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The Origins of American Government

By Kathrin-Bailey Sep 26, 2014 15730 Words
Study Unit

The Origins of
Robert G. Turner Jr., Ph.D.

About the Author
Robert G. Turner Jr. holds a B.S. in business and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in sociology. He has more than 20 years of teaching
experience, mainly at the college level, and is currently serving as an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. Dr. Turner is primarily employed as a professional freelance writer. His literary credits include two stage plays, two novels, and two nonfiction works, along with an array of publications in academic and

educational venues.

All terms mentioned in this text that are known to be trademarks or service marks have been appropriately capitalized. Use of a term in this text should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark or service mark.

Copyright © 2003 by Education Direct, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of the material protected by this copyright may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner. EDUCATION DIRECT is a registered trademark used herein under license. Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to Copyright Permissions, Education Direct, 925 Oak Street, Scranton, Pennsylvania 18515.

Printed in the United States of America

In the final part of this unit, you’ll learn that Americans thought of themselves as British subjects for a long time.
When America was born in 1776, British settlers had been
here since 1607. That’s 169 years. Over that period, the
colonists had developed their own customs and ways of
thinking about things. For example, think of the way that
the British and the Americans use the English language.
They both speak English, but there’s a difference. In a way, the colonists were developing their identity as Americans
long before 1776. Then, in the years leading up to 1776,
Americans began to feel hemmed in by Parliament and the
English king. People began to whisper to each other about
independence. When the British made the colonies pay unfair
taxes, that whispering became shouting. American patriots
formed a Continental Congress and openly challenged King
George III of England.


You’ll begin this unit by thinking
about the nature of government
in general. Although this course
is about American government,
you’ll first look at ideas about
government across time. You’ll
see how governments began.
You’ll see what the basic purposes of government are now and what they’ve always been. You’ll see how modern governments differ from one another. With all of these things in mind,
you’ll then begin the study of American government. Well,
almost. You see, America’s form of government owes much
to English history. You’ll come to understand how English
ideas of representative government were brought to
American shores. You’ll see that England and America
were—and still are—political cousins.


When you complete this study unit, you’ll be able to

Describe the different types of government and give
examples of each

Outline the way in which English government affected the
government in America

Identify and explain the different types of government in
the early American colonies

Describe the events that caused unrest in the
American colonies

Explain the events of the First and Second
Continental Congress

Summarize the provisions of the Articles of Confederation


Define government and explain its purpose

Briefly outline the major events and battles of the
American Revolution



What Is Government?
The Purpose of Government
Types of Governments


The Early Colonists
Magna Carta: Challenges to the King
Parliament: A Check on the Power of Monarchy
The Prime Minister
Government in the Early American Colonies
Types of Colonies

Unrest in the American Colonies
First Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress
Articles of Confederation
American Revolution










The Origins of American Government

What Is Government?
Simply put, government is one or more people who exercise
control over a society. A society is a group of people who live and work in a particular area, such as a state or nation. The people in the society may or may not have a say in how the
government operates.
Human societies have existed for many thousands of years.
The earliest societies were small bands, or groups. They
had no government as we know it today. Even so, a form of
governing did exist. Groups of elders would gather to consider the needs of the band and make decisions on important
matters. For example, the elders would decide where the
people should travel next in search of food.
Later, in tribal societies, government became more formal.
Most often, councils of elders gathered under the guidance
of chiefs. Before Europeans arrived in America, tribal chiefs usually served different purposes. Some would act as
authorities on settling disputes. Others would plan for
war or organize religious ceremonies.
As societies became larger and more complex, so did their
governments. About 7,000 years ago, people in the Middle
East and Africa began systematic farming. This type of
development is called an agricultural revolution. Before this, people simply raised vegetables in local gardens. Now, this
new kind of farming produced surpluses of grains like wheat, rice, and oats, which could be stored for future use. That’s important. Before the agricultural revolution, people were
always in danger of running out of food if a crop failed or if game was scarce.

An agricultural
revolution occurs
whenever there are
technologies, or
inventions that
change agricultural

A surplus is the
amount left over
after a need is


With organized farming, however, came the need for organized government. In fact, most historians agree that the agricultural revolution brought about organized governments and civilizations.

A social class is a
group of people
with similar positions in society.
Artisans are people
who make things
that people need,
like pots, weapons,
and bricks for

As civilizations rose and fell, societies changed. Harvest surpluses allowed for larger populations. As populations grew, people were divided into social classes (Figure 1). Farmers
made up the largest social class. But there were also rulers and priests, who were usually the only people who could read and write. Other social classes included traders, soldiers,
and artisans. As societies became larger and more complex,
they began to need written laws. The first written laws were developed in Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq.
The earliest roots of modern European government came
from two great civilizations—Greece and Rome. At first,
Greece was the dominant civilization of Europe and the
Mediterranean area. During this time, something extraordinary happened. We call it democracy. About 350 B.C., Athens was the greatest city in a region called Attica. It was in
Athens that democracy was invented, and that’s why our
word democracy comes from Greek. The first part of the
word, demos, means “the people.” Democracy is government that draws its power from the people. Of course, in Athens,
rule wasn’t by all the people. Only male citizens who owned property could gather to make public policy and pass laws.
Slaves, women, and children weren’t considered citizens.

FIGURE 1—As populations grew, people were
divided into social classes. This diagram illustrates the approximate size and rank of some of
these classes.

High Priest

Military Leader

Priests and Scribes








The Origins of American Government

All of the major Greek philosophers thought democracy was a bad form of government. Two of these philosophers were Aristotle and Plato.

Aristotle claimed that the com-

Plato, in his critique of democracy,

peting interests in a democracy

called The Republic, claimed that

made for chaos rather than

democracy allowed people to

purposive and deliberated

follow all their passions and


drives without order or control.

As the power of Rome grew stronger, the power of Greece
grew weaker. Yet, the Greek and Roman ideas about government were mixed. In fact, historians speak of this early period as the Greco-Roman period. They do so to remind us that both societies shared ideas about citizenship and government. The Roman Empire in the western part of Europe ended

around 476 A.D. In the eastern part of Europe, it lasted until about 1100 A.D. But, to this day, the foundations of Roman
roads exist in England and all over Europe. Some modern
roads have been built over them. Those old roads serve as
reminders that European civilization was built on Roman
foundations. European and American ideas about law,
citizenship, and representative government came from
Roman times.

The Purpose of Government
All governments have three basic purposes:
1. To decide how food and other resources are to
be distributed
2. To settle disputes among people in an effort to
maintain order
3. To organize the work of the people to meet
common goals

The Origins of American Government


Let’s look more closely at each of these purposes.

Distributing Resources
In tribal societies, harvested food was
often brought to a chief. The chief
would then see that the food was distributed. Everyone received a share of the maize (a kind of corn), fish, and
other kinds of food.
Today, our way of getting the things
we need is much more complicated.
People are paid for their work in money, which they use to
buy what they need. Distributing resources in our society
requires many laws and regulations—laws for printing and
distributing money to banks, laws and regulations for all the kinds of businesses and occupations, and so on.
All types of governments are based on two factors: first, who has power to make decisions and second, the way in which
people make a living. When people think of government, they
often think of the power factor. But the main way in which
people make a living is what determines the way that power
is used. The main way people make a living indicates what
kind of economy a society has. The economy and the use of
power go together.
For example, in ancient Egypt most people were farmers. The
pharaoh (supreme ruler) appointed ministers to take a portion of the farmers’ harvests. You can think of these portions as “harvest taxes.” Other officials had to keep track of who owned parcels of land. To do this, they had to develop a form of writing. So, as you can see, Egyptian pharaohs had to use their power to regulate harvests and the storage of food surpluses.

In modern societies, people have many different kinds of
jobs. Only a few people are farmers. Others work in factories. Others mine coal or run power plants to supply electricity.
Lots of people work to provide telephone service. Still others work in banks or grocery stores. Some people are dentists,
doctors, and lawyers. You could add many more occupations
to this list.


The Origins of American Government

Because of the great variety of jobs, modern society is said to have a complex division of labor. That is, people make their living in all kinds of different ways. But, most important, all of the jobs you can think of are connected to other people’s jobs. Mechanics are needed because other people make automobiles. Banks are needed to lend money to people who want to buy new automobiles. You can probably think of

many more examples of this sort of thing. Because our economy is complicated, government must serve many purposes. It must regulate buying and selling. It must make sure that
banks have enough money to make loans. It must pass laws
about how people use automobiles. You’re probably getting
a good idea now of why the economy and the use of power
go together.

