Early American History: English Heritage and Constitution Opposition (730 words)

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Subject History U.S. History


Discussion 1
Americans often imagine that their political institutions and principles are unique and unheralded; yet, many of them might be traced back to the heritage of England at the time the colonies were first formed, and over the course of the colonial period as English political institutions evolved. Identify the ways that English politics and political traditions influenced the political and legal institutions of colonial America.

What aspects of the English political heritage did the colonists claim for themselves? How did English institutions and principles evolve in the colonies? How and why had English and American conceptions of their shared political heritage diverged so sharply by the middle of the 1700s? What constitutional disagreements brought about the American Revolution?

In responding to the above questions, draw from the material in one of the following videos:
a. In the beginning
b. Larry Kramer: American legal history: Colonial era to 1800
c. Liberty! Episode 1 – The reluctant revolutionaries (1763-1774)

Discussion 2

Americans today generally revere the Constitution and appeal to it as an impeccable authority on current events (even when the Americans in question have never closely read the Constitution). However, when the Constitution was first presented to the American people, many of them opposed it and the nation almost did not ratify it. Even among the original framers of the Constitution (Framers) themselves, some, like Benjamin Franklin, thought it was imperfect and a few, like George Mason, refused to sign it. Identify the events and developments which led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and explain the opposition to the new Constitution.

What weaknesses did the earlier Articles of Confederation seem to contain and how specifically did the Constitution address those apparent weaknesses? What major differences divided the Framers at the Constitutional Convention and how were those differences resolved? What objections did the anti-federalists raise with regard to the Constitution? How valid were their objections?

When responding to these questions, draw from the documents in any one chapter of John J. Patrick’s Founding the Republic: A Documentary History (except for Part I: “The Decision for Independence”).

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Discussion 1:
The British introduced their system of common law which was kept for the most part by the colonists after they won independence. Some examples of British statutes that made their way into American law include habeas corpus, or the right for an arrested individual to appear before a court, and jury trials, where an arrested individual can appear in front of a committee of his or her own peers. Later, the United States Supreme Court (1803) adopted judicial review powers that were similar to, or even more expansive than their British counterparts....

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