General George Washington leading his men across the Delaware River. It was on a cold winter's morning when he made this journey.
Getty Images, Inc./The Image Bank, painting by Emanuel Leutze, Neg. #70000640
From the time the British established
Jamestown in 1607 to the signing of the
Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776, Great
Britain controlled the eastern United States. The
American colonists’ victory over Great Britain in
the Revolutionary War ended British control
over the 13 colonies.
Ever since we gained our independence,
democracy has been good to Americans.
Democracy is a system of self-government. Under
this system, the people are the decision-makers.
The United States of America has been a republic
for over 200 years.
As a republic, the citizen governs by voting.
The voters elect the people they want to represent
them. These public officials answer to the voter.
The elected officials, representing the voter, make
the decisions on how to govern our country.
This republic form of democracy has allowed
the United States of America to become the most
powerful nation in the world. Our government
must be flexible to meet the changing needs of
the American people.
The United States Constitution sets the basic
structure and flexibility of the federal
government. These principles and guidelines
also apply to the state government of
Washington. In order to understand state
government you must first understand the
federal government. So, let us begin.
First, we must go back in time. For most of
human history, people did not have organized
forms of government. People who had the power
to make and enforce the rules formed their own
governments. Obviously some governments
function better and more fairly than others.
Successful governments must provide rules
for their citizens. They must also be flexible
enough to adapt to the changing needs of their
citizens and the events of their time. If they
cannot be flexible the government will not be
able to stand the test of time.
Whether they admit it or not, people need a
form of government. In fact you may actually set
rules for yourself. Certainly your parents
establish rules for you to follow, and these rules
may or may not be enforced. Your classroom
teacher, coach, and school principal make and
Registered voters who live in your
community elect officials. These elected officials
organize local, county, and state governments.
Because you live in a democracy, you may
participate in government. Government is a
necessary and valuable part of our lives in the
Generally, throughout human history an
individual has controlled groups of people.
Monarchs ruled their subjects. The king or queen
and the Church set the rules and laws for the
people living under his or her control. The people
did not make the rules or share in the decisions
that affected their lives.
Finally in 1215, the people of England forced
their monarch to sign a document called the
Magna Charta. King John I signed this landmark
document. For the first time some power was
given to the people to make laws and decisions.
Ever since, the people have gained more power
to establish their own rules and laws. Modern
democracy may have begun with King John I’s
signing of the Magna Charta.
About 50 years after the Magna Charta,
English nobles created the Parliament in London.
The English monarchy continued to lose power.
The common people slowly began to gain power.
The British government controlled the
American colonies from 1607 to 1776. British
monarchs and Great Britain’s Parliament set
and enforced the laws for their colonies.
Think of people thousands of miles away
from you making the rules for your household.
Imagine that they know little about you, your
environment, and your life style. This was the
situation in colonial America.
The colonies had limited freedoms and
powers. In an attempt to take control, each colony
formed its own government. In 1619, the colony
of Virginia created the House of Burgesses. The
House of Burgesses allowed the Virginia
colonists to make and enforce their own laws.
In 1620, the pilgrims wrote and signed the
Mayflower Compact. This document formed a
democratic government. The Plymouth Colony
eventually joined the Massachusetts Bay Colony
to form the colony of Massachusetts.
Other colonies made major contributions to
our present government. In 1639, the first written
constitution was enacted by the colony of
Connecticut. This constitution was entitled “The
Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.” Maryland
passed its Maryland Toleration Act in 1649. This
act established religious freedom and separated
church and state.
By separating church and state, the colonists
hoped to keep religion out of politics. Laws
would not be based on religious beliefs. This was
the way it was in many other systems of
government around the world.
Over the next 30 years, other American
colonies created and formed their own forms of
governments. This continued until the Glorious
Revolution of 1688-1689.
The Glorious Revolution is also called the
Bloodless Revolution in English history. The
events of 1688-1689 changed England forever.
King James II was removed from power.
Parliament requested William III and Mary II to
take the English throne. More importantly the
Parliament created a document that changed the
balance of power in British government.
This document, the Declaration of Rights
and the Bill of Rights (1689), redefined the
relationship between monarchs and those they
ruled. This document also barred any future
Catholic king or queen. This was the first
successful attempt to separate church and state.
These historical events shifted power from the
monarch to Parliament. At the same time, they
granted more individual rights and freedoms to
One hundred years later the American people
passed our American Bill of Rights. Our Bill of
Rights expanded the individual rights of
Americans. It followed the example set forth by
the British as we attempted to establish our own
form of democracy.
American colonists were upset with British
rule. Great Britain and the American colonists
were heading for a collision. From 1763 to 1776,
numerous conflicts broke out between the British
and the colonies. The major question centered
around who had the right to govern the colonists.
