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Chapter 2 – Origins of American Government


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Chapter 2 – Origins of American Government

  1. 1.  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)
  2. 2.  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.
  3. 3.  The English tradition of government grew from three landmark documents.  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 people’s homes.  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.
  4. 4.  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 king). 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).
  5. 5.  Main Idea: As British policies led them toward independence, the colonies developed new forms of government.  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 government.
  6. 6.  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 rejected it.
  7. 7.  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.
  8. 8.  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.
  9. 9.  The newly formed 13 states all wrote constitutions, or body of laws that set out the states’ government structure, principles, and processes.  The State constitutions all shared the principle of popular sovereignty, meaning that government can exist only with the consent of the people being governed.
  10. 10.  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 United States.  Although the States wanted a permanent government, they did not want to give it much power.
  11. 11.  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.
  12. 12.  The Federal (national) Government had no power to make the States obey the Articles or the laws passed by the legislature.  The States had the power to tax and printed their own money.  When Shay’s Rebellion broke out in Massachusetts, many leaders were convinced that Americans had to strengthen the government.  The states set up a meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to solve some of the nation’s problems which became known as the Constitutional Convention.
  13. 13.  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.
  14. 14.  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 representation.  In the larger House of Representatives, each State would be represented based on its population.
  15. 15.  The U.S. Constitution became a document of compromises.  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.
  16. 16.  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 the Constitution.  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.
  17. 17.  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 James Madison.  The Anti-Federalists attacked almost every part of the Constitution, but two of its features drew the strongest criticism:  1 – the greatly increased powers of the central government  2 – the lack of a “bill of rights” that would provide for basic liberties such as freedom of speech and religion.
  18. 18.  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 March, 1789. Because there was not a quorum, or majority of its members, the electoral votes could not be counted until April 6th. At that point, it declared George Washington as the first President of the United States.