imprison people without just cause, ◦ house troops in private homes without owner permission, ◦ or declare martial law unless the country was at war. The colonists believed in limits on the ruler’s power and the freedom protected in the English Bill of Rights, passed by Parliament in 1688. The English Bill of Rights set clear limits on what a ruler could and could not do. Key ideas of the English bill of Rights: ◦ Monarch do not have absolute authority. ◦ The monarch must have Parliament’s consent to suspend laws, levy taxes, or maintain an army. ◦ The monarch cannot interfere with parliamentary elections and debates. ◦ The people have a right to petition the government and to have a fair and speedy trial by a jury of their peers. ◦ The people should not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishments or excessive fines and bails. The colonists firmly believed in representative government, following the model of Parliament. ◦ Representative government: a government in which people elect delegates to make laws and conduct government English Parliament was a bicameral (two house) body. ◦ House of Lords included members of aristocracy appointed to their position. ◦ House of Commons included mostly merchants or property owners elected by other property owners. The ideas of 17th century English philosopher John Locke deeply influenced the American colonists. Locke spelled out his ideas in Two Treatises of Government that was published in 1690. Locke’s writings were widely read and influenced American leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Locke insisted that government was legitimate only as long as people continued to consent to it. The present system of American government evolved largely from colonial governments and their practices. Chief among these practices were: ◦ A written constitution that guaranteed basic liberties and limited the power of government. ◦ A legislature of elected representatives ◦ The separation of powers between the governor (the chief executive) and the legislature. Written plans of government were a key feature of the colonial period. The Mayflower Compact (1620) ◦ 41 men (the heads of every family on board) met in the cabin of the Mayflower to lay out their government. ◦ The Pilgrims agreed to choose their own leaders and to make their own laws, which would be designed for their benefit. The Great Fundamentals (1629) ◦ After the Massachusetts Bay Colony added more towns, the settlers adopted the Great Fundamentals as the first basic system of laws in the English colonies. Fundamentals Orders of Connecticut (1639) ◦ Puritans who had left the Massachusetts Bay colony to colonize Connecticut drew up America’s first formal constitution, or charter. ◦ Allowed citizens to elect the governor, judges, and representatives to make laws. Representative assemblies elected by the people helped establish the tradition of representative government in America. The Virginia House of Burgesses (1619) ◦ The first legislature in America Massachusetts General Court (1636) ◦ Massachusetts reorganized government so that each town elected two representatives to the colony’s legislative assembly, the General Court. The division of government powers among the governor, the colonial legislatures, and colonial courts helped establish the principle of the separation of powers. ◦ Separation of Powers: the division of power among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government Colonial governments were usually divided three ways◦ The governor was the king’s agent and held executive power. ◦ The legislatures were elected and had the power to pass laws ◦ The courts heard cases. Uniting for Independence Although Britain regarded the American colonies largely as a source of economic benefits, it allowed them limited selfgovernment. The British government tightened its control over the colonies after the French and Indian wars. King George III and his ministers had the colonies assist in paying for the war by levying new taxes on the colonists. Harsh British policies and taxes helped unite the colonies. To protest British policies, the colonists sent petitions to the king and also organized committees of correspondence. ◦ The committees consisted of colonists who wanted to keep in touch with one another as events unfolded. The First Continental Congress held in Philadelphia in 1774 debated what the colonies should do about their relationship with Britain. ◦ The congress imposed an embargo on Britain and agreed not to use British goods. ◦ Embargo: an agreement prohibiting trade The Second Continental Congress convened after the fighting had begun and acted as a central government during the Revolution. ◦ The congress purchased supplies, negotiated treaties, and rallied support for the colonists cause. