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The Roots of American Government

By the year 1733 the English had owned thirteen separate colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America. All the English colonies in America shared a tradition of representative government. This means that in all of them people had a say in how they were governed. Each colony had its own government. At the head of this government was a governor, chosen in most cases by the English king. To rule effectively, these governors depended upon the cooperation of assemblies elected by the colonists. In most of the colonies all white men who owned some land had the right to vote.

The years from the 1750s until the mid-1770s were uneasy times in the colonies. First the colonists fought the French and American Indians to gain land. Then they argued with the British king about their rights and freedom.

Democracy in all the colonies grew rapidly. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress took the step that many Americans believed was inevitable. It cut all political ties with Britain and declared that "these United Colonies are free, and independent states". Two days later, on July 4, it issued the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is the most important document in American history. It was written by Thomas Jefferson, a lawyer from Virginia.

After repeating that the colonies were now "free and independent states" it officially named them the United States of America. The Declaration of Independence was more than a statement that the colonies were a new nation. It said that governments should consist of representatives elected by the people; that the main reason that governments existed was to protect the rights of individual citizens.

In 1790 the Constitution of the USA was adopted and a year later, in 1791 ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights were added to the Constitution. The Constitution gave the United States a "federal system of government". A federal system is one in which the power to rule is shared. The Constitution made arrangements for the election of a national leader called the President. He would head the "executive" side of the nation's government.


What Is Law?

Law is the whole set of rules that are supported by the power of government and that control the behaviour of members of a society. The law itself provides the basic structure within which commerce and industry operate. It safeguards the rights of individuals, regulates their dealings with others and enforces the duties of government.

There are two main kinds of the law - public and private (civil). Private law concerns disputes among citizens within a country, and public law concerns disputes between citizens and the state, or between one state and another.

The system of law consists of different categories of law.

There are laws which enable citizens to take legal action against the state. These actions are part of constitutional law. A constitution is the political and ideological structure within which a system of laws operates. Most countries have a formal written Constitution describing how laws are to be made and enforced.

Many countries face similar social, economic and political problems. Nations have always made political and economic treaties with each other. International law is created to regulate relations between governments and also between private citizens of one country and those of another.

Criminal law deals with wrongful acts harmful to the community and punishable by the state.

Civil law deals with individual rights, duties and obligations towards one another.

As well as defining the powers of government, most constitutions describe the fundamental rights of citizens. These usually include general declarations about freedom and equality, but, also some specific provisions. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was first adopted in 1950 and has now been signed by every country of Western Europe. Individual citizens of these countries have the right to bring a complaint before the European Commission if they think their government has broken the Convention. But despite the development of legally binding national and international conventions, millions of people in the world still do not enjoy human rights.



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