Settling Disputes
Tribal societies had customs but no
written laws. After the agricultural
revolution, some civilizations needed
written laws to organize work and settle disputes. Where there are laws, there must be government. And
where there’s government, there must
be people who make laws and enforce
laws. Because people often disagree
about many different things, government must have ways to
manage conflict. As you might guess, this means that governments must establish courts of law and police forces. Later in this course, you’ll learn how laws and the courts are set up in America.

Organizing Work to Meet Common Goals
In tribal societies, elders or chiefs
organized people for hunting buffalo
or for defending the tribe against an
enemy. In modern societies, life isn’t
quite so simple. Most work that people do is regulated by organizations like corporations and small businesses and like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which collects taxes.

The Origins of American Government


On the other hand, the government in America regulates the
economy. For example, it tries to make sure food is safe for people to eat. It also regulates the economy by controlling
the money supply. But individuals themselves decide how to
make their living. The government doesn’t establish private work organizations. The people are basically free to farm the land, start businesses, go to school to learn to fix computers, or do whatever else they would like.

So how do modern governments organize the work of the
people to meet common goals? They do so in a variety of
ways. Let’s look at just two of them.
The common defense. One of the main goals of governments is to provide for the common defense. This means that the government is responsible for protecting and defending
the people who live within the area controlled by that government. In the United States, the federal government is responsible for maintaining the armed forces, which in turn provide for the common defense. The army, navy, marines, air force,

and coast guard are under the control of the United States
government. National Guard units, on the other hand, are
maintained by the state governments. However, in time of
need, the National Guard can be federalized—that is,
brought under the control of the federal government. When
that happens, National Guard units become part of the overall armed forces as long as they’re needed. Gathering intelligence about other countries is also vital to modern defense. For that reason, the U.S. government has established intelligence agencies. The largest and best known of these is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Police and emergency services. The federal government
maintains several organizations dedicated to police and emergency services. Policing agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Secret Service. The Secret Service is part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Figure 2). Federal emergency service agencies include the Federal

Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National
Red Cross. According to its Web site, the purpose of FEMA is “responding to, planning for, recovering from, and mitigating against disasters.” The National Red Cross offers disaster services, biomedical services, health and safety services,

community services, youth services, volunteer services,
and others.

The Origins of American Government

FIGURE 2—The Department
of the Treasury is housed in
this building in Washington,

Under the United States Constitution, police powers are
reserved mainly to the states. Local and state police organizations are maintained within the states and localities. The same is true for fire departments and emergency medical
services. Nearly all localities maintain volunteer fire departments and lifesaving squads (Figure 3). FIGURE 3—Most towns have
a volunteer fire department
manned by residents of that

The Origins of American Government


Types of Governments
In the world today are hundreds of sovereign states. A state or nation is called sovereign because it has the right to its own form of government. Although there are many different
kinds of national governments, most can be grouped into two
categories: authoritarian governments and democratic governments. An authoritarian government rules without the consent of the people. By contrast, a democratic government is based on the will of the people.

Authoritarian Governments
There are three basic kinds of authoritarian governments:
absolute monarchies, dictatorships, and totalitarian states. Absolute monarchies. Absolute
monarchies are governments ruled
by emperors, kings, or queens who
have absolute power. In 44 B.C.,
Augustus Caesar became the first
Roman emperor. At that time, a
senate advised the king. But the senate had lost its real power. Augustus actually held absolute power.
Much later, around 1643 A.D., Louis XIV held absolute power
as king of France. He called himself le Roi Soliel (the Sun
King). He used that name to show the French people that he
was the center and the source of power in France. Louis XIV
also said, “L’état, c’est moi,” which means “I am the state.” Statements such as these illustrate the power these monarchs held during that period of history.

Louis XIV became king
of France in 1643 A.D.,
when he was only 5
years old. However, he
wasn’t allowed to rule
until 1651 A.D., when he
was 13.


Some absolute monarchs, like King Solomon in ancient
Israel, have ruled in a just and wise manner. On the other
hand, many absolute monarchs were cruel and unjust.
In Europe, absolute monarchy was justified by a religious
idea called the divine right of kings. In other words, kings ruled by God’s will. Today, that idea is no longer accepted, and few absolute monarchies exist. Present-day monarchs
like Queen Elizabeth of England don’t actually rule.

The Origins of American Government

The British Parliament and the prime minister govern the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Queen Elizabeth is honored as a symbol of the nation, but
she has little real power. (Later in this study unit, you’ll learn more about Parliament and the prime minister of England.)
Note: Another type of monarchy is called a constitutional
monarchy. In such a government, the powers of the ruler are
limited to those granted under the constitution and laws of
the nation. Some nations with this type of government have a written constitution (for example, Denmark and Norway);
others, like Great Britain, have an unwritten constitution.
Dictatorships. Dictatorships take
different forms. There are pure dictatorships in which one person holds all power. For example, the brutal
military leader Idi Amin was the dictator of the African state of Uganda. He ruled by gathering wealth for
himself and his associates. He did so
by using force and fear to control the
people of Uganda. Juan Perón, another military leader, was
the dictator of Argentina in South America from 1946 to
1974. Perón wasn’t as cruel as Idi Amin. He did help the
industrial workers in the form of pay increases and fringe
benefits. But he ruled the country of Argentina with military power, and he eliminated the people’s constitutional rights. Sometimes, dictatorships exist as small groups called
oligarchies (pronounced AH-luh-gar-keez). Today, when a
legitimate government is overthrown, it will often be ruled
by a group of military officers called a junta (pronounced
HUN-tah). Junta is a Spanish word that means to join. A
junta is a form of ruing oligarchy.
Totalitarian states. A totalitarian state is one in which the leader has total control of the government and the people.
The two most terrible totalitarian regimes of the twentieth
century were those of the former Soviet Union and of
Germany under Adolph Hitler. Let’s take a look at both of
these states.

The Origins of American Government

A regime is a system
of government, but
the term is often
used to refer to a
dictatorial or totalitarian government.


The former Soviet Union had an absolute ruler called the
Soviet premier. Other people in the Soviet Union had power,
but the premier made the most important decisions. The
most brutal and ruthless of the Soviet premiers was Joseph
Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953. Stalin ruled with police terror and caused mass murders of some of
his own people.
During Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, Adolph Hitler ruled Germany (about 1933 to 1945). Hitler was also a dictator who held absolute power. He called himself the Fuhrer (leader)
of the Nazi party, and his regime was called the Third Reich. While Hitler ruled, the Nazi party was the only political party permitted to exist.
Both Hitler and Stalin ruled by using military force and by
making people afraid to question government policies. Both
dictators used concentration camps to control millions of
people. In the Soviet Union, the slave labor camps were called gulags. At least 20 million people were enslaved in the gulags to build dams, railroads, and factories. Conditions in the
gulags were terrible. Millions died of disease and starvation. No one knows how many others were simply worked to death.

More recent examples
of genocide occurred in
the 1990s among the
warring states that
made up the former
Yugoslavia. The state
most involved in this
activity was Serbia,
which called the genocide ethnic cleansing.


Hitler also set up concentration camps all over Germanoccupied territory. Some of these camps were for slave labor. Conditions in these camps were like those in the Soviet
gulags. But Hitler also set up death camps, most of which
were in Nazi-occupied Poland for the purpose of eliminating
certain people. The death camps had names like Sobibor,
Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Buchenwald. These are hard
names to pronounce and remember, but they’re names you
should be familiar with. At Sobibor alone, one million Jews
were murdered. Overall, six million Jews died during the Nazi rule of Germany. At least two million other people were murdered along with the Jews. They include Gypsies, mentally retarded people, and people who vocally disagreed with Nazi

rule. The wholesale murder of entire populations is called
genocide. The genocide that occurred in Hitler’s Germany is called the Holocaust.

