Influences on American Government

Essential Question

How does the nation embody civic republicanism, classical liberal principles, and English parliamentary tradition?

Styles of Government

Before the American Revolution, Americans were angry that they did not have the same rights as English citizens. Once they declared their independence, they began to work toward a new goal – to form a new government they would be happy with, a republic. The only question was, how should their new government work? Well, the Founding Fathers looked to the greatest philosophers, democracies, and republics to find out how their new government should work.

Civic Republicanism

Even when it was a colony Americans supported republicanism, a form of government where citizens elect representatives the represent them and their ideas. Civic Republicanism is a political philosophy that emphasizes the obligation of citizens to act virtuously in pursuit of the common good. One of the most active thing a citizen could do is run for political office and become an elected representative. These elected officials are responsible to the people that elect them. If the representatives do well, the people will reelect them. If they do a terrible job, the people will replace the representatives with someone who will represent them better. For this type of government to work, citizens must place the good of the community above their interest. Citizens must be well informed, participate actively in politics, and be "civic-minded" in all areas. This influence is why the United States government is a representative democracy today.

Discussion Questions

  • How did America benefit from civic republicanism ideas?

Classical Liberalism

The Founding Fathers took many ideas from the liberal principles of the Enlightenment like the idea that the best government is one that protects individual and minority rights through limits on government power (Remember the Declaration of Independence). The Founding Fathers also wanted to preserve people's unalienable rights like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free elections, and freedom of association to ensure that the elected government is accountable to the public. This influence is why American's enjoy the unalienable right. Some included: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free elections, freedom of association, and the responsibility to protects individual and minority rights.


Unalienable Rights

Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, was influenced by the writings of the English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. Locke argued that "just" or fair, governments are based on the consent of the people. He also argued that governments are made to protect people's "natural rights" to life, liberty, and property. Locke also stated that the government should be changed or replaced if it became unfair. Jefferson included all of Locke's ideas in the Declaration of Independence but made one small change. Instead of property, Jefferson listed the "pursuit of happiness" as one of the people's natural rights.

Separation of Powers

Americans were also inspired by Barron de Montisque, a French Enlightenment philosopher. Montisque argued that the power of the government should be separated to prevent one part from taking over. If the powers were divided, they could keep each other in check and balance the power of the government. That is why all the power of the government is separated between the President, Congress (most powerful), and the Supreme Court.

Discussion Questions

  • How did America benefit from classical liberal principles?

English Parliamentary Traditions

English Parliamentary Traditions is named for the type of government used in Great Britain. The founding fathers grew up under British rule and knew how the British government worked. So naturally, when American colonies were making their new government, they copied ideas they liked from the English government and got rid of ideas they did not like.

The British Parliament consisted of two chambers or governing bodies. The House of Commons is filled with representatives elected by citizens. The House of Lords was made up of non-elected judges, nobles, and church officials. Parliament provided a partial model for the colonists’ representative government. When the time came for Americans to develop their form of government, they also built two chambers like Parliament. The two chambers are class the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, they designed the Senate to be modeled on ancient Rome and the House of Representatives which is modeled on the British Parliament.

Signing of the Magna Carta

The Americans also relied on important British government documents like the Magna Carta, and the English Bill of Rights when writing their Constitution. These documents limited the power of rules, gave rights to the people, and declared that even rulers had to follow the law.

Discussion Questions

  • How did America benefit from English parliamentary traditions?

  • In your opinion which of the following, civic republicanism, classical liberal principles, and English parliamentary traditions, had the most important impact on America's government? Why?

Activity 1: What are the examples of civic republicanism, classical liberal principles, and English parliamentary traditions in our government?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities

NEWSELA: Lockean Liberalism and the American Revolution

NEWSELA: The Philosophers

NEWELA: Greek influence on U.S. democracy