Origins of the United States "Discovery" – Title to the Soil
King Henry VII of England turned a cold shoulder upon Christopher Columbus when he asked for financial aid in undertaking a highly speculative voyage in search of India by sailing westward from Europe.
But Henry, a keen and enterprising monarch quickly realized the importance of Columbus’s discover, and in 1496 commissioned John Cabot to go out and discover countries then unknown to Christian people and take possession of them in the name of the English king.
Cabot made two voyages, and by 1498 had sailed along what is now the coast of the United States and claimed it for England.
By tacit agreement, the
European sovereigns rested their respective claims upon priority of discovery.
The natives were regarded as heathens possessing no rights to sovereignty.
Quarrels arose between the European powers over boundary questions, but the British claims based upon right of discovery were made good by sword or treaty, so that ultimately the title to all lands embraced in the thirteen original States was vested in the British crown.
(An excerpt from the United States Constitution Sesquicentennial Commission publication, The Story of the Constitution, 1935).
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“The only title which the nations of Europe had to any part of the American continent was founded on what they called right of discovery. It was difficult to comprehend the justice of this pretense, when it was known that the country was already occupied by a race of men who had been in undisputed possession for untold ages."
(Analysis of Civil Government in the United States, Calvin Townsend, 1869).
The North-American Colonies
In the 1600s British subjects made up the majority of
early settlers, but New York and Delaware were initially
settled by people who emigrated from Holland and Switzerland.
Dates of permanent and independent settlements of the
1607 – Virginia
1614 – New York
1620 – Massachusetts
(originally colony of Plymouth)
1620 – New Jersey
1623 – New Hampshire
1634 – Maryland
1635 – Connecticut
1636 - Rhode Island
1643 – Pennsylvania
1663 – North Carolina
1670- South Carolina
1733 - Georgia
The colonial governments were divided into
Provincial, Proprietary, and Charter.
PROVINCIAL Colony Government
New Hampshire, New York, Virginia,
South Carolina and Georgia.
PROPRIETARY Colony Government
Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.
CHARTER Colony Government
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
(An excerpt from Analysis of Civil Government in
the United States, by Calvin Townsend, 1869).
Because British subjects outnumbered all other immigrants to the colonies under British dominion, they brought with them the traditions of British rights, liberties and immunities, British laws and customs, and the English language. . .
English common law was fairly established when the colonies begun. Some rights and immunities which had been enjoyed from time immemorial were reduced to writing in Magna Charta, which was wrung from King John by barons of England at Runnymede in 1215. . . The liberties and rights of Britons were concessions from kings who ruled as by divine right and were originally seized of all authority.
The governors were, under these governments, regarded as representatives or deputies of the king. The king also appointed a council, having limited legislative authority, who were to assist the governor and council held their offices during the royal pleasure. The governor had authority to convene a general assembly of the representatives of the feeholders and planters of the Province.
The governor, council, and representatives constituted the Provincial Assembly.
Provincial Assembly, constituted of:
1. Representatives – Lower House;
2. The Council – Upper House;
3. The Governor – Had veto power over both houses, and power to prorogue and dissolve them – by approval/disapproval of the crown.
Governor appointed the judges and magistrates.
The meaning of the word proprietary is owner, or proprietor. The general powers were granted by the king, and extended over the whole territory so granted, which became a kind of dependent royalty
The legislature was appointed and convened and organized according to the will of the proprietary. He also had the appointment of officers of every grade.
Lord Baltimore held Maryland, and William Penn held Pennsylvania and Delaware under the Proprietary form of government.
This type of government which is similar to today’s state governments in that they had Constitutions and distributed the powers of government into three departments – legislative, executive and judicial.
They defined the powers of the different branches of the government and secured to the inhabitants certain political privileges and rights.
(Excerpt from the United States Constitution Sesquicentennial Commission publication, The Story of the Constitution, 1935).