The Origins of American Government

Both Hitler and Stalin used propaganda to persuade people
that they ruled in the name of the nation and the people.
Propaganda is the spreading of information, false or true,
with the purpose of convincing people of something. Hitler’s propaganda was mostly lies. For example, he taught the
German people about racial superiority. Young and old alike
were taught that the German people were the world’s master race. All other peoples were considered inferior. Stalin’s biggest lie concerned the Communist democracy. He called it
a democracy, but the only political party allowed in the
Soviet Union was the Communist Party. Elections were held,
but they had no meaning. They had no meaning because the
people had no power to choose whom they would vote for.

Both Hitler and Stalin were dictators who ruled totalitarian states. The difference between the two was in their ideas. Hitler wanted to conquer
Europe and exterminate what he called “inferior people.” Stalin wanted to make the Soviet Union a world power through slave labor and propaganda. Stalin’s
propaganda proclaimed a philosophy
called communism. People were
taught that communism was the perfect government of the future—that it would bring about a world in which all would be equal. In reality,
Stalin’s government of Union of Soviet Socialists
Republics (USSR) was a brutal, totalitarian police

As you’ve already learned, democracy is a type of government by the people. In this section, you’ll examine two different styles of democracies: direct democracy and representative
democracy. The main difference between the two is the amount of participation by the citizens. In a direct democracy, any citizen can participate directly in the decision making of government. In a representative democracy, the people participate in the decision making through an elected representative.

The Origins of American Government


Direct democracy. The democracy
of ancient Athens was a direct
democracy. Any citizen could participate in a public debate over government polices. As you can imagine, debates were often noisy affairs in
crowded assemblies.
In the United States, direct democracy
still exists in some localities. For example, in the states of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, people gather in town
meetings. At these meetings, any citizen can make proposals, enter into debate, and vote. The basic aim of direct democracy is majority rule. If a majority of people vote for a new law, the law is passed. Sometimes a majority means more than

half of the voters; sometimes it means more than two-thirds
of the voters.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
who is considered by
many as the “grandfather of direct
democracy,” said, “All
citizens should meet
together and decide
what is best for the
community and enact
the appropriate laws.
The ruled should be the

The danger of direct democracy is that majority rule may
take away the rights of minorities. In the representative
democracy of the United States, a majority opinion can’t
silence a minority opinion. Citizens of the United States are guaranteed basic rights, such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. As you’ll learn later in this course, these freedoms are granted to all United States citizens by a part of the Constitution called the Bill of Rights.

Representative democracy.
Modern nations, including the United
States, have too many people for a
direct democracy. Instead, people
vote for candidates to represent them
in the decision-making process. This
form of government is called representative democracy. You’ll learn more about this later in the course.
The heart of a representative democracy is called a legislature. In the United States, the legislature of the federal government is Congress. It consists of two houses, a Senate and a House of Representatives. Both houses consist of representatives

from each state.


The Origins of American Government

In addition to the federal legislature, each state has its own legislature. Many of these are similar in nature to the U.S. Congress. In fact, in the United States, the people have a
representative government at every level. There are thousands of local governments, fifty state governments, and a central federal government. All of these governments have
legislative bodies.
In some representative democracies, the will of some people
is much better represented than in others. For example, people who hold wealth and power may be better represented than those who are poor and powerless. In the United States
during the years of slavery, African Americans had no power. Their interests weren’t represented in either the federal or the state governments. They couldn’t vote. Also, until the twentieth century, the interests of women weren’t represented either. In the United States, women couldn’t vote until 1920, when women’s suffrage (the right to vote) was granted by the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

You’ve just reached the end of the first section of this study unit. In the next section, you’ll examine the government of the early American colonies and what influenced the type of
government they chose. Before you go on to that material,
take a few minutes to complete the following “Self-Check.”

The Origins of American Government

A legislature is a
group of people who
legislate. To legislate
is to propose, debate,
and pass laws. A
legislature in a
democratic nation
is intended to represent the wishes and
needs of the people.
Most often when
you hear the term
legislature, it refers
to a state or federal
legislative body. At
the local level, a
legislative body may
be all the people at
a town meeting.
They’re practicing
direct democracy.


Self-Check 1
At the end of each section of The Origins of American Government, you’ll be asked to pause and check your understanding of what you’ve just read by completing a “Self-Check” exercise. Answering these questions will help you review what you’ve studied so far. Please complete Self-Check 1 now.

Indicate whether the following statements are True or False.


1. Elections were held in the former Soviet Union.


2. Nations like the United States are too big for direct democracy.


3. The first true democracy occurred in Roman times.


4. In the United States, both the nation and the states have legislatures.


5. No direct democracy exists in the United States.

Write in the word or phrase that best completes the following sentences.

6. The people of Athens participated in a _______ democracy. 7. Absolute monarchies and dictatorships are two kinds of _______ governments. 8. The main government purpose served by a court of law is settling _______. (Continued)


The Origins of American Government

Self-Check 1
Respond to each item in several sentences.

9. What are the three main purposes of government?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 10. What was the Holocaust?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 11. What is the main flaw of direct democracy? How can it be remedied?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 12. What was the divine right of kings?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ Check your answers with those on page 49.

The Origins of American Government


The Early Colonists

An immigrant is a
person who goes
from one country
to another for the
purpose of taking
up permanent

You’ve probably heard that America is a land of immigrants. That’s true. Americans came here from everywhere, and they continue to do so today. Americans trace their ancestry from every country you can name across this wide world. But the

most influential group of immigrants to settle along the eastern seaboard of our land came from England. To be sure, early immigrants also came to North America from France,
Spain, and Holland. Africans came here, too, but not as
immigrants. All of these peoples contributed to what America would become. But the most important early Americans came
from England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. All of them
came for different reasons over a period of about 60 or 70
years. They became important because, of all the people who
immigrated to America, the English people had the greatest
influence on the type of country America was to become.
Let’s take a look at who they were.
Jamestown. The first settlers in the land we now call the
United States came from England to establish a colony at
Jamestown. That was in 1607. Later, the Jamestown colony
became part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The new settlement was established in the middle of land controlled by Indian people under chief Powhatan. For a while, Indians
and settlers got along. But that situation changed. The aim
of the Jamestown settlers was to prosper by claiming free
land for farming. Of course, to do this, they had to push the people of the Powhatan nation off their land. From that time on for the next 100 years and more, immigrants were in
conflict with Indians.
As you probably know, the Indians came out on the short
end of the conflict. Some settlers made an effort to put
Indians to work on their farms, but that didn’t turn out well. In addition, Indians died from diseases Europeans brought
with them. Common diseases like measles wiped out whole


The Origins of American Government

Also, Indian cultures didn’t take well to any kind of slavery. By 1619, Africans had been brought into the Jamestown
colony. As you know, Africans soon became unpaid workers
on the new plantations. The interesting thing about the
Africans was that they didn’t die from European diseases
as often as Indians did. The reason was that Europeans
and Africans has been in contact with each other for a few
thousand years. There were lots of Africans in ancient Rome, for example. There were large African populations in Spain
during the Middle Ages. As a result, Africans had the same
immunities to disease that Europeans had.
Plymouth. In 1620, Puritans arrived at Plymouth. In a few
years, their ancestors settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Puritans had strict religious values. They came to the New
World to practice their religion without interference.
Pennsylvania. A third wave of immigrants settled the middle
Atlantic area of the eastern seaboard shortly after 1680. Many of them were Quakers. We call Pennsylvania the Quaker
State, since it was established by a Quaker named William
Penn. Like the Puritans, the Quakers were in search of a
place to practice their religion in freedom. But while the
Puritans were intolerant of other religions, the Quakers
believed tolerance was a great virtue.

The New World was
the term used for
the land on which
the new colonies
were settled. Hence,
Europe and England
became known as
the Old World, or
Old Country.
Tolerance in relation
to religions means
respecting the faiths
of others. Intolerance
is just the opposite.
It refers to the
practice of condemning the religious
practices of others.

Southern colonies. After the 1640s, political unrest and
civil war in England brought a new wave of colonists to
Virginia and other southern colonies. Many of these colonists were members of the English nobility. Those who weren’t
nobility hoped to become “noble” landowners in the New
World. We call them cavaliers. They became landowners
in the southern United States. Many Africans brought
to American as slaves worked on the plantations of these
English immigrants.
Borderlanders. Finally, coming in scattered groups were
refugees from the highlands of England, Scotland, and northern Ireland. The immigrants from northern Ireland were from an English colony there called Ulster Plantation. Most of
them were originally from Scotland. In America, they became

The name Philadelphia, a
city in Pennsylvania,
means “city of brotherly
love.” It received its
name from the Quakers
who settled there.

