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Chapter 2: Roots of American Democracy

Chapter Overviews

English settlers brought the traditions of representative government with them to the New World. Some principles, such as the Rule of Law, dated back to the Magna Carta of 1215. Others developed over several centuries. The English Parliament, which began in the 1300s, was able to define its powers in the English Bill of Rights (1689). The first permanent English colony—Jamestown—established its own representative body in 1619. Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower drew up a plan for a direct democracy in their new colony.

By 1760 the thirteen colonies had gained valuable experience in self-government. However, Britain's new policies and the French and Indian War created tension between the colonies and Great Britain. The colonists rejected the many new taxes passed by Parliament. By April 1775, British soldiers and Americans had clashed in battle at Lexington and Concord. By July 1776, the delegates to the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain.

Each of the states wrote its own state constitution. A union of the states was agreed upon, and in 1777 the Articles of Confederation was passed. Although this form of government achieved the successful completion of the Revolutionary War, it also had many weaknesses. By 1787 another meeting in Philadelphia was called. This time, delegates were to revise the Articles of Confederation.

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