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BACKGROUND OF THE AMERICAN FOUNDING By Robert F. Cuervo, Ph. D. 1. The English Heritage (19) -Magna Charta- early charter of liberties (1215) -Common Law- judges must follow precedents (earlier cases) when making decisions- leads to regular, impartial rules of law -Rights of English Citizens- no taxation without consent of one's representatives, trial by jury, habeas corpus (challenging validity of one's imprisonment) -Glourious Revolution of 1688 and English Bill of Rights of 1689 end absolute monarchy and start Parliamentary supremacy 2. American Colonial Government Liberal features - written charters elected representative assemblies rights of English citizens Undemocratic features- -few could vote compared to today- property requirements, free adult males only, religion sometimes a factor -slavery existed -official religions and some religious intolerance -little freedom of the press- the law of seditious libel made it a crime to criticize government in print; Zenger trial of 1735 eased this in practice by making truth a defense in seditious libel cases 3. American Revolution (20-21) -British reorganization of colonies in 1760's after French and Indian War -New taxes like Stamp Act passed by British Parliament, where colonists were not represented -Oppressive enforcement of new laws by British- Quartering Acts, non-jury trials for tax evaders -Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775 to protest British actions -In Common Sense (early 1776), Thomas Paine argues Americans would be better off as an independent nation
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4. Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) (21-22, 375-376) a. John Locke (1632-1704)- Two Treatises of Government (1690) -people have natural rights that government cannot take away -Government is a social contract between people and rulers -valid government based on free consent of governed - Dissolution of Government permissible after a "long train of abuses" b. Main body of the Declaration is a listing of the grievances of Americans against the British during reorganization of 1760's and 1770's c. Thomas Jefferson was the main author of the Declaration of Independence 5. Articles of Confederation (proposed 1777; ratified 1781) (22-24, 377-381) a. America's first attempt at a national system of government b. State sovereignty stressed; federal (national) government weak- only expressly delegated powers are federal c. Congress was main federal institution: unicameral (one house) based on state equality (one vote for each state) represented state governments, not individual citizens had term limits for delegates to Congress d. Congress lacked the power to: tax ( requisitions only ; often ignored by states) regulate interstate commerce (led to state tariffs) prevent states from issuing inflated paper money e. Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts (1786) (24), a tax revolt by poor farmers, led to a realization that a stronger national government and monetary system were needed. f. Amendments to the Articles had to be
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