The Origins of American Government


known as the Scotch-Irish. All of these highland people can be called borderlanders, because they settled the borderlands of the earlier colonies. Many of their ancestors remain in the Appalachian highlands that stretch from Georgia through

West Virginia. Many more of the borderlanders were the
pioneers who pushed westward toward the Mississippi.
All of these first waves of immigrants had several things in common:
• They spoke English. That’s why today English is the
main language of Americans.
• They shared a belief in personal liberty. Americans still value liberty very highly.
• Above all, these first immigrants brought English ideas
about human rights and the place of government in daily
life. Americans in all the colonies believed in liberty
under the rule of law.

The words Magna Carta
are Latin for “Great

In addition to these common ideas, Puritans and Quakers
brought their love of learning. Americans still value public education for all children. Borderlanders brought their love of independence—not to mention country music! And the
cavaliers brought ideas about how ladies and gentlemen
should behave.

Charter.” For many
years after the fall of
Rome, Latin was the
language of scholars.

Now that you’ve studied the first arrivals to America, let’s look back in time to see how American ideas of liberty and
democracy were born in England.

That fact reminds us of
the great influence of
Rome on medieval

Magna Carta: Challenges to the King

Europe. Latin was
a language known
to lords and barons
in England.


England was inventing ideas about citizenship and government long before Europeans came to the New World. In 1215, King John ruled England. In order to rule, he had to keep
the power of the nobles in check. At that time, English
nobles were called barons.

The Origins of American Government

During this period, land was the most important form of
wealth. Those who owned or controlled lands were either
nobles or kings. Conflict arose between King John and the
English barons about who held titles to land. The king, you
see, needed money for his royal duties and for wars. He wasn’t a careful spender and was usually broke. Therefore, to gain
some extra money, King John imposed many kinds of taxes
on the barons. As you can guess, those taxes angered the
barons for two main reasons. First, the taxes were too high. Second, they were imposed without any say from the barons
At last, in the year 1215, a group of barons drafted a document called the Magna Carta (Figure 4). At a place called Runnymede, the barons confronted the king with armed
force and required him to sign the document.
The Magna Carta changed the nature of government in
England. From then on, the power of the king was checked
by the power of the barons. Above all, the king
was required to follow the same laws that
applied to the barons. In time, that idea spread
to include English citizens of all social classes.
Under the provisions in the Magna Carta, people
who were accused of an offense had the right to
a trial by a jury of peers. This was a great
advance toward modern ideas of the rule of law.
Prior to this time, kings had the power to throw
people into prison if they challenged the king’s
authority. Trials, when they occurred, were conducted by nobles. Now, under the Magna Carta, accused persons deserved a trial by a jury of peers.
That meant that people charged with an offense had
to be judged by people who were like them. It also
meant that no person, not even the king, was above the law.

FIGURE 4—The Magna Carta changed the
government in England by checking the
power of the king.

The Origins of American Government


In time, the following items were added to these principles of the Magna Carta:
• Offenders must be charged with a specific crime and
brought before a magistrate or judge.
• Those charged with a crime must be considered innocent
until proven guilty.
• Accused persons had the right to confront their accusers and know what offense they were charged with.
The Magna Carta gave additional rights and powers to English barons. But as time passed, the principles of the Magna Carta were claimed by other citizens.

Parliament: A Check on the
Power of Monarchy
Life in the Middle Ages was based on who owned land. Land
was power. Kings and lords granted titles and land to lesser lords. These lesser lords, then, were expected to repay their lord with money and armed service. The Middle Ages was a
tangle of alliances formed by who had given land to whom.

Rome fell in 476 A.D.
The period of
approximately one
thousand years that
followed this fall is
called the Middle

Late in the Middle Ages, Edward I was king of England. He
ruled from 1272–1307. During his reign, the English government began to change this system. Before King Edward’s reign, there existed a king’s council. Edward increased the size of this council and called it a Parliament. The members of Parliament included important barons (lords), bishops of

the church, and representatives from counties and towns. In
1287, Edward approved a document called the Confirmation
of Charters. This document stated that taxes could be levied only by consent of the whole realm. The whole realm came to
be understood as approval of Parliament.
In the following century, Parliament was divided into
two houses—a House of Lords and a House of Commons
(Figure 5).


The Origins of American Government

FIGURE 5—This building
in London is where the
Parliament still meets

For years after Parliament was established, there was conflict between those who supported the monarch (king) and those
who supported the idea of Parliament. Kings came and went.
Civil wars ravaged the land. Things eventually came to a
head during the reign of James II (1685–1688). He was a
Catholic King who made himself unpopular with English
Protestants. Members of Parliament wanted a constitutional
monarchy, and James II didn’t.
Parliament ultimately decided to offer the British throne to William and Mary of the Netherlands. The couple accepted
and came to rule in 1689. These events are called the
Glorious Revolution, because it was bloodless and peaceful
and because James II simply fled England without any
resistance. The new monarchs accepted a Bill of Rights. Its
principles, which were based on ideas that started with the
Magna Carta, became the foundation of English government.
William and Mary brought with them the idea of a constitutional monarchy and the concept of religious toleration. That’s important because it recognized the separation of
church and state. That principle was also adopted by the
founders of the American republic.

The Origins of American Government

A bill of rights is a
statement of the
rights and liberties
of a group of people.


Just a few years later, in 1702, England and Scotland were
united. From that point on, the country was known as Great
Britain. Today, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland is ruled by a parliamentary government.
The British monarch no longer holds real power. Instead,
the leader of Parliament, called the prime minister, is the
political leader of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister
The role of the prime minister of England is a bit like that of the American president. For that reason, it’s interesting to see how British prime ministers came to hold such power.
Earlier in English history, Parliament was mainly a tool of
royal power. With the arrival of William and Mary, the power of the prime minister increased. Eventually, Parliament
developed the Westminster Model, an outline for parliamentary government that has been adopted by many nations. In today’s British Parliament, the House of Lords serves as the highest court of appeal in the United Kingdom’s legal system. The House of Commons elects the prime minister and acts as

the legislative body that debates and passes laws. The prime minister usually represents the political party with the
largest number of members in the House of Commons.
Once elected by the House of Commons, the prime minister
follows the custom of asking the ruling monarch for permission to form a government. This request is always granted. Once the government is formed, the prime minister appoints
ministers to head such things as the military, the treasury, and foreign affairs.

Government in the Early American
Early American colonies were established for different reasons. One of the main reasons was to gain income. European settlers expected that the colonies would supply raw materials for trade. Tobacco, hemp, lumber, and cotton are examples

of raw materials. Europeans also hoped to profit from selling manufactured products to the colonists. By the year 1650,


The Origins of American Government

several different European countries had established colonies along the Eastern seaboard (Figure 6). Britain, of course, had established the greatest number of settlements. Spain and
France had settled in parts of New England and Canada, and
the French also occupied the area of Louisiana. The Dutch
settled New Amsterdam in the area that’s now New York City. They also established New Netherland along the Hudson
River. The Swedes established New Sweden north of the
Chesapeake Bay.

Raw materials are
goods used in the
production or manufacture of products.
For example, cotton
is a raw material for
the production of


Massachusetts Bay


New Amsterdam


Rhode Island
New Haven
New Netherland
New Sweden




FIGURE 6—This map of 1650 America shows the areas settled by different European countries.

The Origins of American Government


Cultural diversity
means that a region
is populated by
people from different
places who have
different customs.

Although many of these settlements were eventually taken
over by Great Britain, the people who had founded them
remained. Because of their different backgrounds, they
contributed to the cultural diversity of the colonies. The
colonies brought people from many places and people with
many different ideas. Living in such a place is interesting
and exciting. Cultural diversity attracted many settlers to the New World. Many more settlers were attracted by economic
opportunity, the promise of representative government, and
the search for religious freedom. By 1753, the colonies of
America were governed by Great Britain (Figure 7). All of the colonies had their own representative governments based on
English principles. However, all of the colonies were expected to obey laws set by the British Parliament.

