Lesson 3 Social Studies
THE ROOTS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
Before the pilgrims left the Mayflower in November of 1620 and set foot on land along the coast of Massachusetts, the men held an important meeting. Shocked to discover themselves far from the Virginia colony where they had planned to settle, they realized that they were not going to be part of an established colony with existing laws and leaders, but of their own community in which they would have to decide their own laws and leaders.
In this historic meeting these men, who had always lived in a country where laws were imposed on them by others, made an agreement that “just and equal” laws would be made for the “general good of the colony.” We remember this agreement today as the Mayflower Compact.
The Mayflower Compact said, in part, “We whose names are underwritten… covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony…”
These pilgrims didn’t set out to create their own government, but were forced to do so. They were far from their “mother country” of England, and in order to create peaceful coexistence in their new land, rules of some kind were required.
By 1750 there were three different kinds of colonies in America. The royal colonies (Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North and South Carolina, and Virginia), were ruled directly by Britain through a royal governor and council who were appointed by the king. The colonists elected their own lower council which had limited freedom. The governor was able to veto decisions by the lower council, but the lower council couldn’t veto decisions by the higher council or the governor. As time went on, these colonists became increasingly frustrated and angry about their lack of decision making power. Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were proprietary colonies. They were ruled by individuals or groups who had been given grants of land by the King of England. The king was still the ultimate ruler in these colonies, but the proprietors had a great deal of freedom. They appointed the upper council or legislature and the governor, and the colonists themselves elected the lower council. As in the royal colonies, the governor could veto decisions made by the lower legislature.
The King of England granted a charter to groups of settlers in some colonies which allowed them to create their own government. Connecticut and Rhode Island were charter colonies. The charter colonies elected their own governors and both councils, or houses. In these colonies the king could approve or disapprove the choice of governor, but the governor had no power to veto the decisions of the councils.
In each of these types of colonies, the citizens elected representatives to a special council whose job was to make the laws. This council or house was called the legislature. Although the colonies had some freedom in this system, they were still subject to the authority of England and the approved governor. Gradually they became more interested in seizing their own authority, and on July 4, 1776, the colonies declared themselves free from English rule.
While the Declaration of Independence was being presented to the British government by the colonies as a group, each individual colony was also working to organize their own state government and to create a state constitution. Each of these state constitutions proclaimed that the government is run by the people; seven of the colonies included a special section called a “bill of rights,” which specified certain rights that each person was to have.
Three separate branches of government were established for each state, each with its own area of responsibility. The legislative branch, whose responsibility it was to make the laws, had the most power. The executive branch had the power and responsibility to enforce the laws. Because the colonists were wary of the inordinate power England had held over them in the past, the power of the executive branch was limited. The judicial branch included a system of courts which were to interpret the laws and apply them to particular situations.
|WorkSheet : America’s Political History|
|Question #1) Read the Mayflower Compact, and then rewrite it, using your own words. What principles and values does it mention? Make a list.|
|Question #2) Read the Declaration of Independence. Focus on the third section, where the writers list a number of grievances against the King of England. Describe at least ten principles of good government you find in these grievances.|
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