Event Summary 1 The Jamestown Settlement In 1606 King James I of England granted a group of investors known as the Virginia Company a charter to set up a colony in North America. The following year, settlers started the Jamestown Colony in Virginia. The land was swampy, mosquitoes spread malaria, and food shortages were a real problem. Many colonists died as a result of the harsh living conditions in the Jamestown Colony, but the Colony survived and eventually began to make money by growing and exporting tobacco. In 1619, the Virginia Company gave some Jamestown settlers a voice in government. Male settlers could vote for representatives, who met in an assembly called the House of Burgesses. The House of Burgesses marked the start of representative government in the colonies, and members of the House passed laws and guidelines for moral behavior that would ensure the survival of the Jamestown settlers.
Event Summary 2 The Massachusetts Bay Colony The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by a group of English Protestants called Puritans in 1620. The Puritans were very strict about the practice of religion, and several settlers left to found their own colonies in the New England Area. The original colony was governed by the Mayflower Compact which helped to establish self-government in America. New England included the northeast colonies that were to become Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The New England area had a harsh climate, with a short growing season and bitter winters. Farms tended to be small because the land was made mostly of hills and valleys, and most families lived by planting their own crops. Religion was extremely important to the Puritan settlers, and religious leaders set strict rules for moral and religious life.
Event Summary 3 The Great Awakening Religion played an important role in the development of the 13 English colonies. An emotion-packed Christian movement swept through the colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, and the movement became known as the Great Awakening. It began because some Christians believed that there had been a decline of religious zeal in the colonies. The Great Awakening led to the rise of many new organized churches, and this increased tolerance of religious differences. It affected the way people viewed their political rights and their governments, and people eventually realized that if they had religious freedom, then they could also decide how to govern themselves.
Event Summary 4 The Enlightenment The Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, took place between the 18th and early 19th centuries in Western Europe and the newly established United States. The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that advocated reason as the basis of authority. The Scientific Revolution was a very important part of the Enlightenment that emphasized reason, science, rationality, and natural law. The leaders of the Enlightenment believed they could lead their nations to progress after a long period of tyranny and superstition that was associated with the Middle Ages. Many Enlightenment thinkers, such as John Locke and Montesquieu, helped create the framework for the American and French Revolutions by writing and speaking boldly about challenging authority and creating responsible governments and social contracts. The idea of individual people assuming responsibility for their own government was a very new idea, and the idea that it was the responsibility of citizens and ordinary people to overthrow oppressive governments was one of the reasons that the American Colonies revolted against the English Crown.
Event Summary 5 The Declaration of Independence The United States Declaration of Independence was an act of the Second Continental Congress adopted on July 4, 1776, which declared that the colonies were independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain (England). The document, formally entitled The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America, was written mostly by Thomas Jefferson and explained justifications for separation from England. At the time when the Declaration was issued, the American colonies were united in declaring their independence from England, but were not yet declaring themselves to be a single nation. The Preamble of the Declaration was influenced by the spirit of republicanism, which was used as the basic framework for liberty. In addition, it reflects Enlightenment ideas and concepts such as those that were proposed by political thinkers like John Locke.
Event Summary 6 The Articles of Confederation The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, commonly known as the Articles of Confederation, was the first governing document, or constitution, of the United States of America. The final draft was written in the summer of 1777 and adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777 after a year of debate. The Articles set the rules for operations of the United States and allowed Congress to make war, print money, and borrow inside and outside the United States. However, the Articles of Confederation did not allow Congress to tax citizens, and the federal government had to request money from the states. The inability to levy taxes was a severe weakness of the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles Congress could make decisions, but it had no power to enforce them. There was a requirement for unanimous approval before any modifications or changes would be made to the Articles.
Event Summary 7 The Ratification of the Constitution The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. It was adopted in its original form on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philidelphia, Pennsylvania, and later ratified by conventions in each state in the name of “the people.” The United States Constitution is the oldest written national constitution and has a central place in American law and political culture. Benjamin Franklin thought that the Constitution should only be ratified if all of the states agreed unanimously to accept it, but it was decided at the Constitutional Convention that only nine states would be needed for it to go into effect. There was intense argument over ratification in many of the states, but New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution. On March 4, 1789, the government under the Constitution of the United States of America began operations.
Event Summary 8 The Bill of Rights The United States Bill of rights consists of the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. An amendment is a change or addition to the original Constitution. These amendments limit the powers of the federal government, protecting the rights of all citizens, residents, and visitors on United States territory. Some of the rights that these amendments guarantee are: the freedoms of speech, press, and religion; the people’s right to keep and bear arms; the freedom of assembly; the freedom to petition; and the rights to be free of unreasonable search and seizure; cruel and unusual punishment; and compelled self incrimination. The Bill of Rights also restricts Congress’ power by prohibiting it from making any law respecting the establishment of religion and by prohibiting the federal government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. These amendments came into effect on December 15, 1791, when ratified by three-fourths of the States. The Bill of Rights plays a central role in American law and government, and remains a fundamental symbol of the freedoms and culture of the United States of America.