Types of Colonies
There were three kinds of British colonies. Royal colonies
were run by a governor appointed by the king. Proprietary
colonies were managed by the people who owned them.
Corporate colonies were expected to set up their own governments and run their own affairs. A corporate colony was owned and managed by a company, which in turn was
owned by its investors. To understand how these kinds of
colonies were different, let’s take a look at how government developed in some of the earliest colonies.

You’ve already learned a little about Jamestown, the first English settlement in the New World. It was settled in 1607
under a royal charter granted by James I. The charter gave
control of the colony to the Virginia Company. The shareholders and directors of the company were given authority to appoint a governor and a council of advisors for the colony. The first governor to be appointed was John Smith.

In 1618, the Virginia Company created the House of Burgesses, a representative assembly for the Virginia colony. That body was the first representative assembly in colonial America.
The Virginia Company thought that creating the House of
Burgesses would attract more people to the Virginia colony.


The Origins of American Government

FIGURE 7—This map
illustrates the location
of the 13 colonies in





New York
New York


Rhode Island


New Jersey






It did. But the company directors kept a check on the power
of the burgesses. They would allow no law to be passed that
wasn’t approved by the directors of the Virginia Company.
Investors (shareholders) in the Virginia Company wanted
Jamestown to be a trading outpost. That idea didn’t work
because the local Indians had no valuable crops or products

The Origins of American Government


to exchange for English goods. The colonists then turned to farming. As you’ve already learned, this venture brought
them into conflict with the Indians. In fact, an uprising of the Powhatan confederacy nearly wiped out the colony in 1622.
The revolt caused James I to become very critical of the
Virginia Company. He revoked its charter in 1624.
Meanwhile, many colonists in Virginia had become prosperous
from raising tobacco and exporting it to England. King James was impressed with their success. He decided to grant Virginia a royal charter. The king and his ministers took control of the Virginia colony and appointed a new governor. They retained

the House of Burgesses, but any legislation it passed had to be approved by the king’s Privy Council. The Privy Council was made up of the king’s top aides. At that time, the Church of England (Anglican Church) was the main religion in

England. King James required the Virginia colonists to
adopt that church as their own. In fact, all property owners had to pay taxes to support Church of England ministers.
Virginia began as a corporate colony and ended up a royal
colony. As a royal colony, it was a model for other royal
colonies in America. All of them had a governor and a council appointed by the king. All of them had a representative
assembly. And all of them were required to adopt the
Anglican Church as their official religion.
The Puritans who
founded the Plymouth
Colony called themselves Pilgrims. Pilgrims
are people who take a
sacred journey. For
example, people of
Islamic faith are
expected to take at
least one pilgrimage to
their holy city of Mecca.
The New England
Puritans saw their journey to the New World
as a holy migration—a


Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay
To seek religious freedom and avoid persecution in England,
many Puritans fled to other shores. One such group ended
up in Holland. After a time, some of these same refugees
headed for New England. Their tiny wooden ship, called the
Mayflower, arrived at present-day Massachusetts in the fall of 1620. There they founded Plymouth Colony. The Pilgrims, as
they called themselves, had no charter. Therefore, before they disembarked from their ship, they gathered to draw up an
agreement. The Mayflower Compact, as the agreement
was called, allowed the Pilgrims to establish laws based on a majority vote. It also permitted towns and villages to govern themselves. However, all these governments had to be based
on Puritan religious ideas.

The Origins of American Government

In 1630, a much larger group of Puritans traveled to
America. They came with a corporate charter from King
Charles I to found the Massachusetts Bay Company. The
company directors chose John Winthrop to be the colonial
governor. However, Winthrop had other ideas besides just
helping the company shareholders make profits. When he
took charge in Massachusetts, he made a change. The governing body of the Massachusetts Bay Company was made up of company shareholders. Each shareholder had a vote.
Winthrop changed this body into a colonial legislature in
which each qualified settler had a vote. Not everyone qualified, however. Only godly Puritan males could vote. Women couldn’t vote. Those who weren’t Puritans couldn’t vote.
Winthrop made the Congregational Church the official religion. As the religion of the Puritans, it was also the religion of those who governed the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
However, since each community was self-governing, the principle of the separation of church and state was still partly recognized.
Not everyone on the
Mayflower was a Puritan
or a pilgrim. Some just
wanted a ride to the New
World. One of these was
Captain Soule, a forefather of the author of this
study unit.

In 1632, Maryland was established as a proprietary colony.
King Charles I granted ownership of the lands around
Chesapeake Bay to George Calvert. Calvert was an English
aristocrat, who held the title Lord Baltimore. At the death of Lord Baltimore in 1632, his son inherited the charter. The
son, Cecilius Calvert, Second Lord Baltimore, now owned the
Maryland colony. He could appoint officials, name ministers, and establish churches as he wished.
But things didn’t turn out as he might have liked.

The Origins of American Government

Like Virginia, Maryland
was a tobacco-growing


Cecilius sent his brother, Leonard Calvert, to govern Maryland in his place. When he arrived in Maryland, Leonard ran into
resistance from the Maryland settlers. The original charter
for the colony permitted the establishment of a representative colonial assembly. The Maryland colonists considered this as their legislature. They claimed they had the right to make
their own laws. The Calverts, on the other hand, saw the
assembly as a means to introduce their own policies.
Tensions over this issue were never resolved.
Meanwhile, Leonard encountered some religious issues. He
had recently converted to Catholicism. Since Catholics were
encountering prejudice in England, he wanted Maryland to
be a refuge for his fellow Catholics. But he also knew he had to appease the Protestant majority in Maryland, who supported
the Church of England. He ordered his brother Cecilius to
pass a law requiring Maryland Catholics to practice their
religion as privately as possible. Leonard also persuaded the Protestant-dominated Maryland assembly to pass a religious
toleration law. Passed in 1649, the law was an important one. It granted freedom of worship to all Maryland Christians.

Other Colonial Governments
Religion was very important to the early colonists. In 1635, the Massachusetts Bay colonists expelled a gentleman named
Roger Williams for questioning church doctrines. Williams, a Puritan minister, established his own colony at Rhode Island. Soon it became a separate, self-governing colony. It had an
elected governor, and the colony had its own representative
In 1636, more Puritans left Massachusetts over religious
conflict and a search for new land. Some of them ended up
in New Hampshire. That part of New England was part of
a land grant that had been given to Captain John Mason.
Mason’s heirs neglected the colony, however, and New
Hampshire came under the protection of the Massachusetts
Bay Colony. In 1679, a royal charter was granted for the
people of New Hampshire.
Still another Puritan group established New Haven, a
settlement in what’s now Connecticut. New Haven was an
independent theocracy. A theocracy is a government based
entirely on religion and run by religious leaders.


The Origins of American Government

As other Puritans settled near Connecticut, the situation
there changed. In 1639, the Connecticut colonists adopted
the Fundamental Orders. This plan of government called for
a popularly elected governor and a representative assembly.
In 1662, New Haven merged with the Connecticut Colony. As
in Massachusetts, the Congregational Church was the state
religion of Connecticut. However, Connecticut had one important difference. The Connecticut assembly eventually allowed men to vote if they owned 40 acres of land or more. Many of
these men weren’t Puritans. In this way, religious toleration spread into one part of New England.
In the final section of this study unit, you’re going to examine the steps that took the colonies to their independence. Before you go on to that material, please take time to review what
you’ve just read by completing Self-Check 2.

The Origins of American Government


Self-Check 2
Indicate whether each of the following statements is True or False.


1. Jamestown was first settled under a royal charter.


2. Among the group called borderlanders were immigrants from Northern Ireland.


3. Catholics were a religious minority in Maryland.


4. The Mayflower Compact was a royal charter.


5. The Magna Carta required the king to follow the same laws that related to all citizens.

Write in the word or phrase that best completes the sentence.

6. Today, the leader of Parliament is called the _______. He or she is the head of the government of Great Britain.
7. The most profitable crop raised in both Virginia and Maryland was _______. 8. The House of Burgesses was a representative assembly established in the colony of _______. 9. New Amsterdam was settled by the _______.

10. Although it was owned by Lord Baltimore, _______ was a proprietary colony. (Continued)


The Origins of American Government

Self-Check 2
Respond to each item in several sentences.

