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"Discourses Concerning Government" (1680)
Englishman Algernon Sydney wrote the following in "Discourses Concerning Government": "... the principle of liberty in which God created us ... includes the chief advantages of the life we enjoy, as well as the greatest helps towards felicity, that is the end of our hopes in the other. ...God leaves to Man the choice of Forms in Government; and those who constitute one Form, may abrogate it. ...The general revolt of a Nation cannot be called a Rebellion. ...Laws and constitutions ought to be weighed ... to constitute that which is most conducing to the establishment of justice and liberty. A civil society is composed of equals, and fortified by mutual compacts."

The Declaration of Independence was written during the Third Continental Congress, and declared America to be independent from Britain. Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft, based on previous declarations from the earlier Continental Congresses.

"All Men Are Created Equal"
It was during the Third Continental Congress that Thomas Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" with "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)
The Declaration of Independence was adopted and boldly signed by the president of congress, John Hancock, on July 4, 1776. Most of the other delegates signed it on August 2nd.

On June 7, 1776, in addition to the resolution for independence, Richard Henry Lee moved that "a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration." The committee members were: Samuel Adams, Josiah Bartlett, John Dickinson (chairman), Button Gwinnett, Joseph Hewes, Stephen Hopkins, Francis Hopkinson, Robert R. Livingston, Thomas McKean, Thomas Nelson, Edward Rutledge, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Stone.

Articles of Confederation (1777)
The Articles of Confederation were based upon Ben Franklin’s Albany Union Plan

Delay in ratification of Articles due to war (1781)
The Articles of Confederation did not come into force until state ratification in 1781, over three years after Congress approved it. It took a long time to ratify the Articles of Confederation because the colonists were busy fighting the War of Independence, which officially ended with the Paris Peace Treaty in 1783.

Powers given to federal government by the Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation gave Congress the power to deal with foreign countries and to declare war, and to coin and borrow money and to operate post offices.

Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation did not give Congress the power to tax, make paper money, or enforce its laws or even attendance; and it needed all states to agree in order to make amendments. The Articles of Confederation also lacked the ability to regulate commerce, so in 1787 a constitutional convention was convened to strengthen it.

The Articles of Confederation provided the first constitutional form of federal government for the United States of America, though it quickly proved to be too weak. The Continental Army continually lacked proper funding for food and clothing because state funding was voluntary.

All States at Constitutional Convention except Rhode Island (1787)
The Constitutional Convention included delegates from all states except Rhode Island.

Algernon Sydney wrote, "...we are not to seek what government was the first, but what best provides for the obtaining of justice, and preservation of liberty. ...Laws and constitutions ought to be weighed, and whilst all due reverence is paid to such as are good, every nation may not only retain in itself a power of changing or abolishing all such as are not so, but ought to exercise that power according to the best of their understanding, and in the place of what was either first mistaken or afterwards corrupted, to constitute that which is most conducing to the establishment of justice and liberty. ...If virtue may in any respect be said to outlive the person, it can only be when good men frame such laws and constitutions as by favoring it preserve themselves. This has never been done otherwise, than by balancing the powers in such a manner, that the corruption which one or a few men might fall into, should not be suffered to spread the contagion to the ruin of the whole."

Continental Congress voted to form a new constitution
Amending the Articles of Confederation in 1786 wasn’t effective enough, so they voted to create a new form of national government separated into three branches to provide checks and balances on power.

Constitution based upon James Madison’s Virginia Plan
The Constitution of the United States of America is based upon James Madison’s Virginia Plan which he had presented to Washington a month prior to the conference. Madison also helped prepare the final version of the Constitution, which was adopted by Congress in 1787.

The architect of the Constitution was James Madison. He was on the "Committee of Style" along with Virginia’s governor, Edmund Randolph, who presented the Virginia plan to Congress and wrote out the first rough draft of the Constitution. The final version of the Constitution was handwritten by Gouverneur Morris. Though many minds and hands were involved in composing the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson was NOT one of them.

Thomas Jefferson was not involved in writing the Constitution
Thomas Jefferson, who was serving abroad as ambassador to France, did not attend the Constitutional Convention.

Those for and against state approval of Constitution
To obtain its approval by the states, several delegates began writing newspaper articles, which later became known as The Federalist Papers. Those who opposed ratification of the Constitution (because it didn't protect state and individual rights) countered with their own articles, which became known as The Anti-Federalist Papers.

Anti-Federalists demanded a Bill of Rights
Though most states had a bill of rights in their own constitutions, they would only ratify the federal Constitution with the assurance that a federal Bill of Rights would then by added to it.

Constitution only needed 9 of the 13 states to make it binding on all states
By 1788 the Constitution was ratified by the ninth state, making it the federal law of all the states.

Federal Bill of Rights (1789)
The next year the new Constitutional Congress submitted 12 proposed constitutional amendments to the states for ratification. Ten were ratified and added to the Constitution in 1791 as the federal Bill of Rights.


Term Definition
abrogate to annul or abolish by authoritative act
amendment a change to a legal document after it has been accepted
Articles of Confederation the first constitution of the United States
boycott refuse to purchase something in order to make a point
constitutional government rule by written agreement between the government and the people, rather than by the whim of those in power
Continental Congress a meeting of the American leaders before and during the War of Independence
independence complete exemption from control
motion a proposition made in an assembly preceded by the words, "I move..."
ratification approval of a contract or law
regulate commerce make laws regarding business deals and transportation