The colonies united on September 5, 1774 - as the First Continental Congress. Assembled in Philadelphia, This important body was attended by delegates from the colonies, but unlike the future U.S. Constitution, the representation of the people was indirect.
Before the Congress adjourned on October 26, 1774, it provided for another meeting of Congress to address any further foreign or domestic issues.
The Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia May 10, 1775. It passed the Declaration of Independence, and continued in session until the close of the Revolutionary War. The new Congress assembled under the U.S. Constitution.
During this time, hostilities had begun and the Minute Men of New England were besieging the British forces in Boston. The delegates were much the same as in the earlier Congress, and they realized the need of assuming the war power necessary to carry on the conflict . . . Independence, national standing, confederation, and State rights were conjoined speedily (The Story of the Constitution, p.13).
1777 - Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union written
1787 Convention to revise Articles of Confederation, which resulted in the U.S. Constitution:
Excerpt from Center for legislative archives for records of Congress :
Seventy-four delegates were appointed to the convention, of which 55 actually attended sessions. Rhode Island was the only state that refused to send delegates. Dominated by men wedded to paper currency, low taxes, and popular government, Rhode Island's leaders refused to participate in what they saw as a conspiracy to overthrow the established government. Other Americans also had their suspicions.
Patrick Henry, of the flowing red Glasgow cloak and the magnetic oratory, refused to attend, declaring he "smelt a rat." He suspected, correctly, that Madison had in mind the creation of a powerful central government and the subversion of the authority of the state legislatures. Henry along with many other political leaders, believed that the state governments offered the chief protection for personal liberties. He was determined not to lend a hand to any proceeding that seemed to pose a threat to that protection.
U.S. Constitution 101 civil rights
America's First Social Contract
The Articles of Confederation was an instrument that attempted to organize and unify the confederation of the States. The Second Continental Congress wrote a long list of demanded rights and a declaration of the bond the colonies wanted to form and the State sovereignty they wanted to keep.
The Articles of Confederation began, “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States.” To all to whom these presents shall come, we, the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our names, send greeting: Whereas the Delegates of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, did, on the fifteenth day of November, in the year of our Lord 1777, and in the Second Year of the Independence of America, agree to certain Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, in the words following:
Article I. The style of this Confederacy shall be, The United States of America.
Article II. Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.
The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to or attacks made upon them, or any of them on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.
The better to secure ad perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different States in this Union, the free inhabitants of each of these States – paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice, excepted– shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States; and the people of each State shall have free ingress and regress to and from any other State, and shall enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties, impositions, and restrictions as the inhabitants thereof respectively . . . If any person guilty of or charged with treason, felony, or other high misdemeanor, in any State, shall flee from justice, and be found in any of the United States, he shall, upon demand of the governor or executive power of the State from which he fled, be delivered up and removed to the State having jurisdiction of his offense. Full faith and credit shall be given in each of these States to the records, acts, and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other State.
Article V-XIII – Full text not included.
In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands in Congress. Done at Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania, the ninth day of July in the year of our Lord 1778, and in the third year of the Independence of America.
Although the Congress created a document with many declarations, the Confederation lacked authority and means to follow through with many of items.
For instance, they could appoint ambassadors, but did not provide for the means to pay expenses for the positions; they could borrow money, but had no system for repayment; they could coin money, but did not have purchasing power; they did not have power to lay taxes; treaties could be made but there was no enforcement mechanism in place.
The answer to the issues listed and many more relied on a new system by which to govern the newly formed United States. The State of Virginia took the first step toward the formation and adoption of our U.S. Constitution.
On the 21st of January, 1786, the legislature of Virginia passed the following resolution:
“Resolved, That Edmund Randolph, James Madison, jun., Walter Jones, St. George Tucker, and Meriweather Smith, Esqs., be appointed Commissioners, who or any three of whom, shall meet such commissioners as may be appointed in the other States of the Union, at a time and place to be agreed on, to take into consideration the trade of the United States . . .To examine the relative situations and trade of said States; To consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations may be necessary to their common interests and their permanent harmony; and to report to the several States such act relative to this great object, as, when unanimously ratified by them, will enable the United States Congress effectually to provide for the same” (Analysis of Civil Government, p. 24).
