A case for the connection of America’s colonial and revolutionary religious and political experiences to the basic principles of the Constitution can be readily made. One point in favor of this conclusion is the fact that most Americans at that time had little beside their experiences on which to base their political ideas. This is due to the lack of advanced schooling among common Americans at that time. Other points also concur with the main idea and make the theory of the connection plausible.
Much evidence to support this claim can be found in the wording of the Constitution itself. Even the Preamble has an important idea that arose from the Revolutionary period. The first line of the Preamble states, We the People of the United States… .” This implies that the new government that was being formed derived its sovereignty from the people, which would serve to prevent it from becoming corrupt and disinterested in the people, as the framers believed Britain’s government had become. If the Bill of Rights is considered, more supporting ideas become evident. The First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom could have been influenced by the colonial tradition of relative religious freedom. This tradition was clear even in the early colonies, like Plymouth, which was formed by Puritan dissenters from England seeking religious freedom. Roger Williams, the proprietor of Rhode Island, probably made an even larger contribution to this tradition by advocating and allowing complete religious freedom. William Penn also contributed to this idea in Pennsylvania, where the Quakers were tolerant of other denominations.
In addition to the tradition of religious tolerance in the colonies, there was a tradition of self-government and popular involvement in government. Nearly every colony had a government with elected representatives in a legislature, which usually made laws largely without interference from Parliament or the king. Jamestown, the earliest of the colonies, had an assembly, the House of Burgesses, which was elected by the property owners of the colony. Maryland developed a system of government much like Britain’s, with a representative assembly, the House of Delegates, and the governor sharing power. The Puritan colony in Massachusetts originally had a government similar to a corporate board of directors with the first eight stockholders, called freemen” holding power. Later, the definition of freemen” grew to include all male citizens, and the people were given a strong voice in their own government.
This tradition of religious and political autonomy continued into the revolutionary period. In 1765, the colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress, which formed partly because the colonists believed that the government was interfering too greatly with the colonies’ right to self-government. Nine colonies were represented in this assembly. The Sons of Liberty also protested what they perceived to be excessive interference in local affairs by Parliament, terrorizing British officials in charge of selling the hated stamps. Events like these served to strengthen the tradition of self-government that had become so deeply embedded in American society.
The from of government specified by the Constitution seems to be a continuation of this tradition. First, the Constitution specifies a federal system of government, which gives each individual state the right to a government. Second, it specifies that each state shall be represented in both houses of Congress. The lower house, the House of Representative, furthermore, is to be directly elected by the people. If the Bill of Rights is considered, the religious aspect of the tradition becomes apparent. The First Amendment states, “Congress may make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… ,” showing that, unlike the British government, the new US government had no intention of naming or supporting a state church or suppressing any religious denominations.
In conclusion, the Constitution’s basic principles are directly related to the long tradition of self-rule and religious tolerance in colonial and revolutionary America.Words
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