11. Why did American Indians often die of European diseases?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 12. What was the king’s Privy Council? What role did it play in the House of Burgesses?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 13. Who founded the Rhode Island Colony? Why did he do so?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 14. How were royal colonies different from corporate colonies?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ Check your answers with those on page 49.

The Origins of American Government


Unrest in the American Colonies
Both France and England had settlements in America.
Difficulties between these two nations occurred mainly for
two reasons: (1) The nations disagreed about territorial
claims, and (2) the nations were competing for the fur trade with the Indians. In 1754, the war known as the French
and Indian War began. The French and the Indians fought
together against the British. After several years, the British captured the French cities of Quebec and Montreal. The
French then surrendered in 1763 and the war ended.
The French and Indian
War in America was
only one part of a world
war. In Europe, it was
called the Seven Years

The war greatly reduced France’s claims in North America.
And the British became more confident about their control of the American colonies. They passed the Stamp Act of 1765.
This act required all legal documents and even playing cards and newspapers to have a tax stamp on them (Figure 8). The
colonists weren’t happy about paying for these stamps. They voiced their displeasure in their local assemblies.

FIGURE 8—These are examples of the types of stamps Great Britain required on all legal documents.

In 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed. The act was replaced
with the Declaratory Act, which gave Great Britain the right to make any laws they wished to regulate the colonies. Many
colonists resented this new act and the attitude of Great Britain. To repeal means to
end or remove a law.


The Origins of American Government

Then, in 1767, things became worse. Charles Townshend
became the new finance minister in Great Britain. He immediately passed the Townshend Acts, which placed import taxes on goods shipped into the colonies. According to the
Townshend Acts, the colonists had to buy things like tea,
paper, lead, and paint from Great Britain and from no one
else. Even worse, the taxes collected were used to pay the
governors and judges of the colonies, who were appointed
by the British. The result of this was to reduce the authority of the colonial assemblies. When the colonists protested,
Townshend abolished the assemblies.
In Boston, these measures caused people to begin to riot. In response, British troops were ordered away from their frontier posts and into Boston. On March 5, 1770, violence erupted
on the Boston Commons. An unruly mob confronted British
troops. The nervous troops were prodded and insulted. At last, the troops fired on the crowd, killing five men. This event is now known as the Boston Massacre. It wasn’t actually a massacre, but people came to think of it that way. Paul Revere, a famous American patriot, made an engraving of the incident (Figure 9). The engraving was printed and distributed throughout the area. The picture served to increase colonial resentment of Great Britain.

A boycott is a protest
against a group or
nation in which
people refuse to
buy goods from
that group or nation.

FIGURE 9—Paul Revere’s image of the Boston
Massacre may not represent exactly what happened, but it inflamed colonial resentment against Great Britain. Colonists were already
boycotting British goods. Now, they were also
getting more interested in reading revolutionary

The Origins of American Government


Strange as it may seem, on the very day of the Boston
Massacre, the British Parliament repealed all Townshend’s
taxes except the one on tea. The tea tax was left to make a
point. The British wanted to show that they still had the right to impose taxes on the colonials. Eventually the colonists
heard about the repeal of the Townshend Acts, and they ended their boycott of British goods. Colonists could once again
get things they needed from the British. The only thing they continued to boycott was tea.
For the British, the situation in the colonies was all about money. Great Britain wanted to control the sale of tea to
the colonists. In those days, tea was a favored beverage, and Great Britain’s East India Company was a major exporter of tea. But the British tax on tea angered the colonists. They
continued to complain about taxation without representation. In other words, the colonists were being taxed without having any say in the matter.
In 1773, matters came to a head. To make a point, a group
of colonials dressed themselves as Indians. In the deep of
night, they crept aboard a British ship and dumped its cargo of tea into Boston harbor. This act, later called the Boston Tea Party, enraged King George III of England and the members of the British Parliament. Almost immediately, they passed a series of acts, which the colonists called Intolerable Acts. The following are some of the provisions of these acts: • The port of Boston was closed.

• The power that had been partially restored to the
colonial assemblies was cut off.
• British troops were to be quartered (housed) in private
homes. (Imagine how you would feel if a foreign soldier
forced you to sleep on the floor while he slept in your bed. The intolerable acts were called that for good reason.)

First Continental Congress
Colonial unrest led to efforts to form a central government
for the colonies. By 1772, groups called the Patriot Bodies of Correspondence existed throughout the colonies. These groups worked hard to keep colonial leaders informed and in touch
with each other.


The Origins of American Government

To deal with the problems they were having with Great
Britain, the First Continental Congress (Figure 10) met in
Philadelphia in 1774. Delegates from every colony, except
Georgia, attended. This Congress drafted a petition to King
George III. In it, they declared that the British Parliament couldn’t pass laws for the colonies without colonial consent. This principle was to apply to all legislation, including taxation. During this period, British troops occupied Boston. In response to their presence, Massachusetts established a temporary

government at Concord. The situation was getting very tense. FIGURE 10—The First
Continental Congress drafted a
petition declaring that British
Parliament couldn’t pass laws
for the colonies without colonial consent. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. Reprinted
with permission.)

Second Continental Congress
In April of 1775, British troops marched toward Concord.
They met with a skirmish at Lexington Bridge, but they
marched on. But things didn’t go well for the British that day. Colonials fired at them from behind every tree and rock on
the road to Concord. Some 270 British soldiers were killed
before they retreated. About 100 colonial soldiers lost their lives as well. This incident is called the Battle of Concord and it marked the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Origins of American Government


It was under these conditions the Second
Continental Congress met at Philadelphia in
May, 1775. This time delegates from all 13
colonies attended. John Hancock was elected president. They had much work to do. Fortunately for future Americans, they did it.
Their first order of business was the war
with Great Britain. Americans had no official army. Therefore, by order of the Continental Congress, George Washington
of Virginia was appointed to command the
Continental Army. He was directed to carry
out his charge with courage and wisdom.
But there was more to do and the work
wasn’t easy. For one thing, it was hot that
summer in Philadelphia. The building where
they met, now called Independence Hall,
wasn’t air conditioned (Figure 11).

FIGURE 11—Independence Hall, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. In the summer of 1775, there was
no such thing as air conditioning. The delegates
had to contend with heat and humidity, day in
and day out. To reduce the clatter of wagon
wheels over cobblestone streets, dirt was
dumped over the cobblestones around the hall.

Treason is an act of
disloyalty to one’s


The delegates who met for the Continental
Congress were at risk. What they were doing
was considered treason by the British. For
that matter, many Americans who remained
loyal to King George considered that the
delegates to the Continental Congress were
acting unlawfully.

At last, another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, was appointed
to draft a document to declare the independence of the colonies from Great Britain. With advice from Benjamin Franklin,
Jefferson worked hard through the summer nights. He had
been asked to define the proper reasons why the colonies
should separate from British rule. Imagine this tall, redheaded gentleman pacing the floor as he considered how he should complete this important task.

The Origins of American Government

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was a printer, writer, scientist, inventor, and leader in the 13 colonies. Just before the men were preparing to sign the Declaration of Independence, Franklin commented, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

With revisions, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence
was adopted on July 4, 1776 (Figure 12). The Continental
Congress had made its position clear to Great Britain. More
importantly, the Declaration outlined a common ground for
agreement among the delegates.

FIGURE 12—Those who signed the Declaration of Independence took a giant step toward freedom. However, they all knew that England would consider a signature on the document as an act of treason. John Hancock became well-known for signing the Declaration of Independence in large handwriting.

The Origins of American Government


The full text of the Declaration of Independence
is in the appendix to this study unit. You
should take time to read the entire document. The main concepts are summarized here:
1. When a people choose to break their
ties with another people, the reasons
for doing so must be explained.
2. Any such explanation must be
based on the natural rights of
men. (Jefferson put it this way: “All men
are created equal. . . they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights; that among these are
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”)
3. Governments are created by people to protect their
natural rights. To that end, governments must be
based on the consent of the people.
4. People have a right to change a government that takes
away their natural rights. Great Britain has taken away
the natural rights of the colonists. At this point, the
Declaration lists the many ways in which the British
government had taken away the natural rights of the
American people.
5. We, the delegates, represent the people of the United
States. Therefore, we now declare that the United States
is an independent nation. We trust that Divine
Providence will protect us.
6. We support this Declaration with our lives, our money,
and our sacred honor. (This item in the Declaration
clearly showed the deep commitment these delegates
shared in the cause of independence.)


