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Foundations of U.S. Government



The colonists who declared the independence of the United States from Britain believed they were fighting to defend their rights. That perception of fundamental rights was based on the evolution of government forms over several centuries. In England, Parliament had limited the power of the monarchy, and Parliament's approval was required for all taxation. In the colonies, colonial assemblies elected by voters had the power to levy taxes. In the wake of a war with France that caused a financial crisis, Parliament passed taxes on the colonies, prompting many colonists to protest. Since they had no representatives in Parliament, they argued it was a violation of their rights for Parliament to tax them. The British Parliament's attempts to punish the colonies for their defiance resulted in war and the issuing of the Declaration of Independence. With crucial military and financial assistance from France, the Americans won the American Revolution, and the United States emerged as a new nation.

At A Glance

  • The U.S. system of government has been influenced by beliefs in the values of liberty, justice, and equality.
  • American colonists drew on their English political heritage, including limits on the power of the monarchy, the need for Parliament’s consent to any laws, and guarantees of basic civil liberties to citizens.
  • American colonists had elected representatives serving in colonial assemblies, entrenching a belief in the right to self-rule.
  • Britain's debt from the French and Indian War (1754–63) led Parliament to enact new taxes on the colonies, which led to conflict with American colonists.
  • Parliament's attempts to raise revenue from the colonies met with resistance from colonists because they were not represented in Parliament. Colonial protests over taxes prompted Parliament to retaliate, and the resulting laws led colonists to form the First Continental Congress to discuss united action.
  • After a failed attempt to open negotiations with Britain, popular support for declaring independence from Britain grew.
  • The Declaration of Independence, written in part to gain foreign support for the cause, justified the colonists' decision on the basis of natural rights and social contract theory and listed the injustices committed by the king that deprived colonists of their rights.
  • Won by the Americans with the aid of France, the American Revolution (1775–83) concluded with an official recognition from Britain that the colonies were independent.