Our Growing Constitution

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 U.S. History and Political Economy 

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Recommended Readings
Our Democratic Federalist Capitalist Republic 

Our Democratic Federalist Republic Readings

A Very Brief U.S. Political History

Part 1 Building a Constitution

1619 Representative Democracy& Slavery Begin

1636 Brings Freedom of Religion

1735 Zinger Trial Begins Freedom of the Press

1654 New Amsterdam Welcomes Immigrants

1786 Shays Tax Rebellion Leads to a Constitution

1803 Marshal Creates a Third Federal Power

Epilog Who Are We of We the people? 

Part 3

US Constitutional History of US: Managing a Constitution

Part 2. Part 2. Governing Our Capitalistic
 Democratic Federal National Republic

1773 Boston Tea Party Creates Begins a Process

1791 “We the People" Begins Expanding

1800 Sees First Peaceful Democratic Power Transfer

1860's Lincoln Saves “United States” Constitution

1866 Who Protects Unalienable Rights of Whom? 

1870's Take Away Unalienable Rights 

1930's Government Safety Net Deficits,
Like War Deficits, Prove Attractive

1973 Finally Brings Faster Track Civil Rights

#2 1619 Representative Democracy&Slavery Begin

The Jamestown colony had floundered until 1611 when tobacco was introduced to meet growing European demand.  Crops were worked by indentured servants who served for about seven years and then receives free frontier land.

In 1619 Jamestown decided to be governed by a representative democracy. Also two groups of slaves arrived and they were quickly integrated into the economy.  The number of slaves grew very slowly and their treatment was much like that of local indentured servants. By the 1660's freed and existing slaves were becoming numerous enough to be competition for non-slave poor workers. They were also creating other domestic problems making large planters unhappy. This anxiety resulted in laws which removed

Howard Pyle - The Burning of Jamestown.jpgfreedoms from both existing and new slaves. In 1662 a Virginia law made the child of an enslaved women and  white father a slave whereas they had been free.  Bacon's Rebellion of 1766 resulted when a number of poor landowning recently freed indentured servants and freed slaves were tired of paying taxes to faraway Jamestown. They also formed an army to solve Indian problems.  Issues between Bacon's army and Jamestown developed. Eventually about 1,000 rebels chased the Governor out of the capital. "Government forces from England arrived soon after and spent several years defeating pockets of resistance and reforming the colonial government to one more directly under royal control." from The Burning of Jamestown by Howard Pyle 1905. Click to enlarge and view a slide show. Click on Most Pictures to Enlarge

Slaves had once been more expensive but fear of rebellions by indentured servants added to the cost of hiring white and laves thus became a cheaper source of farm labor. Editor's Note: We have been building our Democracy for almost 400 years and still have a way to go. US criticizing today's fledgling democracy seems a bit hypercritical.

#3  Freedom of Religion Began in 1636 After Massachusetts Expelled Roger Williams

Roger Williams immigrated from England to Boston in 1631. He refused preaching/teacher work because as a Separatist he did not agree with Boston's less radical Puritans. He left for more Separatist oriented Salem caused Boston's Puritans unhappiness. He soon moved to Separatist Plymouth where he got along with the people and studied the Indians. Eventually he preached ideas too unconventional for Plymouth and by 1633 he was back in Salem. 

Roger Williams preached separatism, denounce as blasphemous the King's claim to Indian land, denounced the Bay Colony's loyalty oath as sacrilegious and he denied the right of civil authority to punish violation of the first five commandments. They related to idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, profanity, dishonoring your parents, and blasphemy. Eventually he was convicted of sedition and heresy. Order to leave Williams took his time but fear of imprisonment forced a quick winter departure where the cold didn't get him because he was helped by his Indian knowledge.

A woman standing before a table behind which are seated several men, with several other men occupying seats against the walls of the room

In 1836 he and his followers founded Providence where they signed a pact allowing government that could only deal with civil matters. Anne Hutchinson a Puritan spiritual advisor was also doing her best to upset Puritan Boston and she also ended up in Rhode Island. 