Would it be the monarch, the Parliament, or the
American colonists themselves?
A series of disputes erupted between the
colonists and the British government. King
George III established the Proclamation Line in
1763. This restricted the colonists from moving
into the Ohio River Valley. Parliament passed
stamp and tea acts. These taxes angered the
colonists. They claimed, “…taxation without
representation…” was illegal and unfair. The
colonists were upset that they were not allowed
a say in the laws and taxes placed upon them.
Colonists opposed and protested these taxes
and other British laws. One response was led by
Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. Disguised as
Indians they boarded a ship in Boston’s harbor
on the night of December 16, 1773. Protesting the
tea tax, they threw the cargo of tea overboard.
The “Boston Tea Party” reflected the colonists
anger and resolve.
The British answered the rebellious colonists
by passing more acts. The Intolerable Acts
punished Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party
by closing the port of Boston. To make matters
worse, “Common Sense” was written and
published by Thomas Paine. His pamphlet
insighted the colonists against British rule. It
also encouraged American separation and
independence from Great Britain.
In April 1775, the military conflict began
between the British and the colonies. The
American Revolutionary War began with the
battles of Lexington and Concord. The colonies
fought Great Britain for eight years before earning
The Revolutionary War ended with the
signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The colonists
had finally achieved their freedom from Great
Britain. Yet, even while the war was being fought,
our Founding Fathers were trying to form a new
government. They had been confident that the
colonists would be victorious in battle.
Declaration of Independence
George Washington requested a fellow
Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, to draft the
Declaration of Independence. For more than 20
years, Jefferson had researched and studied other
forms of governments used around the world.
He, like most Americans, strongly believed
in the rights of the people. Jefferson wrote that
each individual had what he called
“…unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The
colonists had officially declared war on Great
Britain in order to achieve freedom and
independence from British rule on July 4, 1776.
This document established the foundation of
our new republic.
Articles of Confederation
After the official declaration of war, the
United States needed to organize a government.
It did not matter whether they would be
victorious or not. They realized that some form
of government was necessary until the outcome
of the war was clear.
The Articles of Confederation were quickly
drafted and approved by the original 13 colonies.
The Articles of Confederation provided the
American people with a government from 1777
to 1787. The Articles gave more power to the
individual states than to the central government.
This was one major weakness of the Articles of
Confederation and needed to be revised.
In May 1787, fifty-five men, called delegates,
arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to rewrite
the Articles of Confederation. The delegates
finally realized it was better and easier to write
a new constitution than repair the flaws of the
Articles of Confederation.
James Madison was the intellectual leader of
the convention. He and other delegates devised
a plan to create a new and stronger form of
“national” government. The issue was how to
end their revision of the Articles of Confederation
and write a new constitution.
By June, the delegates had made little if no
progress. Neither side would budge from its
political views. Benjamin Franklin, the senior
member of the delegation, advised the delegates
that a compromise was needed to save the
convention and the new country.
After Franklin’s words of advice, the
delegates realized they had to compromise on
four major issues. Compromise means that the
different sides of an issue must give in on some
of their demands. If each is willing to
compromise, it is more likely that progress can
be made. At some time or another you have
surely compromised in your own life.
The results of the convention were: the
Great Compromise, the Three-fifths
Compromise, the presidency, and development
of a system for trade and tariffs. These
compromises allowed the founding fathers to
finish the United States Constitution. They then
offered it to the people on September 17, 1787.
The United States Constitution had to be
formally approved, or ratified, by nine of the
original 13 states. Each delegate went home to
convince the citizens of his state to ratify the
document. To help the citizens better understand
the document, a series of articles were published.
These articles are known as The Federalist Papers.
The Federalist Paperswere to play an important
role in convincing the people to accept the
Constitution. It was accepted on June 21, 1788.
The ninth state, New Hampshire, ratified the
document on that date. All 13 states eventually
ratified the Constitution. Rhode Island, the last
state to ratify, approved it on May 29, 1790.
The Constitution may not have been ratified
if not for the addition of our Bill of Rights. The
Bill of Rights were the first ten amendments, or
changes, to the United States Constitution, and
they were officially ratified in 1791.
What is the Constitution? How did it establish
and control the power of our government? How
has it endured for more than 200 years with only
a few changes?
The Constitution is considered one of the
most important documents ever written. The
document is organized into three parts. They are
the preamble, the body, and the amendments.
The Constitution has become part of the
fabric of our country. The Constitution
guarantees our freedoms. We protect these
freedoms at all costs. Americans will fight to
maintain their freedom and individual liberties.
The decisions of our government represent the
will of the majority. However, the rights of the
minority, or the group with fewer numbers, are
also to be protected. This is why the Constitution
is necessary in our democracy. Let us examine
the Constitution more closely.
