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Government - Unit 2, Chapter 2: Origins of American Government
Transcript of Government - Unit 2, Chapter 2: Origins of American Government
Our Political Beginnings
The structure of our government is very similar to the English style of government.
Examples: representative government and limited government.
Landmark English Documents
The Magna Carta
Helped establish limited government by forcing the King to follow due process and rule of law.
Established the principle that the power of the monarchy was not absolute.
The Petition of Right
Another limitation on the King's power
Further establishment of limited government and curbing of the King's power.
The Bill of Rights
Included many more rights for people accused of crimes as well as other rights.
Required that all Parliamentary elections be free.
The Coming of Independence
Britain's Colonial Policies
Growing Colonial Unity
When the colonies were first established the King and his advisers in England and America set most laws but over time colonists gained more and more control, especially over local issues.
Colonists were paying relatively little in taxes, had few regulations on their lives, and were basically allowed to rule themselves.
However, when King George III came to the throne in 1760, Britain began to deal more firmly with the colonies. Restricting trading acts were expanded and enforced and new taxes were imposed, mostly to support British troops in North America.
This obviously angered the colonists because they felt like imposing taxes on them from 3,000 miles away was "taxation without representation."
The colonists tried a couple of times to form a government of some sort but both attempts failed.
The Stamp Act of 1765 required that all legal documents, certain types of business agreements, and newspapers have a "tax stamp."
This act angered many colonists and led to a boycott of English goods that many colonists supported.
Obviously both sides were angry with each other and that led to two famous incidents...
The Boston Massacre: March 5, 1770 British troops fired into a crowd of colonists who were antagonizing the troops, killing 5.
The Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773. A group of men boarded three ships in Boston harbor and dumped all the tea cargo into the sea to protest the control of the tea trade.
First and Second Constitutional Congress
First Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
British Parliament continued to pass laws that raised colonists taxes and restricted their control over their own local government.
Delegates from every colony except Georgia met in Philadelphia to discuss what should be done.
The delegates agreed to the following measures: urge colonies to refuse all trade with Britain until taxes were repealed and to meet again a year later.
The British government reacted to the First Continental Congress by "doubling down" on its policies.
By the time this Congress met the "shot heard round the world" had been fired and the American Revolution had begun.
The Congress approved the first Continental Army and appointed George Washington it's commander.
This Congress was the first government of the U.S. and served as the government for 5 years until the Articles of Confederation were signed.
The Declaration of Independence
The First State Constitutions
After much discussion and debate the Second Continental Congress decides to draft a Declaration of Independence in order to cut ties with Great Britain once and for all.
Much of the document speaks of the "repeated injuries and usurpations" that led the colonists to revolt.
In 1776 and 1777 most of the states adopted written constitutions.
The most common features of these state constitutions were...
Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances
Civil Rights and Liberties
The Critical Period
The Articles of Confederation
The articles took effect on March 1, 1781.
The articles gave the vast majority of powers to the individual state governments. So this confederation was basically a loosely formulated alliance between states.
There were many weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation:
One vote for each State, regardless of size.
Congress powerless to lay and collect taxes.
No executive to enforce acts of Congress.
No national court system.
Amendments could occur only with consent of all States.
A 9/13 majority required to pass laws.
The Need for a Stronger Government
After the long Revolutionary War finally ended the nation found itself with economic and political problems.
The states were fighting with each other and didn't trust one another...this lack of trust turned into jealousy and suspicion.
State governments made deals with other countries, organized their own military forces, taxed one another's goods, printed their own money, and some states even banned trade with other states.
All of this led to economic chaos!
Shay's Rebellion is an example of this chaos.
As economic conditions worsened, property holders, many of them small farmers, began to lose their land and possessions for lack of payment on taxes and other debts.
In 1786, Daniel Shays a former officer in the American Revolution, led an armed uprising!
Shays rebellion led an attack on a federal arsenal (weapons supply storage building) but was eventually defeated.
The States began to realize that a stronger central government was needed...so the Constitutional Convention was called for.
The Problem of Debt and Shay's Rebellion:
Creating the Constitution
Twelve of the thirteen states sent delegates.
74 were chosen by state legislatures but only 55 made it to the actual Constitutional Convention.
These individuals are known as the Framers of the Constitution and they were a collection of the best and brightest the United States had to offer.
George Washington, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and many other distinguished individuals.
The Virginia Plan
This plan favored more populated and/or wealthier states.
The Virginia plan called for three separate branches: legislative, judicial, and executive. With representation in each house being based on either a State's population or on the amount of money it gave to support the national government.
Members of the "lower" house, the House of Representatives, were to be popularly elected by the people of their states but the "upper" house, the Senate, were to be chosen by the House from lists of persons nominated by the State legislators.
Why have such a complicated process for electing the upper house? What does this say about the Virginia Plan's trust in the people?
The New Jersey Plan
This plan favored smaller states.
There was a unicameral Congress with each of the States receiving equal representation.
This plan also called for the executive of the country to be composed of more than one person and was to be chosen by Congress, not the people.
Does this plan fully trust the people?
The Connecticut Compromise
Congress should be composed of two houses.
The Senate would give equal representation to all states.
In the House, the representation of each State would be based upon its population.
The Three-Fifths Compromise
"Free persons" should be counted
"Three-fifths" of all other persons should be counted
However, each State would also have to use this formula when calculating the taxes they owed the federal government.
So what about slaves? Should slaves be counted in the populations of the southern States?
The Constitution is often referred to as a "bundle of compromises" because of all the deals that were struck and the numerous compromises delegates made in order to create the Constitution.
Tempers were high and many delegates made threats and insulted each other.
Ratifying the Constitution
Two groups emerged during the fight for ratification...
Wanted a strong national government
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Didn't want the central government to become so powerful.
Richard Henry Lee, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry said of the proposed Constitution, "I look upon that paper as the most fatal plan that could possibly be conceived to enslave a free people."
Virginia and New York were two of the last states to ratify the Constitution, after long debates, and many believed they were the most vital.
On April 6, 1789 George Washington was elected President by a unanimous vote of Congress and he took the oath of office on April 30th.