Explain how democratic ideals are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. government is based on ideas of limited government, including natural rights, popular sovereignty, republicanism, and social contract.
Terms You Learn
3. Magna Carta
5. English Bill of Rights (not to be confused with American Bill of Rights)
6. Common Law
7. House of Burgesses
8. Mayflower Compact
10. Direct Democracy
13. American Revolution
16. First Continental Congress
17. Intolerable Acts
18. Articles of Confederation
22. Declaration of Independence
22. John Locke
23. Thomas Jefferson
24. Constitutional Convention
25. Virginia Plan
26. New Jersey Plan
27. Connecticut Compromise
28. Shay's Rebellion
While the founding fathers were quite smart, they didn't invent all of the great ideas found in the Constitution. Like any good inventor they took a look at the past and were influenced by ideas that did and did not work. For instance, one of their main sources of inspiration for a limited executive branch came from the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta was written long before America was even a thing, but the ideas in it, influenced the idea of limited power of government, rights of citizens, and equal treatment of the law and the right to jury trial. The Magna Carta comes from Britain. The British became tired of years of rule under a bad monarchy. A monarchy is rule by a single king or royal family, power is usually passed down through generations. In 1215, King John was bad to the British people whom rebelled and forced the king to sign the Magna Carta, an agreement that would grant the ideas mentioned above.
Another British idea that the founding fathers copied from was a law making body made up of citizens that was created during the reign of King Henry III, called Parliament. Parliament was legislature, or law making body of citizens that at first had very limited power but eventually became nearly as powerful as the king. Not only did the founding fathers like the idea of law making body of citizens (which they will call Congress), but they also liked the idea that it would be a way to limit power being in the hands of one person or group of people. In 1689, after another hateful and mean stint of royal monarchs, Parliament created the English Bill of Rights, which specifically wrote out the rights of British citizens and what protections they had from a potentially mean future king. Things like fair trials and personal freedoms were mentioned in the English Bill of Rights, ideas that the founding fathers will include in our Bill of Rights more than 150 years later.
Before the English Bill of Rights, there really wasn't any written law in England so the courts went by precedent, or based on a ruling in an earlier case that was similar. If someone was accused and convicted of stealing a horse, they would simply refer to a previous court ruling that involved horse stealing and copy whatever they had done in that case. A system like this based on customs and precedent is called common law.
When the colonists from England came to the New World to start a permanent settlement at Jamestown, they had a rough start because they had very little organization. Eventually they came up with the idea of an assembly, or group of government leaders that create laws and policy, they called this assembly, the House of Burgesses. It was the first law making assembly elected by citizens of the colony (22 members).
A few hundred miles to the north of Jamestown, the Mayflower, a ship from England that carried Pilgrims, people that wanted to escape persecution based on religion. Arriving at Plymouth, the Pilgrims were familiar with the problems that the settlers of Jamestown had when they first landed so they decided to create a written agreement of things would be governed, before ever leaving the ship.
Everyone on board signed the Mayflower Compact, an agreement and list of laws that were created for the good of the colony. This became our first written plan of government in America. It also set up a direct democracy, which is when the people themselves (in this case only males), vote directly on issues, laws, and etc. So the first actual written government in the colonies was a democracy from day one.
As time went on in the colonies America began create its own American culture, very different from that of England. From the settlement of Plymouth and Jamestown in the early 1600s until about 1760, the British government had really been kind of hands off or out of the picture (it was busy fighting European wars most of the time), but then around 1760, it decided that it better start to govern the colonies more strictly which did not make the colonists very happy. One of the things it did was enforce the economic system of mercantilism. Mercantilism is where a colony must trade everything with its mother country (England in this case) and can only trade with another country with the king's permission. It also said that the colonies couldn't charge England tariffs on imported goods but had to on goods imported from other places which made English made items cheaper.
After the French and Indian War ended in 1763, the British began taxing the Americans in order to pay for what was an expensive war to fight against the French and Indians. They started out with the Stamp Act, which put a tax on all paper goods made and shipped in the colonies. This angered the colonists, not so much because of the tax itself, but because they had no representation in Parliament to represent them. As a result the colonists boycotted British goods. In 1773, Parliament created the Tea Act which put a tax on all tea EXCEPT tea coming from England, this made English tea cheaper to buy than American made tea. This angered the colonists so much they dumped millions of dollars of British tea into harbor at Boston. Again, the colonists were furious because the king refused to allow the Americans any representation in Parliament.