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense strengthened the independence movement. Paine argued that monarchy was a corrupt form of government and that George III was an enemy to liberty. A committee of delegates to the Philadelphia Congress, headed by Thomas Jefferson, drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. By the end of 1776, 10 states had adopted written constitutions, which were based on consent of the governed, limited government, and the protection of individual rights. The Articles of Confederation The Articles of Confederation were designed to continue the structure of government as established under the Second Continental Congress. The Articles set up a “league of friendship” among the states with each state receiving one vote in congress. Congress had a single-chamber (unicameral) with limited powers. The government had no executive branch or court system. The Congress had to depend on the states for money and had no power to collect taxes, regulate trade, or enforce the laws. Amending the Articles required the approval of all states. The central government had no president or executive branch and carried out much of its work through congressional committees. There was no system of national courts, instead state courts enforced and interpreted national laws. Despite its weaknesses, the confederation government established a fair policy for developing western land. ◦ Congress enacted two land ordinances that provided for the organization of western territories. The Confederation government signed the peace treaty with England. The Confederation government set up several departments establishing the precedent for cabinet departments later mentioned in the Constitution. ◦ Congress set up departments for Foreign Affairs, War, Marine, and Treasury each under its own secretary. Soon after the war, disputes broke out among the states and the government’s debt left the soldiers unpaid. Many were alarmed when an economic depression in 1786 led to Shays’s Rebellion, an armed uprising by Massachusetts farmers who could not pay their debts. Leaders who favored a stronger government failed to accomplish much at the 1786 Annapolis Convention, but persuaded the Confederation Congress to call a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles. This convention would eventually reorder the American political system. The Constitutional Convention The delegates to the Constitutional Convention had great practical experience in politics and government and included many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Organization ◦ The delegates held their meetings in secret, deciding each state would have one vote, all decisions would be by majority vote and a quorum of seven states was required for all meetings. The delegates decided to give up the idea of revising the Articles of Confederation and to draft a new plan of government. The Virginia Plan ◦ Proposed a strong executive, a national judiciary, and a strong two-house legislature. ◦ The lower house would be chosen by citizens and the upper house would be chosen by the lower house. ◦ This plan favored the large, more populous states. The New Jersey Plan ◦ Proposed a weak executive of more than one person, a national judiciary with limited powers, and a one house legislature. ◦ The executive committee would be elected by congress. ◦ State’s legislative power would be the same with each state having one vote. ◦ This plan favored the small, less populous states. The Connecticut Compromise ◦ A special committee devised the Connecticut Compromise. ◦ Proposed a legislative branch with two parts- a House of Representatives with state representation based on population, and a Senate with two members from each state. ◦ This plan gave large states an advantage in the House and protected the smaller states in the Senate. The Three-Fifths Compromise ◦ Settled a disagreement over how to determine how many delegates each state would have in the House of Representatives. ◦ Almost one-third of people in the South were slaves. Southern states wanted slaves to count toward their population for the purposes of representation but did not want slaves to count at all for the purpose of levying taxes since the north had a very small number of slaves. ◦ In the end, northern and southern states decided that slaves would count as 3/5 for both representation and taxes. Compromise on Commerce and the Slave Trade ◦ Allowed the slave trade to continue until 1808. ◦ Congress was forbidden to tax exports. ◦ Congress was granted power to regulate both interstate commerce and trade with other nations. The Slavery Question ◦ Many northern delegates wanted to end slavery ◦ If they insisted on ending slavery, the southern states would not accept the Constitution and the nation would face an uncertain future. ◦ The founders compromised and refused to deal with slavery in the constitution. The delegates agreed to other compromises as well, including a four year term for the president and an Electoral College rather than a direct election of the president. Supporters and opponents of the Constitution began a great debate over whether to accept or reject it. Federalists ◦ Supported ratification of the Constitution. ◦ Argued that a strong national government would help solve the nation’s problem with foreign affairs. Anti-Federalists ◦ Opposed ratification. ◦ Argued that the delegates had been given no power to replace the Articles making the Constitution an illegal document. ◦ Argued that the Constitution took important powers away from the states and lacked a bill of rights. Federalists promised to add a Bill of Rights and small states learned more about the Connecticut Compromise. The new national government was launched in March, 1789 when Congress met for the first time in New York City. George Washington took the oath of office as president of the United States in April, 1789.