The Preamble is the first paragraph. It consists
of one sentence of 52 words. The Preamble
identifies the six purposes of the United States
Constitution. The first purpose is to form a more
perfect union. Second is to establish justice. Third
is to insure domestic tranquility. Fourth is to
provide for the common defense. Fifth is to
promote the general welfare. Finally, the sixth is
to secure the blessings of liberty.
The body of the Constitution identifies the
basic structure of the federal government. It also
describes its functions. The body has been
organized into seven articles. Each article defines
a specific aspect of our federal government. The
first three articles describe the separate branches
of the federal government.
Article I — Legislative Branch
The legislative branch makes federal laws.
The legislative branch, or Congress, is bicameral.
Bicameral simply means “to divide into two
houses.” The Upper House is called the Senate.
The Lower House is called the House of
Article II — Executive Branch
The executive branch enforces the laws. All
bills passed by Congress are either signed into
law or vetoed by the president. The president is
the chief executive of the executive branch.
Article III — Judicial Branch
The Judicial Branch interprets federal laws
passed by Congress and signed by the president.
The United States Supreme Court is the nation’s
Article IV —Relations Among the States
This article discusses specific duties and
powers given to the states.
Article V — Amending Process
This article describes the procedures for
changing, or amending, the United States
Constitution. The two step procedure includes
two ways to propose and ratify amendments.
Article VI — General Provisions
This article is also known as the supreme law
of the land. The Constitution is the supreme law
in the United States. State constitutions must
comply with the United States Constitution.
Article VII—Ratification of the Constitution
This article states that nine of the original 13
states had to ratify the Constitution.
The third part of the United States
Constitution contains the 27 constitutional
amendments. Each amendment follows strict
procedures established in Article V. Actually,
the 27 amendments are split into two different
The first set of amendments is known as the
Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was the first set
of amendments added to the Constitution in
1791. These ten amendments insure the
individual’s freedoms and rights.
The other amendments followed ratification
of the Constitution. Amendments 11 through 27
are actual changes to the original document. It is
amazing that the Constitution has had only 17
changes over the past two centuries!
We have briefly identified the various types
of government under which the American people
have been governed. We have also discussed a
few basic democratic principles. These principles
are the foundation of our federal government.
How do those principles apply to Washington
state? The remainder of this chapter will describe
the development of the Washington state
The earliest residents living in what is now
Washington did not live under an organized
government. Did these people live under some
rules, procedures, and laws? Yes, but not a clear
system of government. They lived with rules
that were set by the community or family. These
rules were set by a few individuals.
Native Americans selected individuals to
make the important decisions for the tribe. A
tribal chieftain and a council of elders made
tribal decisions. Others who came to the region
also singled out individuals to be their decisionmakers.
Captains of ships would often make
decisions affecting entire crews. Rarely did they
seek advice or input. A single chosen leader also
led overland expeditions. Meriwether Lewis,
for example, was in charge of the Corp of
Discovery. Even the directors of fur companies
had authority over the fur trappers and traders
working for the company. Mission directors also
controlled the decisions made by their
missionaries. Wagon masters on the Oregon
Trail held authority over the wagon trains.
From 1818 to 1846, Great Britain and the
United States claimed the Oregon Country.
Neither country could claim it entirely as their
own. Therefore, there was no formal or legal
government. This all changed with the death of
one man. In the early 1840s, Ewing Young’s
death caused the residents of the Willamette
Valley to address the issue of being without legal
Ewing Young had been the richest person in
the area. He had no known heirs to his fortune.
The question asked by the residents was who
had the power to divide his money and property?
To settle this issue, the settlers organized a
temporary government. From 1843 to 1848, the
Oregon Provisional Government was set up in
the Willamette Valley. This still left the rest of the
Oregon Country without any government.
The signing of the Treaty of Oregon in 1846
divided the Oregon Country into two portions.
Both would be formed along the 49th Parallel.
The treaty allowed Great Britain to claim
Vancouver Island and the land north of the 49th
Parallel. The land south of the 49th Parallel and
Strait of Juan de Fuca went to the United States.
With the Treaty of Oregon, the United States
had legal claim to the southern portion of the
Oregon Country. However, this area still had no
form of government. This changed on November
29, 1847. The brutal attack on the Whitmans, the
killing of eleven others, and the kidnapping of
45 women and children shocked Congress, as
well as the entire nation.
How could this have happened? The federal
government knew it was important for people to
move west. In doing so, the settlers needed
protection from attack. This led to a movement
to create a new territory called Oregon.
By creating the Oregon Territory, Congress
was finally able to bring government to a region
in great need of order. The new territorial
government provided protection for the settlers.
