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More Government Resources: Historical Documents - Three Branches - Our Capital Cities

The United States government is a democracy, which means power is given by the people to representatives who are elected by a majority vote. The democracy that American citizens experience today is much different then when our nation was first founded. Back then, only wealthy, white males had the right to vote. But over time, a slow evolution has occurred. Let's quickly look back at American history and see how democracy and citizens' rights unfolded.

You may recall long ago America was made up of thirteen colonies that were ruled by England. Trouble between England and the thirteen colonies started to unfold following the French and Indian War. The imposition of the Stamp, Townshend, and Intolerable Acts angered the colonistslibertyflag1.jpg (15749 bytes) to rebel against England.

In 1774, delegates from the colonies met in Philadelphia. This was called the First Continental Congress. The delegates sent a statement to the British King explaining the colonists' views on the increasing number of taxes. In addition, they asked that the colonists be allowed to make their own laws. Meanwhile, the colonists and British troops fought over supplies of arms the colonists had stored at Concord, Massachusetts. This was the first blood shed in the Revolutionary War.

jefferson1.jpg (20151 bytes)It soon became clear that independence from England would be necessary. Before the Continental Congress recessed, a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies' case for independence. The committee consisted of two New England men, John Adams of Massachusetts and Roger Sherman of Connecticut; two men from the Middle Colonies, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York; and one southerner, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

The members of the Committee of Five chose Thomas Jefferson to draft the document. Jefferson, while only thirty-three years old, had a wealth of experience in political service and writing. As a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, he had written a political pamphlet entitled A Summary View of the Rights of British America and a draft of a proposed constitution for Virginia. These documents strongly influenced Thomas Jefferson in writing the first part of the Declaration of Independence. To learn more about this document, go to Historical Documents section of this web site.

Illustrations by David Chen © 1997. All rights reserved Utah Education Network.