In the spring of 1776, John Adams was at the Continental Congress preparing a resolution for American independence and for states to write their own constitutions. John received a letter from his wife, Abigail, asking him to include women in the drive towards freedom and equality within a republican government based upon the consent of the governed. Abigail wrote:
“I long to hear that you have declared independence—and by the way in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation” (Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 31, 1776)
John responded in the way that most men of the time would have and wrote that he could not “but laugh” at her “extraordinary code of laws.” Freed northern slaves, apprentices, and the poor were demanding equality, and John feared that, “Another tribe [women], more numerous and powerful than all the rest,” were also thinking about equality. He called Abigail “saucy” in her demands and promised that men would rule “fair and softly” because “you know we [men] are the subjects.” Men only enjoyed the appearance of masters, in John’s estimation, and feared women’s rights would “completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat” (John Adams to Abigail Adams, April 14, 1776). It was hardly an auspicious dawn for women’s rights; yet, an important Founding Mother had raised the issue, if only privately.
Both before and after the American Revolution, some women did vote in states such as New Jersey, and although the colonial records are sketchy, they also voted in some parts of Massachusetts and New York. The emergence of a true women’s movement for equality and suffrage (the right to vote) developed after the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening and the rise of several antebellum (before the Civil War) reform movements in the 1830s and 1840s. These women’s reform movements sought to remake society morally and even usher in a utopian age by bringing the kingdom of God to earth. Some of the reforms included abolitionism, prison reform, temperance, and common schools.
During this time, the reigning view was one of “separate spheres” for the sexes with men entering public life through work and politics and women having control over the home. While some observers note that this was unfair for women, the idea of “republican motherhood” meant that the survival of the republic depended on women raising their children in a virtuous home with patriotic republican principles. Moreover, it was believed that the public sphere corrupted men’s morals because of the attraction of greed, power, and vice, but then their wives cultivated good homes where men could remember their virtue. Since the view was that women were more moral, they could make the world and American politics more moral.
The pre-Civil War reform movements wished to make it permissible for women to enter public life and politics in order to civilize and moralize the public sphere. Many women worked on behalf of other reforms, and faced discrimination in those movements and began to advocate for their own liberty and equality. For instance, women were refused a seat at the 1840 World’s Antislavery Convention in London. Women’s participation in other reforms taught them to organize a movement, speak in public, and lobby politically.
Women were denied the vote for several reasons. They were not seen at the intellectual equal of men, were seen as less rational than men, and were seen as dependent upon their husbands. The fear was that women would vote as their husbands directed thereby giving two votes to any married man.
In July 1848, a group of women led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met at Seneca Falls, New York, to address women’s inequality particularly regarding suffrage. The convention produced a “Declaration of Sentiments” modeled on the text of the Declaration of Independence. It was the first of several reform movements that appealed to the principles in the Declaration of Independence to argue for natural and civil rights. The Declaration of Sentiments began from the assertion, perhaps a misreading, that it did not include women when it said that all men are created equal. So a new statement was proposed; “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal” Here was a correction of the original Declaration, yet one that clarified the meaning of equality rather than changing the principles of the document. Therefore, it demonstrated respect for the universal principles of the Declaration.
The Declaration of Sentiments asserted that the history of mankind was one of “repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” Therefore, among its many demands, the declaration argued that women did not merely have a civil right to suffrage but rather an “inalienable right to the elective franchise” (Seneca Falls Convention, Declaration of Sentiments, 1848) Former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass attended (he was the only African American to do so) and spoke with his usual eloquence in favor of women’s suffrage when that issue was hotly debated at the convention. "In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world,” Douglass said. Women—married women especially—had no legal standing, no right to own property, no profitable employment, no ability to receive a college education, and no right to be members of the clergy (except in a few denominations like the Quakers), the Declaration of Sentiments complained. While many of these goals would go unfulfilled for the better part of a century, the Seneca Falls Convention laid an agenda for the future and rooted it in the American Founding.
In the wake of the Civil War, African American males won the right to vote with the Fifteenth Amendment, but suffragettes were disappointed that the language did not bar discrimination on account of sex. By 1869, in response, Stanton and Susan B. Anthony organized the National Women’s Suffrage Association to fight for a constitutional amendment, while Lucy Stone and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association, which supported the Fifteenth Amendment and pursued a state-by-state strategy for women’s suffrage since states determined eligibility requirements for voting. The state strategy met with great success particularly in the West. By 1890, when the two groups merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), several states and territories allowed women to vote.
