Main Idea: In writing the Constitution, Americans drew on ancient traditions, Enlightenment ideas, and their own experience

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US History

Fort Burrows

7.3 - Ideas behind the Constitution

READ pgs 211 - 214

Main Idea:
In writing the Constitution, Americans drew on ancient traditions, Enlightenment ideas, and their own experience.
Founding Fathers - James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other leaders who

laid the groundwork for the United States
republic - system of government in which citizens choose representatives to

govern them
dictatorship - government in which one person or a small group holds complete

Magna Carta - 1215 British document that contains two basic ideas: Monarchs

themselves have to obey the laws, and citizens have basic rights
English Bill

of Rights - 1689 document that guaranteed the right of English citizens
habeas corpus - the right that no person can be held in prison without first being

charged with a specific crime
separation of - principle by which the powers of government are divided

powers among separate branches
Setting the Scene:
Serving as the ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson did not attend the Constitutional Convention. James Madison, however, kept in touch with his friends in Paris. As Madison prepared for the convention, he asked Jefferson to send whatever books “may throw light” on various governments.

Jefferson sent not five or ten books but hundreds. Some discussed the laws of nations. Others were biographies of important leaders. A French encyclopedia alone came to 37 volumes. In gratitude, Madison shipped Jefferson unusual American plants to show the French. (Jefferson had also asked for a live opossum, but that, alas, Madison could not manage!)

Today, we often refer to Madison, Jefferson, and other leaders who laid the groundwork for the United States as the Founding Fathers. These patriots were well aware that their nation was embarking on a bold experiment. Still, they did not have to invent a government from scratch.
Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams,

Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton
The Lesson of Rome’s Republic

  • Long before the Revolution, John Adams called on Americans to investigate how governments work:

“Let us…search into the spirit of the British constitution; read the

histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece

and Rome; and set before us the conduct of our own British ancestors…”

John Adams, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law

  • Delegates to the Constitutional Convention followed this advice

  • They created a republic and looked to the ancient examples of Greece and Rome

  • The Roman Example

Americans admired the Roman Republic

Independence and public service were virtues they saw in the citizens of Rome

Roman citizens served because they were devoted to their republic, not for $$

  • The Roman Warning

Founding Fathers also saw the collapse of the Roman Republic as a warning

No republic could survive unless citizens remained independent and devoted to public service

Rome eventually became a dictatorship under Caesar Augustus

Rome stumbled when citizens valued luxury/comfort more than independence

Britain’s Traditions of Freedom

  • Despite the quarrel with Britain, leaders of the Revolution valued British traditions of freedom

  • Magna Carta

King John signed Magna Carta in 1215 which contained 2 basic ideas:

  1. English monarchs had to obey the law

  2. English nobles had rights such as rights to private property and the right to trial by jury

  • English Bill of Rights

In 1689, English Bill of Rights went further in protecting the rights of citizens

  1. Elections should be held regularly

  2. Upheld right to trial by jury

  3. Allowed citizens to bear arms

  4. Affirmed the right of habeas corpus

¿¿ What traditions from British government are reflected in the Constitution ? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

1620 Mayflower Compact

The American Experience

  • Americans enjoyed representative government as far back as the House of Burgesses (HOB) in 1619

  • A Constitutional Tradition

Americans were used to relying on written documents that clearly defined powers and limits of government

Mayflower Compact, 1620, was 1st document of self-government in NA

all other colonies had a written charter by the monarch or Parliament

  • The Revolutionary Era

Framers of the Constitution also drew on their own experiences

Founding Fathers remembered their grievances against the English king

Declaration accused king of placing military power above civilian authority

Constitution made President “Commander in Chief of Army and Navy”

Declaration protested that king made judges “dependent on his will alone”

Constitution set-up court system independent of President and legislature

Much that went into the Constitution came from AOC or state constitutions
¿¿ What grievances from the Declaration of Independence are addressed in the Constitution ?

Teachings of the Enlightenment

  • Constitution also based on European Enlightenment

  • Improving society through the use of reason

  • Locke and Natural Rights

English writer, John Locke, declared all people had natural rights to life, liberty and property

Suggested that government is an agreement between the ruler and the ruled

Framers saw Constitution was a contract between the people and their government

  • Montesquieu and the Separation of Powers

French thinker, Baron de Montesquieu, stressed importance of the rule of law

Powers of government should be clearly defined and divided up

Suggested 3 branches: legislative, executive and judicial

Separation of powers did not allow one group to gain too much power

  • From Out of the Old, the New

Founding Fathers drew on traditions but the new system of government was not quite like anything that came before it

John Adams called the Constitution “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen”

1. What 2 things did American leaders learn from studying ancient Rome?

2. What traditions (documents) of freedom did Americans inherit from Great Britain

and from their own colonial past?

GB - _______ ___________________________________________________________

colonial past - ___________________________________________________________
3. How did Enlightenment ideas shape the development of the Constitution?

Locke - __________________________________________________________________ Montesquieu - __________________________________________________________

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