The Origins of American Government

Were major figures of the American Revolution.
Thomas Paine was born in England. He had a hard life and always struggled to keep afloat. After he met and befriended Benjamin Franklin in London, he decided to come to America.
That was in 1774. Soon after he arrived in
America, he began writing pamphlets that
aroused the anger and concern of colonial patriots.
(Patriots were colonists who wanted independence
from Great Britain.) The most famous of these
pamphlets was Common Sense, published in
1776. In it he presented a clear and convincing
argument for American independence from England.

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration
of Independence. Because of his height and his red
hair, he commanded attention wherever he went.
A native of Virginia, Jefferson was a man of great
brilliance. He was an architect, an inventor, and
a political philosopher. He served as American
ambassador to France and as Secretary of State.
He also served as vice president and, finally, as the
third president of the United States.

Articles of Confederation
The plan adopted by the Second Continental Congress was
called the Articles of Confederation. The work of preparing it wasn’t easy, but getting it approved was even harder. John Dickenson had been appointed to head a committee to work
on the Articles.
On July 12, 1776, just eight days after the signing of the
Declaration of Independence, Dickenson brought a first draft to the delegates. It proposed a strong central government
that had the power to levy taxes. The central government
would control the western lands, and the states would be
equally represented in the government.

The Origins of American Government


Many delegates to the convention didn’t like Dickenson’s plan. They felt there was too much concern about setting up
a strong central government. Many felt they had seen enough
of strong central government under British rule. Therefore,
the committee went back to work.
In November, 1777, a revised draft of the Articles was submitted to the Continental Congress. This version assured the independence of the states, but it limited the functions of the central government.

To ratify means to
approve by a vote.

It wasn’t until four years later that the states ratified the Articles of Confederation. There were many reasons for this. First, since the war was still going on, it was difficult to get things done. Second, the states had different laws and different interests. For example, states bordering the frontier wanted to expand their territory as much as possible. States along

the seaboard disagreed. They wanted all the states to benefit equally as new territory was settled.
At last, in 1781, the Articles were revised to settle the territory problems. It was agreed that the federal government would have control of all unsettled lands. With this agreement, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by all the states on

March 1, 1781. The Articles of Confederation had many flaws, but it was a start. Until the United States Constitution was adopted in 1788, it was the foundation of the American
government. (You’ll be studying the creation of the United States Constitution in the next study unit.)
Shown here is Benjamin Franklin, along with a cartoon he created and drew. The cartoon, which first appeared on May 9, 1754, was considered to be the first prominent political cartoon. The drawing shows a snake that has been cut into several pieces, one for each of the states. Benjamin Franklin’s purpose was to encourage the states to unite and work together against the enemy. Although this cartoon was originally used as

propaganda during the French
and Indian War, it was used
again to encourage the
country during the American


The Origins of American Government

American Revolution
As you may have noticed, the American Revolution and the
first developments of American government happened at the
same time. You’ve already examined the important early steps taken toward a new American government. The remainder
of this study unit presents the important events in the
American Revolution.
You’ve already learned that the British were forced to retreat from Concord in April of 1775. But, at that time, no real
colonial army existed. The people who took up arms against
the British on the road to Concord were local militia. Their weapons were the same long rifles they used to hunt game.
Few of them had any real military training.
When George Washington was made commander of the
Continental Army in May of 1775, there was still no army to
speak of. He had to work fast to recruit volunteers and turn them into a fighting force (Figure 13). At that point, the odds of an American victory looked very slim. The population of
Great Britain was 9 million people. The population of all 13 colonies was 2.5 million. About 500,000 of those were African slaves. On top of that, the British army was well trained and well equipped. Indeed, it was probably the strongest army of Europe at that time. As they studied the situation in the

colonies, the British commanders decided on their strategy.
They would use overwhelming force against centers of resistance such as Boston.

FIGURE 13—Almost always
outnumbered and outgunned, the soldiers of the
Continental Army succeeded against all odds.

The Origins of American Government


Meanwhile, the colonials did have some advantages:
1. They were fighting to defend their homes and families.
They had the “home advantage.”
2. The Americans knew the territory much better than the
British. That would turn out to be important.
3. The Americans had a number of skilled commanders who
had gained experience in the French and Indian War.
4. America received vital financial aid from Spain and
France. Neither of these countries thought well of Great
Britain. During the French and Indian War, the French
had lost most of their American territory to Great Britain.
The Spanish had been at war with the British on and off
for many years.
None of these advantages, however, were obvious as the war
All through the American Revolution, keeping up a strong
colonial army was very difficult. Congress had promised to
raise an army of at least 60,000 men. As it turned out,
Washington never had more than 24,000 active soldiers at
any time. Because of a lack of funds, the army was always
short of everything—food, ammunition, and other needed
supplies. During the winters of 1777 and 1778, the
Continental Army was nearly wiped out by cold and hunger.
Also, soldiers sometimes panicked in the heat of battle.
Desertions were common. Some started mutinies over poor
pay. Gradually, however, General George Washington was
able to count on regiments of battle-hardened soldiers.

Early American Successes

Although the battle
fought in June of 1775
is called the Battle of
Bunker Hill, it actually
took place on Breed’s
Hill, near Bunker Hill.


After their defeat at the Battle of Concord, the British began to send more troops into the area. They had control of Boston,
but they determined to take the hills around the city. Hearing of this plan, General Artemas Ward sent a troop of approximately 1,500 colonials to fortify Bunker Hill. The fortification was built during the night of June 16, 1775. On the morning

of June 17, the British were surprised to see the embankments that had been erected during the night hours.

The Origins of American Government

Nonetheless, the British troops began to ascend the hill to battle with the colonial troops. Knowing that they had a short supply of ammunition, the American commander, William
Prescott, directed his men not to fire on the British until
“you see the whites of their eyes.” As they continued their ascent, the British may have wondered why the Americans
weren’t firing on them. However, once the British got within about 50 yards, the Americans opened fire. Many of the
British soldiers were killed and the survivors had to retreat. On their third attempt, the British succeeded in pushing the patriots off Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill, but only at a heavy loss. The bodies of more than 1,000 British soldiers littered the battlefield. Approximately 140 Americans were killed and around 270 wounded. The encounters at Lexington and

Concord were only skirmishes. The Battle of Bunker Hill
was a full-scale battle.
The Battle of Bunker Hill wasn’t conclusive, however. Neither side had been victorious, and Boston remained surrounded by
the British. Finally, in March of 1776, General Washington’s new army set up batteries of cannons on Dorchester Heights,
overlooking Boston. The British commander, General William
Howe, looked up at the American cannons, remembered all
the men lost at Bunker Hill, and decided to call it a day.
Howe withdrew his troops from Boston and sailed to Nova
Scotia. Approximately 1,000 Boston loyalists went with him.
During this early period of the war, skirmishes and battles
were also occurring in Virginia and the Carolinas. Once
again, the patriots experienced a number of victories. In the north, Americans moved against the British with limited success. For example, the Green Mountain Boys, a group of patriots organized by Ethan Allen, and forces commanded by

Benedict Arnold moved toward Montreal. In May of 1775,
they took the British Fort at Ticonderoga. That victory
received much praise, but it was mainly a boost to American
morale. The fort was only lightly defended. The American
effort against another fort at Lake Champlain was also
successful. However, Benedict Arnold’s effort to take Quebec failed. The Americans took very heavy casualties and Arnold
himself was wounded.

The Origins of American Government

Loyalists were
colonists who
remained faithful to
the king of England.
Many fought for the
British during the


Benedict Arnold
Washington considered Benedict Arnold to be one of
his most able commanders. A veteran of the French
and Indian War, Arnold had won important battles
for the Continental Army. Yet, after 1778, he
became a traitor and began plotting against the
American Revolution. Why he did so is uncertain.
He did have inferior officers promoted over him,
which probably angered him. He also disliked the American alliance with France. But some said he became a spy for the British because he was in debt from a lavish lifestyle. Today, a traitor is often called a Benedict Arnold.

