The Constitution and its Roots


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.


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