Main Idea: The English tradition of ordered,
limited, and representative government
served as the basis of colonial governments.
From these three English documents, the
American colonists took the basic ideas used to
form their own governments.
Magna Carta (1215)
Petition of Rights (1628)
English Bill of Rights (1689)
The colonists brought with them to North America
knowledge of the English political system, including
three key ideas about government.
The first idea was that of ordered government.
This means that a government’s rules should help
people get along.
The second idea, of limited government, means that
government has restricted powers.
The third idea, of representative government,
means that government should serve the people.
The English tradition of government grew from three
The Magna Carta (1215) said that the king did not have
total power, and it protected the rights of trial by jury and
due process of law.
The Petition of Rights (1628) said the kind could not use
the military to rule during peacetime or let soldiers live in
The English Bill of Rights (1689) forbade keeping an
army during peacetime, guaranteed a fair and speedy trial,
and ensured that all parliamentary elections were free.
The three types of English colonies each provided training
for the colonists in the art of government.
Each colony was based on a charter, a written grant of
authority from the king.
Royal Colonies were ruled directly by the Crown (the
Proprietary Colonies were organized by an owner to
whom the king had granted land.
Charter Colonies were based on charters granted directly
to the colonists.
Most colonies had bicameral (two house) legislatures,
although Pennsylvania’s was unicameral (one house).
Main Idea: As British policies led them toward
independence, the colonies developed new forms
Great Britain became more involved in ruling its
colonies in the 1760s.
It created new taxes and laws that caused the colonists
to object to “taxation without representation” in the
British Parliament – the English legislative body of
The colonists reacted to the changes in British
policy by taking small steps toward unity.
The New England states had already formed a
confederation, or a union for a common purpose,
in the 1600s.
In 1754, Benjamin Franklin’s Albany Plan of
Union proposed a congress of delegates from all
colonies, but both the colonies and the king
Twelve of the thirteen colonies joined at the First
Continental Congress in 1774. They met to plan
opposition to harsh British policies and punishment of
colonists who resisted.
One form of opposition was to boycott, or refuse to
buy, British goods.
The colonists hoped to force the British to repeal, or
recall, their hated policies.
Finally, the colonists were ready to fight.
The American Revolution began on April 19th, 1775.
On May 10th, 1775, the Second Continental Congress
began to meet.
It became the first government of the new United
States and produced the Declaration of
Independence on July 4th, 1776.
The American revolution officially ended in 1783 with
the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
The newly formed 13 states all wrote
constitutions, or body of laws that set out
the states’ government structure, principles,
The State constitutions all shared the
principle of popular sovereignty, meaning
that government can exist only with the
consent of the people being governed.
Main Idea: The weakness of the Articles
of Confederation led to demands for a
stronger central government.
The 1780s were problem-filled years for the
Although the States wanted a permanent
government, they did not want to give it
The 13 States ratified – or formally approved – the Articles
of Confederation in 1781.
The Articles set up a government that tied the States
together in a loose union.
They also created a central government that had power to
do little more than set up an army and navy, make war and
peace, and settle State disputes.
This government consisted of only one branch, the
Congress, which was unicameral with each State only
having one vote in Congress.
Each year, Congress was to choose one of its members as its
presiding officer, or chairperson.
The Federal (national) Government had no power to make
the States obey the Articles or the laws passed by the
The States had the power to tax and printed their own
When Shay’s Rebellion broke out in Massachusetts, many
leaders were convinced that Americans had to strengthen
The states set up a meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
to solve some of the nation’s problems which became
known as the Constitutional Convention.
In 1787, 55 delegates from 12 States met in Philadelphia
to revise the Articles of Confederation.
Later known as the Framers, these delegates soon
decided to write a new constitution instead.
The delegates from VA were first to offer a plan – The
“Virginia Plan” offered 3 branches of government: an
executive, a bicameral legislature, and courts.
Under the VA Plan, the number of representatives a
State sent to the legislature was linked to its wealth
and population which was opposed by small States.
The New Jersey Plan called for a government without
strong and separate branches. It also proposed a
unicameral legislature with an equal number of
representatives from each State.
The Connecticut Compromise combined the basic
features of the VA and NJ Plans. It called for two
houses in Congress.
In the smaller Senate, states would have equal
In the larger House of Representatives, each State
would be represented based on its population.
The U.S. Constitution became a document of
The Three-Fifths Compromise determined that States
could count three-fifths of their slaves as part of their
populations, which increased their representation in the
House of Representative.
The Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise forbade
Congress from taxing exports from any State as well as from
acting against the slave trade for 20 years.
The Framers made many other compromises before they
completed their work on September 17, 1787.
The Framers had provided that before the
Constitution could take effect, at least 9 of the 13
States had to ratify it.
Americans were greatly divided in their opinions about
Two groups formed during the ratification process:
The Federalists – who favored ratifying the Constitution
as it was.
The Anti-Federalists – who strongly opposed it without
securing the natural rights and freedoms of individuals.
The Federalists stressed the weaknesses of the Articles
of Confederation and believed the Constitution was
strong enough to solve the country’s problems.
The Federalists were led by Alexander Hamilton and
The Anti-Federalists attacked almost every part of the
Constitution, but two of its features drew the strongest
1 – the greatly increased powers of the central
2 – the lack of a “bill of rights” that would provide for
basic liberties such as freedom of speech and religion.
The struggle for ratification was intense in several States,
especially Virginia and New York. The Federalists finally
won in both States.
After 11 States had ratified the Constitution in 1788, the
States held elections for a new President.
The first Congress of the new Federal Government met in
Because there was not a quorum, or majority of its
members, the electoral votes could not be counted until
At that point, it declared George Washington as the first
President of the United States.
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