The Nations First Governments

GUIDE TO READING

Main Idea

In 1777, the Second Continental Congress drafted the Articles of Confederation, thereby creating a weak national government. By 1730, all 13 of the original states had written constitutions.

Key Ternis constitution, bicameral, confederation, ratify, amend

Reading Strategy

Comparing and Contrasting Information As you read, create and complete a chart similar to the one below, listing features of state constitutions and the Articles of Confederation.

State Constitutions

Articles of Confederation

* How did the original states fashion their constitutions?

♦ Why were the Articles of Confederation ineffective?

llmaricans in Action

^^^^ Josiah Martin, the royal governor, ruled the colony of North Carolina with authority granted to him by the British king. However. Martin grew more and more nervous as the American colonists discussed independence and protested against what they called corrupt colonial government. On July 15,1775. the colonists took action, and Martin was forced to flee with his family. He made It to safety aboard the British warship Cruizer. Martin was to be the last royal governor of North Carolina.

Coat of arms for King of England

Early State Constitutions

Even before the Declaration of Independence was signed, American colonists discussed the possibility of independence, and American leaders began preparing new state constitutions to replace the old colonial charters. As royal governors like Josiah Martin worried about their futures, some Americans saw the need for a central government that would unify and strengthen the 13 states.

In January 1776, New Hampshire became the first colony to organize as a state and craft a detailed, written plan tor government, or constitution. By 1780 the other former colonies had followed suit.

The new state constitutions set up similar systems of government. Each state had a legislature to create laws, and most of these legislatures were bicameral, like the English Parliament; that is, they were divided into two parts, or houses. The members of each house of state legislatures were chosen by different methods. Each state also had a governor, who was elected either by die legislature or by Che citizens. The governor's job was to carry out the laws. Finally, each state had judges and courts to interpret the laws—to decide what die laws meant and how they applied to each new situation.

Most state constitutions included a bill of rights, guaranteeing certain basic freedoms and legal protections to the state's citizens. Some of these rights, such as trial by jury and protection of personal property, can be traced back to the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights.

The Massachusetts Constitution

In 1780 Massachusetts became the last of the original 13 states to draw up its constitution. The document, the only one still in effect today, was unusual in three notable ways,

Eirst, instead of making the legislature supreme, as most of the other states did, Massachusetts distributed power more evenly among the legislature, the governor's office, and the courts. Second, the governor and the courts were given the authority to check the legislature. Third, the Massachusetts constitution was created not by the legislature but through a special convention of delegates elected for that purpose. 'llie document was then approved by a vote of the state's citizens.

The Massachusetts constitution would later become an important model for the U.S. Constitution, our country's framework for government. At the time, however, the states had loosely unified under a different framework of government called the Articles of Confederation.

Describing What were the basic characteristics of governments that most states created?

Five-shilling note from Massachusetts, 1782

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