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Origins of Government 2
For Chapter 2 material just follow the link below.

Chapter Summary

Section 1:        The Colonial Period

Section 2:        Uniting for Independence

Section 3:        The Articles of Confederation

Section 4:        The Constitutional Convention


How did the critical period of the Revolution and the early years of the republic define our basic government institutions?


An English Political Heritage

The English colonists advanced two basic political principles:

  1. 1.      limited government—the concept that a monarch’s power is limited, not absolute

  2. 2.      representative government— a government in which people elect delegates to make laws and conduct government


The Magna Carta came to represent the idea of limited government to protect from:

  1. 1.      unjust punishment and the loss of life, and

  2. 2.      levying of taxes without popular consent.


The Petition of Right limited the power of Charles I by preventing him from collecting tax without Parliament’s consent.

The English Bill of Rights advanced several principles including:

  1. 1.      Monarchs do not have absolute authority.

  2. 2.      The monarch must have Parliament’s consent to suspend laws, levy taxes, and maintain an army.

  3. 3.      The monarch cannot interfere with parliamentary elections.


John Locke’s theory of a social contract was based on natural rights to life, liberty, and property.


Colonial Governments

The English founded thirteen colonies along the eastern coast of North America between 1607 and 1733.

Colonial governments established practices that became key to the nation’s system of government, including:

  • a written constitution

  • a legislature of elected representatives

  • the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature


The Mayflower Compact was the first colonial plan for self-government.

The General Fundamentals was the first system of law in the English colonies.

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut was America’s first formal constitution.

The Virginia House of Burgesses was the first colonial legislature in America.


The Colonies on Their Own

Two events contributed to growing tension between the British government and the colonies:

After success in the French and Indian War, the British government thought that the colonies had an obligation to help pay the war debt.

The Stamp Act of 1756 increased Britain’s revenue but angered the colonists.


The Boston Tea Party was a protest by colonists that led to Parliament passing the Coercive Acts.


Colonial Unity

By the 1760s colonial leaders began to take action against British oppression.

The first meeting organized by colonies to protest the British government was called the Stamp Act Congress.

Committees of correspondence were organized to urge resistance to the British.

The Intolerable Acts prompted Massachusetts and Virginia to organize the First Continental Congress.


Delegates agreed on imposing an embargo, prohibiting trade with Britain.

This led to the first battle of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts.

Delegates from the thirteen colonies gathered for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia and immediately assumed the powers of a central government.



Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution to the Continental Congress declaring the independence of the colonies.

Thomas Jefferson wrote a draft of the Declaration of Independence that was prepared by a congressional committee.

The final draft was approved on July 4 and signed by all 56 delegates.


The Declaration of Independence has three parts:

a statement of purpose and basic human rights,

a list of specific complaints against George III, and

a statement of the colonists’ determination to separate from Great Britain.


The Declaration of Independence transformed the colonies into states.

By 1776, 10 states adopted their own written constitutions.


Government Under the Articles of Confederation

By March 1781, all 13 colonies had ratified or approved, the Articles of Confederation.

The central government under the Articles was a unicameral, or single-chamber, legislature.

When the legislature, or Congress, was not in session, the government was run by a Committee of the States.

Each state had one vote in Congress—
no matter its size or population.

Congress had only those powers mentioned in the Articles, such as:

make war and peace,

raise and equip a navy,

maintain an army by asking states for troops, and

regulate Indian affairs.


Weaknesses of the Articles

Because the Articles of Confederation created an ineffective national government, it had several weaknesses:

  • Congress did not have the power to levy or collect taxes.

  • Congress did not have the power to regulate trade.

Congress could only advise and request that states comply with its laws and the Articles.

Laws needed the approval of 9 of the 13 states.

Amending the Articles required all states to agree.


The central government did not have an executive branch.

The government had no national court system.



The Articles established a fair and consistent policy for settling and developing the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Individual states ceded, or yielded, their land claims in the West to the central government.

Congress then passed two land ordinances, or laws, that set out how the lands would be organized.


The Ordinance of 1785 provided for the surveying and division of the territory.

The Ordinance of 1787 provided that once territories reached a certain population, they could achieve equal statehood.

Congress set up the departments of Foreign Affairs, War, Marine, and the Treasury under a single permanent secretary.


The Need for Stronger National Government

After the war, the states faced growing problems.

States quarreled over borders, tariffs and taxes on goods from another state.

The central government owed $40 million to foreign governments and unpaid American soldiers.

The states’ debt led to an economic depression.


Economic troubles led to Shays’s Rebellion–an uprising by armed groups of farmers that forced several courts to close to prevent farm foreclosures.

In 1787 Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who favored stronger national government, persuaded the delegates to hold a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles.


The Convention Begins

In 1787 the Constitutional Convention began work on revising the Articles.

Leaders of the convention included:

George Washington

Benjamin Franklin

James Wilson

Gouveneur Morris

James Madison


Each state would have one vote on all questions and a majority vote of the present states would make decisions.

Convention delegates agreed to abandon the former government and begin again.

The delegates reached a consensus on many basic issues:

All favored limited and representative government.


All agreed that the powers of the national government should be divided among legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

All believed in limiting state power to coin money or interfere with creditors’ rights.

All agreed to strengthen the national government.


Decisions and Compromises

The Virginia Plan introduced 15 resolutions that proposed a government based on three principles:

  • a strong national legislature with two chambers,

  • a strong national executive to be chosen by the national legislature, and

  • a national judiciary to be appointed by the legislature.


The New Jersey Plan called for government based on keeping key features of the Articles including a unicameral legislature with one vote for each state.

Congress would be given the power to impose tax and regulate trade.

A weak executive, of more than one person, would be elected by Congress.

A national judiciary with limited power would be appointed by the executive.


The Connecticut Compromise, which was adopted, suggested a legislative branch with two parts

a House of Representatives, with state representation based on population, and

a Senate, with two members from each state.

The Three-Fifths Compromise stated that instead of counting all slaves when determining representation, only three-fifths were to be counted for both tax purposes and representation.

Another compromise established that Congress had the power to regulate interstate commerce and foreign commerce.



Some Northern states wanted to abolish slavery but compromised knowing that the Southern states would not accept the Constitution if it interfered with slavery.

The Electoral College, in which each state selects electors to choose the president, was established.


A four-year presidential term provided a compromise between those who favored a longer term and those who feared a longer term created too much presidential power.

The Constitution was completed on September 17, 1787 and signed by thirty-nine delegates.


Ratifying the Constitution

The debate over the ratification of the Constitution divided the people of the states into two groups.

The Federalists favored the Constitution and argued that without a strong national government, anarchy, or political disorder, would triumph.


The Anti-Federalists opposed the new Constitution and complained that it was extralegal because Congress authorized the Convention only to revise the Articles.

Anti-Federalists argued that the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights to protect the rights of the states.




 Chapter Summary


English Traditions

The Magna Carta established the principle of limited government

The English Bill of Rights limited the powers of the monarch

House of Commons exemplified representative government


Colonial Independence

Declaration of Independence formally separated colonies from England

Articles of Confederation emphasized state governments over a strong federal government


New Constitutional Government

New government balanced need for strong central government with continued state power

Inclusion of Bill of Rights ensured ratification of new government