After the Tea Act came the Intolerable Acts (also known as the coercive acts), which pretty much took all of the rights and freedoms away from citizens living in Boston and the surrounding area. For instance, now when a colonist was arrested they would be tried by a court made up of royal court officials and not other colonists. They had no right to a trial and the colonial assembly was not allowed to meet. These acts angered the colonists enough that in 1774 they banded together with other colonies and sent representatives or delegates to discuss their future relationship and possible independence from England, this meeting became known as the First Continental Congress. The First Continental Congress sent a list of demands to the king of England, King George III that basically asked for the king to quit being so mean, he replied by sending more troops to the colonies. With this reply, the colonists began preparing for war.
The most important document created by the First Continental Congress was the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. On July 4, 1776, the American colonies declared its independence and the American Revolution began. Jefferson got a lot of inspiration for his document from the Magna Carta and from an English philosopher named, John Locke. Locke said that government should serve the people, not the other way around, and that if said government broke it's social contract with the citizens by violating their natural rights, which were life, liberty, and the pursuit of property (later changed to happiness), The citizens had the right to overthrow the government and start over. Locke believed that ones natural rights were rights given by God and could not be taken away by a government. Locke preached that government only operated on the consent of the people, that means with the permission of the people. He said that governments get their authority from the people or citizens.
The American colonists fought the British in the American Revolution from 1776-1783, when it finally ended in British defeat, America now had its own nation. The end of the Revolution meant that the colonists were now a sovereign nation, or independent from foreign rule. Toward the end of the Revolution and just after it was over, the colonies formed the Articles of Confederation, this was a loose alliance of the colonies (hereafter known as states) and was the first national government of the United States of America. The problem with it was that it DID NOT really give the government much power to actually do anything. The Articles were written out of a necessity to have a unified government, but progress was slowed because most feared that a central authority such as the Articles might become to powerful and then they would be trading a tyrant that was 2,000 miles away for one that was just down the road. Each state was basically like a small independent nation and the Articles only stepped in when states had disputes with one another.
The Articles served a purpose, even if it was too weak (it couldn't even enforce laws in the few rare cases that it could get all 13 colonies to pass one) because it had no enforcement branch of government. This became very evident during Shaye's Rebellion when leader, Daniel Shaye, led a rebellion because many colonists in western Massachusetts were unhappy with taxes imposed by the state government on their property and businesses. As Shaye's rebellion spread throughout Massachusetts, the national government under the Articles of Confederation, did not allow for a national army, so no help came to Massachusetts to put the rebellion down. Eventually other states sent militia units to help put down the rebellion. Shaye's rebellion helped the founding fathers realize that there needed to be some power in the national government, especially in regards to an executive branch that could enforce law and order in the colonies when needed.
In May of 1787, James Madison and George Washington convinced the colonies to meet in Philadelphia to begin work creating government that would replace the Articles of Confederation with a stronger government. Madison and Washington got the other colonies to show up by telling them they were only meeting to REVISE the Articles, when in fact, they knew all along the intention was to create something new. During the very secretive convention, delegates from the colonies argued back and forth over a multitude of issues and political ideas.
They agreed to create a federal system of government, one where power is shared by different levels of government such as between the state and national government. They eventually agreed to create a three branch style of government, One for the executive branch to enforce laws, one called the legislative branch to create laws, and the judicial branch to interpret laws that were created to ensure they were not against the Constitution. One of the biggest problems to pop up was how the legislative branch of government, or Congress, would be laid out. Larger states like Virginia, proposed that the number legislatures in Congress should be based on population, but the smaller states would not agree to this because it would put all the power in the hands of larger states. This was called the Virginia Plan. The smaller states, like New Jersey, said that the only way to be fair was if every state sent the same amount of representatives to Congress, this angered the larger states because they said that since they were larger they paid a larger share of taxes and should have more say. This plan was called the New Jersey Plan. Eventually cooler heads prevailed a new plan was drawn up that created TWO houses in Congress: The first house, The House of Representatives, would send the number of representatives to this house based on population. The second house, The Senate, would send an equal number of representatives from each colony (2). This plan, called the Connecticut Compromise, or Great Compromise, created a 2 house, bicameral legislative branch (bicameral = two houses), thus making the larger states happy with the House of Representatives and the smaller states happy with the Senate.
Add - Ons (stuff I forgot to include, but you need to know).
Amend - to fix or change, root word of Amendment, which means a change to the Constitution.
Ratify - means to pass. The Constitutional Convention ratified the Constitution.
Ratify - means to pass. The Constitutional Convention ratified the Constitution.
Use this to read what John Locke wrote that influenced our own American government.