Foundations Of American Government

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Lesson 1, Part 1: Foundations of American Government "Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth."
-George Washington

The Declaration of Independence The U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights The Enlightenment and Political Philosophy

Expected Outcomes
To understand the philosophical principles behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and how these principles influence the structure and process of government. Overview
The United States, as a nation, was born of the American Revolution of 1776. This revolution cut the political ties between England and its American colonies. Many "Americans" living in the colonies had complained about harsh British rule. King George of England had ruled over the colonies with a heavy hand, increasing taxes with the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act, for example. These abuses began to divide the "patriots" in favor of independence and the "loyalists" in favor of the English Crown. Tensions between the American colonials and British soldiers boiled over in the Boston Massacre, when a mob harassed British soldiers, who then fired their muskets into the crowd, killing three, mortally wounding two others, and injuring six. Another famous incident which helped inspire the American Revolution was the Boston Tea Party of 1773, launched as a protest to the British Tea Act. This Act gave the British East India Company a tea monopoly, shutting out American traders. Bostonians disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, then boarded the British ships and dumped all 342 containers of tea into the harbor. Two years later, in 1775, there were more serious conflicts between colonials and British troops: the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the prelude for a full conflict. The American Revolutionary War was long, bloody and ended with the French-assisted victory of the American Continental Army in Yorktown in 1781. An understanding of American government and politics should consider two documents related to this war and its aftermath. The first is the Declaration of Independence, which launched the American Revolutionary War; and the second is the U.S. Constitution, which replaced the post-war Articles of Confederation and which remains the highest law of the land. This lesson analyzes these documents, noting how they were part of a trans-Atlantic Enlightenment movement with emphasis on reason, freethinking, natural law, popular sovereignty, and human equality. Many of these ideas are visible in the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson. These ideas provided the ideological and philosophical framework for the American Revolution. After the expulsion of the English monarchy, the Articles of Confederation - in effect from 1776 to 1787 - turned the former colonies into largely autonomous states with a weak federal government. However, many people thought that this decentralized system did not solve the problem of providing for a common defense or for integrating state economies. Some elites also hoped that a stronger central government could put down local insurrections with more effect, thereby protecting their property rights. These were just some of the concerns behind the crafting of the U.S. Constitution, inspired by the Federalist Papers and written by James Madison. As the Constitution suggests, the United States was not established to be a "pure democracy" in which people rule themselves - some call this "mob rule" – but, rather a representative democracy or a "constitutional republic" characterized, in the United States, by the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances, civil liberties and a federalist division of power between national and state governments. These items will be explained in this lesson. The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence provided the ideological framework for the American Revolution of 1776, a war of independence against Britain that was