It also provided other benefits. The government
provided the territory with a governor, a
legislature, a court system, and the territorial
capital. The capital was first located in Oregon
City in the Willamette River valley.
In 1853, the territorial capital was moved
south to Salem. Residents living north of the
Columbia River protested this move. This action
made participation in government more difficult
for them. Residents in the northern area decided
to separate from the Oregon Territory. Northern
residents asked Congress to create the
When Congress passed the Organic Act of
1853, it separated the Washington Territory from
the Oregon Territory. The new territorial
government of Washington was organized
similar to our federal government. The basic
principles of separation of power, separation of
church and state, and a system of checks and
balances were all built into the government of
the Washington Territory. It was decided that
the new capital of the Washington Territory
would be Olympia.
Washington’s legislative branch included a
bicameral Legislative Assembly. The upper
house was called the Council. The Council had
between nine and twelve members. The lower
house was called the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives had between 18
and 30 members. The Legislative Assembly
passed Washington’s territorial laws. The laws
had to be reviewed by the United States Congress
before being enacted into law.
Territorial courts were established to
interpret the laws enacted by Congress and the
Legislative Assembly. There were obvious
drawbacks to being a territory instead of a state.
Only one delegate represented a territory. These
delegates could only speak on issues. They had
no vote in Congress. Territorial governors were
not elected officials. They were appointed by the
president of the United States. These factors
severely limited the power of the territory.
In order to apply for statehood, a territory
had to have a population over 125,000. The
Indian Wars, from 1847 to 1877, had a negative
impact on growth in the Washington Territory.
People were afraid for their lives. In order to
protect people from getting hurt or even killed,
the government closed the Washington Territory
to settlement. This greatly slowed the population
growth and the chance to apply for statehood.
Soon after the Indian peace treaties were
signed, the Washington Territory was reopened
to settlement. Fishers, farmers, loggers, and
miners all moved west to the growing job market
in Washington. This allowed the population of
the territory to grow quickly. These new residents
wanted the same protection as in other states.
For this reason and others, they pushed Congress
for statehood. The Washington Territory existed
from March 2, 1853 to November 11, 1889.
It was in the late 1870s that residents living in
the Washington Territory began asking Congress
for statehood. In 1878, a constitutional convention
was held in Walla Walla. They met to write a
state constitution. The newly written constitution
was voted on and approved by the voters of
Washington. However, it was rejected by
Congress. It was rejected because our population
was too small. Congress required territories to
have at least 125,000 people living in the region.
After a decade of rapid growth, the residents
of the territory again petitioned Congress for
statehood. Congress passed the Enabling Act in
1889. This act gave Washington permission to
draft a new state constitution and reapply for
Delegates began drafting a new state
constitution July 4, 1889. The 75 delegates worked
through the summer to complete it. Washington
voters passed the revised constitution on
October 1, 1889. Congress passed the Omnibus
Bill admitting Washington as the 42nd state of the
Union. It was signed by President Benjamin
Harrison on November 11, 1889. After 36 years
as a territory, Washington was finally a state.
Olympia, the territorial capital, became the state
The values expressed in the United States
Constitution are also important to the
Washington State Constitution. The federal
government and Washington state government
are very similar. However, there are several
differences in the two constitutional documents.
The United States Constitution is a short and
flexible document. Washington’s constitution is
lengthy, detailed, and less flexible.
The Preamble of the Constitution states six
purposes in one 52-word sentence. In contrast,
Washington’s preamble is a short 16-word
statement with only a single purpose.
The body of the Constitution is tightly
organized into only seven articles. Washington’s
constitution has 33 loosely written articles.
To amend the United States Constitution,
Congress or national conventions must make
proposals. State legislatures or conventions need
to ratify, or approve, the amendment. Remember,
the Constitution has only been amended 27 times
over the last 210 years. In contrast, Washington’s
constitution has been amended more than 70
times in just over 100 years!
The process to amend Washington’s
constitution is quite simple compared to the
national constitution. All that is needed is a
proposed amendment by the state legislature
with the approval or rejection of a simple majority
of voters. A simple majority means a margin of
one vote can either determine the approval or
defeat of an amendment.
The organization, structure, and function of
Washington’s government is similar to that of
the United States federal government.
The Washington State Constitution
establishes three branches of government. The
legislative branch has a two house legislative
system with a House of Representatives and a
Senate. The executive branch’s chief executive is
the directly elected governor. The judicial branch
is the state court system. This includes the highest
state court, the State Supreme Court. These three
branches are present at every level of our state
How our government operates at the
national, state, county, and local levels will be
discussed in the upcoming chapter. We will
discuss the similarities and differences, as well
as how each of these levels affect our daily lives.