Democratic principles

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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

enforce rules.

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

United States.

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.

Colonial Government

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.

Glorious Revolution

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

the people.

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.

Colonies Revolt

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

their independence.

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.

Constitutional Convention

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

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

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

highest court.

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 Amendments

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!

State Government

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


Early History

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.

Oregon Territory

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

Washington Territory.

Washington Territory

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


State Constitution

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.

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