Women’s suffrage came late to the South and East due to racism and nativism that was central to a movement of primarily white, middle-class women. In the South, opposition to black suffrage was pronounced and a variety of restrictions were implemented to block the Fifteenth Amendment for black males or women’s suffrage for black females. It was widely recognized at the time that the NAWSA made racist arguments and supported white female suffrage as a means preserving white supremacy in the South. One activist bluntly stated that women’s suffrage would counteract the vote of millions of “ex-slaves, illiterate and semi-barbarous.” Others thought that the traditional role of women as guardian of household morality should be maintained without being infected by worldly politics.
The same arguments were made by suffragettes in the face of millions of immigrant men from southeastern Europe voting when they arrived in the United States. The Suffrage Movement was marred by remarks that showed a strong streak of Social Darwinism (a belief in a hierarchy of races) and nativism.
There was a “multitude of coarse, ignorant beings, designated in our constitution as male citizens—many of them fresh from the steerage of incoming steamers. There, too, are natives of the same type from the slums of our cities,” who could vote. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Hearing of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, January 28, 1896).
Immigrant men were repeatedly denounced by suffragettes as “ignorant,” “worthless,” and “dangerous.” Indeed, activist Florence Kelley, admitted that, “I have rarely heard a ringing suffrage speech which did not refer to the ‘ignorant and degraded’ men…This is habitually spoken with more or less bitterness” (Florence Kelley, Speech at the NAWSA Annual Convention, 1906). The NAWSA, however, changed tactics during World War I, and appealed to those immigrant men of northeastern cities when the suffragettes realized they needed to win over their votes for a constitutional amendment.
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Law of Demand
As prices decrease, the quantity demanded increases or as prices increase, the quantity demanded decreases.
Rights which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.
Rights which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.
Except where authorized by people through the Constitution, government does not have the authority to limit freedom.
The power of government flows from the people.
Separation of powers
A system of distinct powers built into the constitution, to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch.
Checks and balances
Powers distributed among the branches of government allowing each to limit the application of power of the other branches and to prevent expansion of power of any branch.
The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states retain other powers; and the people, who authorize the states and national government, retain all freedoms not delegated to the governing bodies.
Fairness or reasonableness in the way people are treated or decisions are made.
The natural right of all individuals to create, obtain, and control their possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, as well as the fruits of their labor.
Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.
(or republican government) Form of government in which the people are sovereign (ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.
(or representative government)Form of government in which the people are sovereign (ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.
Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.
The fundamental principles by which a state or nation is governed. The United States Constitution, written in 1787, lays out the roles and powers of each of the three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial), the protections of due process and rule of law in the states, a republican form of government, and the manner in which to amend the document.
Jefferson was a Virginia plantation owner who was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson served as a legislator and governor in Virginia, as well as an ambassador to France, Secretary of State under George Washington, Vice President under John Adams, and the third President of the United States. During his political career, Jefferson founded the Democratic-Republican Party with James Madison, and he bought the Louisiana Purchase from France. After his presidency, Jefferson started the University of Virginia near his home, Monticello.
Bill of Rights
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, ratified in 1791, which limit government power and protect individual liberties, including the freedoms of speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly, as well as protections against cruel and unusual punishment, unreasonable search and seizure, and other due process rights.
Ratified in 1791, it protects citizens’ rights to create a militia and to bear arms. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The government must interact with all persons according to the duly-enacted laws; applying these rules equally among all persons.
Every individual is equal to every other person with respect to natural rights and treatment before the law.
Consent of the governed
The authority of the government must come from the people through elections and through the people’s interaction with government.
Individuals must take care of themselves and their families, and be vigilant to preserve their liberty and the liberty of others.
Rule of law
Government officials and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power.
Declaration of Independence
The document written in 1776 by the Founders to send to Britain’s King George III in which independence from Britain was declared and the reasons for the separation were explained.
Articles of Confederation
The first national government document developed in 1781 by the Founders. The Articles created a federal legislative branch, but there was no executive or judiciary. The states retained most of the governmental powers.
The group of people who wrote and influenced the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the United States Constitution, and the United States Bill of Rights. These men were instrumental in establishing the nation and its governmental documents and practices.
A series of 85 essays written to convince the people of New York to ratify the Constitution. The authors were James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. These documents are considered to be the most authoritative explanation of the political theory of the Constitution.
Ratified in 1791, it protects the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to petition the government.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Law of Supply
As the price drops, the quantity supplied also drops.
Ratified in 1791, it protects citizens’ rights against unreasonable searches and seizures of property and explains that warrants must be issued with probable cause. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Ratified in 1791, it protects the right indictment by a jury, against double jeopardy, self-incrimination, loss of life, liberty, or property without due process, and just compensation for private property taken for public use. “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Ratified in 1791, it states that the powers not enumerated or delegated in the Constitution are reserved for the states and the people. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
Ratified in 1791, it protects against excessive bail and fines and cruel and unusual punishments. “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Ratified in 1791, the listing of certain rights protected by the Constitution cannot be used to deny rights not enumerated in the document. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton served as General Washington’s chief of staff, promoted the ratification of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, and founded the nation’s financial system and first political party.
