Chap 3 ROOTS of American Democracy   Civics, Mr. Pahl


What to study


Religious and Classical Roots

From Judeo-Christian religious traditions:

Judaism-create a just society based on respect for the law.

Christianity - Equality in the eyes of God

It appears in these important documents:

  1. George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776)
  2. Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779)
  3. James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785)


Mason, Jefferson, Madison…

The hinge of the argument in each document is a fact of Jewish and Christian faith: that each individual conscience stands in the presence of its Creator.

Further, each individual owes a primordial duty to her or his Creator. This duty is of so intimate a nature that no other person can perform it in that individual’s place. … inalienable…


Christianity and Judaism

Michael Novak says “This particular … view is held by only two religions. It is not found in Buddhism nor in Hinduism; not in animism nor in pantheism; not in the religions of the ancient Greeks or Romans; nor in the religions of the Incas or the Mayans; and not even in that one other religion which also recognized a Creator separate from the created world, Islam…”


Judeo-Christian Roots

Only Judaism and Christianity among all world religions developed these concepts necessary to the American conception of rights:

There is a Creator and Governor of the universe

Each individual owes a personal accounting to this Creator (prior to all claims of civil society or state) and

that this inalienable relation between each individual and his Creator occurs in the depths of conscience and reason, and is not reached merely by external bows…or other ritual observances.


Natural Law

What is “Natural Law”?

Above human laws, a universal set of moral principles that can be applied to any culture or system of justice.

Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas said  these natural laws could be found using  reason & an inborn sense of right/wrong.


Greeks and Romans

From the Greeks:

Direct Democracy - New England town meetings.

From Rome:

Representative Government

Civic Virtue. Willingness to serve one’s country.


English Roots of American Democracy

Colonists wanted the “rights of Englishmen” found in 3 documents:

The Magna Carta, 1512

a. Defined the rights and duties of English nobles

b. Set limits on the monarch’s power. (Rule of law, not men)

The Petition of Right, 1628. Parliament limited the power of King Charles I.   Limited Government

The English Bill of Rights, 1689 (Part of the Glorious Revolution)

the right to petition the king

the right to bear arms

freedom from cruel and unusual punishments

the right to trial by jury

The right to hold elections without royal interference.

established the power of Parliament over the king.


English Enlightenment Thinkers

Social-contract theory

Hobbes Leviathan, life in the state of nature was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

To escape from this misery, Hobbes argued, people entered into a social contract.

Locke agreed. In the state of nature, all people were equal and had natural rights

These rights include the right to life itself, to liberty, to property

Locke agreed that the social contract was provisional.


French Enlightenment Thinkers

Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws

Separation of Powers

Rousseau. Social contract must be based on Popular Sovereignty. (general will of the people.)

Many colonial leaders agreed with Rousseau that government should be based on the will of the people.

Thomas Paine, Common Sense


Colonial Experience with Self Government

Most of the 13 colonies were established under royal charters issued by the king.

The Mayflower Compact.

New England - Town Meeting.

By the early 1700s, most colonies had gov- Governor, legislative, and judicial branches. Gov appt by king.

The legislatures-2 house. The upper house appointed by the governor. The lower house was an elected assembly

The first elected assembly in the colonies was Virginia’s House of Burgesses, 1619..

They also affirmed the principle that the colonists could not be taxed except by their elected representatives.

“Benign Neglect” to Armed Rebellion

In the 1760s, Britain ended “benign neglect.”

Britain won the French and Indian War in 1763.

To pay for it, Stamp Act. 1765.

The colonists were outraged.

“No taxation without representation,”

March 5, 1770, Boston Massacre.

1773 Boston Tea Party.

1774 First Continental Congress, called for peaceful opposition to British policies.



Decision to Declare Independence

2nd Continental Congress, reluctant, but…

Thomas Jefferson.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The Declaration says that if a government fails to protect people’s rights, the people should abolish it

On July 4, 1776, the members of Congress formally approved the Declaration of Independence.

A Declaration of war on the most powerful nation on earth.


Declaring a New Government in War

War with Britain.

By the war’s end, many Americans were skeptical of Congress’s ability to govern the new nation.

Some wanted to make George Washington king!

Articles of Confederation


Constitutional Convention

On May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention began.

James Madison, father of the Constitution.

The 55 delegates, prominent white guys.


Compromise on Representation

Const Convention stuck.

Virginia Plan. Bicameral. both - representation to be based on population.

New Jersey Plan. Unicameral. equal representation.



Other Compromises

The Three-Fifths Compromise


Northerners-Let Congress control trade.

Southerners-crap, there goes our slaves.

Compromise. Congress could not outlaw the slave trade until 1808.


Federalists and Anti-Federalists

Feds: Wanted strong national government

Anti-Feds: Wanted a Bill of Rights

Federalist Papers.  Written to convince the states to vote FOR the Constitution.

Promise of a Bill of Rights: By the Federalists, made to the Anti-federalists, which led to...



First Congress

Adding the Bill of Rights


Va. the 11th state