The British Offensive in the North
The early patriot successes didn’t win the war, but they were important. Because of these victories, the Continental
Congress was encouraged to draft the Declaration of
Independence. But much harder times lay ahead. In July of
1776, as the Declaration was being signed, 30,000 British
troops were landing at Staten Island near New York City.
General Howe was in command of this fresh army. His orders
were to take New York and the Hudson Valley. In this way,
the British hoped to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.
Howe imagined that the Americans might surrender when
confronted with so large an army. Negotiations did occur,
but they failed. In August, Howe launched an attack on
an American army of 10,000 troops who were defending
Brooklyn Heights. The Americans were outflanked and 1,000
men were captured. Howe next pursued the retreating
American forces northward, up the Hudson Valley. In
October, the Continental Army suffered defeats in pitched
battles at Harlem Heights and at White Plains, New York.
In the months that followed, Howe sought a decisive victory. Washington, on the other hand, simply wanted to survive
and keep his army intact. In fact, Washington’s army did
survive as a consequence of several factors. First, Howe was actually sympathetic to colonial demands. Because he was,
he didn’t pursue Washington’s army as forcefully as he might have. Second, Benedict Arnold’s forces succeeded in driving a major British army back into Canada. Had those forces


The Origins of American Government

joined Howe, things might have turned out differently for the revolution. Third, Howe was a cautious general. He wanted
to avoid large numbers of British casualties since getting
reinforcements across the Atlantic would take months.
Washington withdrew his broken army to New Jersey. A bit
later, his forces crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. By doing this, Washington hoped to draw the British forces
inland. In that way, the British lines would be spread thin
and the British supply lines would be harder to maintain.
However, Washington also knew that American morale was
low. They needed some kind of immediate success against
the British.
Washington waited for the British to camp for the winter.
Then, on Christmas night, 1776, he slipped his forces across the Delaware River into New Jersey. His troops were miserably dressed for winter warfare. Some trudged through the snow
with only rags wrapped around their feet. Yet, Washington’s surprise attack worked. The Americans defeated German
mercenary troops, called Hessians, at Trenton. They then
moved on to defeat British troops at Princeton. In military
terms, neither one of these victories was significant. Even so, news of the battles spread like wildfire and American spirits were lifted.

Saratoga: The Tide Turns

A mercenary is a
soldier paid to fight
for another country.
The Hessians were
Germans hired
by the British to
fight against the
American patriots.

In 1777, the British seized and occupied Philadelphia, where one year before the Declaration of Independence had been
drafted. But the British paid a high price for this victory. Because a large number of British troops were needed in
Pennsylvania, the British lines were thin elsewhere.
Washington’s strategy had worked. And because it had
worked, the Continental forces were able to move against
British forces in New York. After a number of battles and
skirmishes, the British army, under General John Burgoyne,
was surrounded at Saratoga in New York. Under the command of Horatio Gates, the Continental Army defeated the British forces. The battle at Saratoga was a turning point in the war. The effort to cut off New England had failed. British forces were now forced to think out a new strategy.

The Origins of American Government


The defeat of the British plan to cut off New England had two main effects. First, it caught the attention of the French. They saw a chance to get even for their defeat in the French and
Indian War. In 1778, the Continental Congress entered into
a formal alliance with France. Second, the British decided
to focus on the southern colonies. From that point on, the
tide of war changed. The British strategy in the south was
successful at first. British forces seized the port cities of Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. The
fighting farther inland wasn’t so successful, however. After a number of battles and skirmishes, British hopes sagged.
In 1781, the British were defeated at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina. At that point, the British
knew that their southern strategy had failed. They retreated toward Yorktown in Virginia.
What began at Lexington and Concord in 1775 ended at
Yorktown in 1781. It was at Yorktown that the American
alliance with France paid off. Washington’s forces had surrounded the British army of Lord Cornwallis within the town. But the chances of an American victory became much greater
as the French fleet appeared on the horizon. British ships
were now blockaded and under attack. A short time later,
disciplined French officers stood shoulder to shoulder with
the Americans on the ground. Cornwallis saw that the battle
was lost and surrendered his entire army. The British regulars marched from their defenses in surrender. Some fighting continued after Yorktown, but the war was
all but over. Two years later, in 1783, the British and the
Americans signed the Treaty of Paris. From that moment on,
the United States of America was recognized as an independent nation. That new nation now took its place on the world stage.
As the defeated British troops
marched out of Yorktown, their drum
and fife corps played “The World
Turned Upside Down.” For the British it
must have seemed like that. The
world’s greatest power had been
defeated by a poorly equipped army of


The Origins of American Government

Self-Check 3
Indicate whether each of the following statements is True or False.


1. The first British strategy during the Revolution was to use overwhelming force against the colonial army.


2. The first draft of the Articles of Confederation called for a strong central government.


3. The Continental soldiers fought well because they had a strong military tradition.


4. By the time of the Battle of Yorktown, Washington’s army was more than 45,000 soldiers strong.


5. The Intolerable Acts were passed in response to the Boston Tea Party.


6. General Howe was sympathetic to American demands.

Write in the word or phrase that best completes the sentence.

7. Without the help of the country of _______, the Battle of Yorktown might have been lost. 8. The Townshend Acts placed _______ taxes on British goods shipped into the colonies. 9. _______ was asked to draft the Declaration of Independence by the delegates of the Second Continental Congress.

10. The American victory at _______ turned the tide of the Revolutionary War in favor of the Continental Army.
11. According to the Declaration of Independence, people have a right to change a government that takes away their _______ rights.
12. Two European nations, France and _______, provided aid to the Americans during the Revolution.

The Origins of American Government


Self-Check 3
Respond to each item in several sentences.

13. Why did it take the states so long to ratify the Articles of Confederation?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 14. What was the Stamp Act of 1765?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ 15. The First Continental Congress sent a petition to King George. What did it proclaim?

__________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ Check your answers with those on page 50.


The Origins of American Government

Self-Check 1
1. True

3. False
4. True
5. False
6. direct
7. authoritarian
8. disputes
9. The main purposes of government are distributing
resources, settling disputes, and organizing people’s
work for common goals.
10. The Holocaust was the killing of millions of Jews and
others during Hitler’s rule over Germany.
11. A direct democracy may allow a majority to dominate
and silence a minority. This kind of problem can be
remedied by providing all citizens with basic rights.
Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are examples
of basic rights.
12. In Europe, kings sometimes claimed that their power
was from God. They ruled by divine right.

Self-Check 2
1. False
2. True
3. True
4. False
5. False
6. prime minister

Answer s
Answer s

2. True

7. tobacco
8. Virginia


9. Dutch
10. Maryland
11. Unlike the Africans who were brought to America, the
Indians had not had contact with Europeans. Therefore,
they had little immunity from European diseases.
12. The Privy Council was made up of the king’s top aides. After Virginia became a royal colony, decisions of the
Burgesses had to be approved by the Privy Council.
13. Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, had differences with the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
When he was expelled, he founded Rhode Island as a
colony that would be free to practice his brand of
14. Royal colonies were founded under a royal charter. Their governor and colonial council were appointed by the
king. Such charters provided for a representative assembly and support for the Church of England. Corporate charters, on the other hand, were granted by the king to
a company of investors. The management of a corporate
colony was up to the directors and shareholders of the

Self-Check 3
1. True
2. True
3. False
4. False
5. True
6. True
7. France
8. import
9. Thomas Jefferson
10. Saratoga
11. natural
12. Spain


Self-Check Answers

13. The war was still going on. Therefore, getting things
done was difficult. Also, the states had different laws
and different interests. One big problem had to do with
control of the frontier lands. States bordering the frontier wanted to expand their territory. States along the seaboard wanted all the states to benefit equally as new
territory was settled.
14. The British Stamp Act of 1765 forced the American
colonists to buy a tax stamp for many purposes. Stamps
were required on all legal documents, playing cards, and
even newspapers. The colonists were greatly angered by
the act.
15. The petition sent by the First Continental Congress to
King George proclaimed that the English Parliament
couldn’t pass laws without the consent of the colonial

Self-Check Answers




Self-Check Answers

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary
for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any
Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is
the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles,
and organizing its powers in such forms, as to them shall
seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But

when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their

future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains
them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the
establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To
prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.




He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payments of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of, and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:



For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences: For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty & perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction, of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace, Friends.



We, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.



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