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Origins of the US Government

Ancient Principles

• Israel
○ While Thomas Jefferson studied political philosophy he discovered that
the Israelites had practiced the earliest and most efficient form of
representative government.
○ Jefferson saw that Moses was failing as a leader when he acted as the
“ruler” of the people.
○ Instead, Moses created a “people’s law” where the power to govern was
divided in an efficient distributive manner.

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Ruler’s Law to People’s Law

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○ As referenced in Exodus 18, Moses attempted to settle many of the

people’s issues himself. As a result, he could not be an effective leader.
○ Our Founders also believed that a very basic code of solid morality was
fundamental to sustain People’s Law. (Franklin quote)

• Anglo-Saxons
○ Jefferson noted that early Anglo-Saxon culture imitated the Israelites
“ancient principles.”
○ Anglo-Saxons were freemen, organized in groups of ten, fifty, one
hundred, and one thousand. Each group was responsible to the one above.
○ They also employed trial by jury.
Laws protected the general welfare and judges were required to hear
petitions of the aggrieved.
English Heritage The noun “England” is derived from “Anglo-land” or “Engle-land”
Laws protected private property against trespassing.
○ The “wisest and most perfect ever”?? …according to T Jefferson (quote)
1-3 Origins of US Government
○ The English Constitution is made up of laws, historical documents, and
judicial decisions. England has no written constitution.
• Promotes the idea of Limited Government – power is no longer held by an
absolute ruler.
• The Magna Carta (1215) was the first document to offer limited government.
○ The Magna Carta is an example of a Rule of Law: where all people are
held under the same laws. (Absolute monarchy  Constitutional
○ A “rule of law” should always act in the interests of the public good.
• King Charles I signed the Petition of Right (1628).
○ Three Important rights granted by the Petition of Right were:
 Could not imprison people illegally
 Could not force people to house soldiers in their homes
 Could not establish military rule during times of peace
○ After the Glorious Revolution (1688) Parliament forced William and
Mary to sign the English Bill of Rights. The rights granted here included:
 People could petition the crown without risk of punishment.
 Only parliament had the right to form an army.
• English councils evolved into a formal institution of government.
○ Two houses of Parliament: Bi-Cameral
 The two houses are:
• House of Lords House of Commons
English Law comes to America

• The first permanent English colony was Jamestown, Virginia (1607).

○ A monarch would give settlers a Charter to grant permission to create a
○ Charters were designed to avoid tyranny.
• Colonies’ structure of government imitated that found in England.
○ Monarch  Governor (appointed)
○ Councils  House of Lords (appointed)
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○ Parliament  House of Commons (elected)
• This system is reflected (though not exactly) in the American office of President
and representation in Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives, both
of which are elected).