Madison was a Framer who was instrumental in writing the Constitution and Bill of Rights. He is known as the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison partnered with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers in support of the ratification of the Constitution. He also served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, the United States House of Representatives, Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, and the fourth president of the United States.
First President of the United States, George Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
An English philosopher and physician, John Locke was one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers and is known today as the Father of Classical Liberalism.
The Continental Congress, comprised of delegates from 12 of the 13 American colonies, represented the colonists during and after the American Revolution. The Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence and ratified the Articles of Confederation.
King George III
King George III was the King of Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. His actions towards the American colonies, outlined in the Declaration of Independence, spurred the American Revolution.
Spanning ten years from 1929 to 1939, the Great Depression was one of the longest-lasting economic downturns in the history of the United States affecting the U.S. and most of the world.
An introductory statement, preface, or introduction.
Cruel and unfair treatment by people with power over others.
Using power over people in a way that is cruel and unfair.
Before becoming the second President of the United States, John Adams served as the country’s first Vice President under George Washington. Adams was an advocate of American independence from Britain and a Federalist.
Founding Father John Jay was one of the signers of the Treaty of Paris and served as the first Chief Justice of the United States. He was also one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.
Ratified in 1791, it protects citizens against the quartering of soldiers in private homes without their approval. “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
Ratified in 1791, it protects the rights of impartial jury trials, the right to be informed of the accusations against you, the right to be confronted by witness, and the right to be assisted by counsel. “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Ratified in 1791, it protects the right of jury trials in law suits dealing with more than twenty dollars and protects against reexamination of the trial in any court if decided by a jury. “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”
Alexis de Tocqueville
French political thinker and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville is best known for his works Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution. He visited the U.S. in the 1830s and wrote admiringly about many aspects of American law and society.
Democracy in America
Written by Alexis de Tocqueville after visiting the United States, Democracy in America contains de Tocqueville’s analysis of and reflections on the United States’ democratic system and society. The first volume was published in 1835 and the second in 1840.
Written in 1215, it is the oldest document in the British and American heritage of rights. Contributed to the adoption of the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments of the Bill of Rights, and speaks of these rights as ancient.
Two Treatises of Civil Government
Written by John Locke in 1690, the Two Treatises of Civil Government criticize absolute power for kings and outline Locke’s suggestions for a more civilized society based on natural rights and the social contract.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. “Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The group of people who actually attended the Constitutional Convention and participated in writing the Constitution.
Ratified in 1868, it states that all people born or naturalized in the United States are citizens and ensures that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Ratified in 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment gave Congress the ability to collect income taxes. “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census of enumeration.”
atified in 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment introduced Prohibition, the period of United States history when the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol was made illegal throughout the country. “Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. Section 2. The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.”
The Twentieth Amendment was ratified in 1933, and it establishes procedures for presidential succession and the start and end of federal officials’ terms of office.
“Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3rd day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
In 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, ending Prohibition. “Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed. Section 2. The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited. Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.”
English Bill of Rights
Passed by the British Parliament in 1689, the English Bill of Rights limited the power of the British monarch, outlined the rights of the Parliament, and guaranteed Protestants the right to bear arms.
The legislative body of the United Kingdom (known as Great Britain or England during the Founding era).
One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, author, publisher, scientist, inventor and diplomat. He served in the Second Continental Congress during the American Revolution and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. In addition, Franklin helped negotiated the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War and later served as a delegate to the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution.
The right to vote.
A government in which the power belongs to citizens through the right to vote.
Ratified in 1870, it states that the right could not be restricted based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” “Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Ratified in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment introduced direct election of Senators. “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislatures. When vacancies happen in the representation of any state in the Senate, the executive authority of such state shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, that the legislature of any state may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.”
Ratified in 1920, the amendment stated that a citizen’s right to vote must not be restricted based on gender. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Direct democracy is a political system in which the people vote directly on policies or laws, as opposed to voting for representatives who enact laws on their behalf.
Not planned or chosen for a particular reason; done without concern for what is fair or right.
The process by which courts analyze the constitutionality of an act of government.
Majority rule/minority rights
laws may be made with the consent of the majority, but only to the point where they do not infringe on the inalienable rights of the minority.
An arbitrary order or decree.
Something that is owned by a person, business, etc. This includes possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, and the fruits of one's labor.
A government in which the power is held by the people.
A body of electors chosen by each state to vote for the president and vice president of the United States.
Conduct that reflects universal principles of moral and ethical excellence essential to leading a worthwhile life and to effective self-government. For many leading Founders, attributes of character such as justice, responsibility, perseverance, etc., were thought to flow from an understanding of the rights and obligations of men. Virtue is compatible with, but does not require, religious belief.