The Continental Congress did not have the power to directly tax citizens of the States, nor did it have the funds to support a substantial military. Many events occurred which highlighted the deficiencies in the new government system. The Congress could only request States to contribute to the debts the Union had incurred in their efforts for independence from the king over the past several years.
In late 1776, a Massachusetts farmer named Daniel Shays, who also served in the Continental Army revolted against oppressive taxation. Shay and fellow citizens protested against Governor James Bowdoin’s heavy hand as he confiscated property and jailed those who did not or could not pay their taxes. A group participating in what was dubbed “Shays’ Rebellion” grew to over two-thousand insurgents. Armed, they marched into neighboring counties to protest at the county courthouses. This uprising was met with the small army the Governor could muster. Some were arrested, several were killed, and eventually the protestors disbanded. But, this event was yet another glaring light upon the inadequacies of the government system under the Articles of Confederation.
On February 21, 1787 a resolution was passed which recommended that Congress should meet in Philadelphia, “for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and several State legislatures such alterations and provisions therein, as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union” (Report of Proceedings in Congress, February 21, 1787).
1. The Union was to be perpetual
2. Each State had one vote without respect to size, population, or wealth. (Article III and 12thAmendment, addresses Electors in regard to voting for the President and Vice-President.)
3. Congress had minimum and maximum number of representatives. No State shall be represented by less than two, nor more than seven members. (Article II, addresses the state’s population and House of Representatives)
4. No State could send enter into a Treaty with foreign government
5. No Representative could accept any present, emolument, office, title, etc. from any king, prince or foreign state.
6. Congress had the power to regulate the value of coinage, regulate trade, borrow money when nine States assent (majority).
7. No State shall engage in any war, unless invaded and war is declared by nine of the delegate States assent (majority).
8. Congress is to keep a journal
9. Vessels of war and body of forces are not to kept up in time of peace, except what Congress deems necessary for defense.
10. The militia was relied upon to provide protection within each State and be sufficiently armed and ready for the common defense
1. The treasury was the responsibility of the States. The Continental Congress (National/Federal government) lacked taxation powers.
2. There was only one branch of government; there was no Head of State and no Commander in Chief to develop or oversee a central military force.
(President - not King)
3. There was no national judiciary (U.S.Supreme Court)
4. No National Bill of Rights
5. Congress was to send and receive ambassadors
The agreed upon solution regarding the number of delegates (Representatives), terms and votes to ensure equal representation for each sovereign State in the Union was written into the U.S. Constitution:
Article I, addresses the Senate, taxing powers,
Article II, addresses the state’s population and House of Representatives
(See Constitution & Amendments for further information)
Go directly to Archives.gov - Read a brief history of the efforts toward a More Perfect Union - The Virginia Plan, The New Jersey Plan, The Great Compromise & more
Signing Declaration of Independence, by Trumbull.
The Declaration has 1,458 words including signatures. The Declaration was signed in the Philadelphia State House.
The first known formal use of "United States of America" was in the Declaration of Independence.
Signing U.S. Constitution, by C. Christy.
The document is 4,543 words, including the signatures. George Washington presided.
1754 - Benjamin Franklin wrote an article in the Pennsylvania Gazette promoting the Albany Plan - A union of the Colonies. This cartoon (left) was published with his article. The snake cut into parts represents the separate colonies.
Franklin's point was the colonies would not survive external threats if they did not join together.
1500s Spain classified racial lineage
Senate & House of Representatives
Departments of the Executive Branch
THE SUPREME COURT
Federal Court System
Historic cases which established the powers of the Supreme Court; Expansion of Federal Government Powers; Civil Rights