2.01 Revolutionary Ideas: Principles from the Past
What Ideas Shaped How the Colonists Thought About Government? American colonists inherited most of their ideas and principles about government from Great Britain, the Enlightenment, and ancient history. The history of Ancient Greece and Rome inspired Enlightenment philosophers to write about the ideas of democracy and a republic. John Locke had probably the greatest influence of these philosophers on Americans. He wrote about natural rights, social contract, and popular sovereignty. Educated American colonial leaders read widely about governments and history. The roots of American government derive from Great Britain, since Great Britain ruled over the colonies and many of the colonists were British citizens. Great Britain had already adopted many of these ideas into its own government, including limiting the power of the monarch to give more power to elected officials who would represent the people's interests. Examine this chart to see a summary of ideas that shaped the colonists' ideas about government.
Ideas About Government Text Version
Idea: Direct democracy Citizens vote directly on political issues and laws in this form of government. Governments in ancient Greece came closest to direct democracy because all the people defined as citizens could vote on decisions. Note that women and slaves could not vote, but at the time it was the most democratic government known.
Idea: Republic This is a form of government where the citizens elect representatives to make laws. In a large, populous, and diverse society such as ancient Rome, a republic was more efficient for government decisions. It gave people a voice who would not have been able to participate if only those present in the capital voted to make decisions, as would happen under direct democracy.
Idea: Natural rights The Enlightenment philosopher John Locke listed life, liberty, and estate, or property, as “natural rights.” These are rights individuals are born with, that no government can take away. People have interpreted those words to determine rights that give people protection of their personal selves, their material goods, and the ability to determine their future without interference.
Idea: Social contract A government is legitimate only if the people agree with its existence, meaning the government has their consent to rule. Social contract takes this a step further to say that this consent places government under an obligation to fulfill its purpose by protecting the people and their rights. If it does not, the people could withdraw their consent, abolish the government, and form a new one.
Idea: Popular sovereignty Popular sovereignty is the principle that the people themselves, rather than the government, have final authority. A direct democracy upholds this principle because the citizens themselves vote to make decisions. A republic can also reflect this principle because the people give power to those they elect as representatives.
Change for the Colonies
How Did Governance in the Colonies Change?
As people settled the American colonies in the 1600s, they had charters from Great Britain that outlined their purpose and governance. Some were set up as an economic venture, while others focused on building a different society. The colonies received little oversight from Great Britain for nearly 200 years, yet most colonists considered themselves British citizens. By the 1760s, British policy began to change. The French and Indian War, fought on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, put Great Britain into heavy debt. The government's expectation was that the colonists should help with the financial burden of the war, since some of the debt derived from defense of the colonies. The colonists rejected and protested the taxes and policies placed on them, not only as a fundamental change to how the colonies had been...
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