Together they would uphold liberty of conscious. Providence grew rapidly and in 1640 Williams returned to England where his received a charter that allowed relegiouse freedom. Later he would get a more definitive charter specifically granting relegiouse freedom. He felt tolerance was not enough, only freedom would suffice. Other colonies followed and in 1861 even Quaker established Pennsylvania allowed religious freedom. His ideas would travel back to England and in 1869 John Lock would write on limiting government.

Over time the U.S has fostered faith by leaving it alone. This did not eliminate the negative attitude of some toward 19th century arriving Roman Catholics or 21st century Muslims from being looked upon poorly. But we have narrowed disputes. We do not argue over a person's freedom to exercise their religion. Instead we argue about  the public expression of religion such as prayer in public schools and public display of the ten commandments.

#4  All Immigrates Welcomed
By 1654 New Amsterdam

The Dutch West Easiest Company settlement of New Amsterdam grew rapidly and soon had 500 diverse inhabitants. They spoke eighteen languages. It was established for profit so anyone who worked was welcome. In 1643 twenty-three Jewish people arrived looking for work . They had been expelled from their Portuguese controlled South American Dutch Colony.

Anti-Semitic Governor Peter Stuyvesant wrote Holland asking to exclude them because they were poor and too dependent. The Jews wrote their successful business friends in Holland asking for support with the Dutch West Indies Company. The company decided they could stay as long as they were not a burden. This was a symbolic turning point because most countries restricted immigrants to maintain their cultural, ethnic, and religious identity. There would be four great foreign immigrants waves and while assimilation was not easy, immigrant culture eventual became an important part of our culture. Assimilation is one of many contentious questions that began when during the Colonial period and continues today. Pizza anyone? Click to enlarge and watch a slide show.

# 6  Freedom of the Press Began
with the 1735  Zenger Trial

In late 1733 The New York Weekly Journal  publisher Peter Zenger began printing opinions critical of the corrupt British colonial governor William Cosby. A late 1734 arrest order was executed.  An inappropriately large bale was set. Zenger's lawyers did not pay as they wanted to stir up publicity against the Governor and his friendly judge. Eventually Zenger was charged with seditious liability. The law required the jury only determine if the defendant had perpetrated the material and the judge would decide if it was libelous. Things didn't look good as when the judge dismissed Peter's two lawyers and replaced them with a  governor friendly lawyer. The short trial was about to end when a star Philadelphia defense lawyer took over.

He agreed that his client had published the material but he told  the jury they should acquit because true statements could not be libellee. The jury acquitted.

While no precedent was set what did begin was a belief that liberty required freedom of the press and speech. The trial would be publicized and soon state governors began acting more responsibly.

It would take decades to determine the exact legalities of freedom of the press and speech. President Adams would  pass Alien and Sedition Acts to stop an adversarial press. Only a few were  prosecuted though some were jailed. The law  was repealed under President Jefferson. Leaders of every following generation have had freedom of the press and speech issues during difficult periods. Click to enlarge.       

10. Shays' 1786 Tax Rebellion
Leads to a Constitution

Farmers in western Massachusetts were having serious problems paying taxes after the state government began accepting only hard currency and not the worthless continental currency or farm goods. Farmers felt oppressed by a few elite eastern merchants and politicians who had set up the tax and legal systems to benefit themselves. Civil disobedience in the form of not allowing judges to foreclose on farm property began in August of 1886. It was the main tool used by the protesters. The Massachusetts Militia refused the governor's orders to control the disobedience. The purposely designed weak central government under Articles of Confederation was unable to raise a meaningful army.  Sam Adams had been the most aggressive revolutionary leader when it came to English oppression but now he was a member of the establishment. He wanted harsh treatment even including execution against the conspirators. The governor offered a few minor tax collection adjustments to help farmers.  But he also  passed the very harsh Riot Act which took away human rights. 



Then a Militia Act allowed for the execution of militia who refused to follow orders. Soon the governor began to raised a privately financed state militia. This caused a severe reaction by farmer who saw a private army is the first step on the road to tyranny.  The farmers  raised their own army led by revolutionary war veteran and militia member Daniel Shay. Their main battle was to be a surprise attack at the federal Springfield arsenal. It didn't work out. The armory was unexpectedly defended by militia men and they killed four rebels who were quickly dispersed. They regrouped but the new Governor's privately financed army led by Benjamin Lincoln arrived and dispersed them with a surprise attack. That was it. Rebellion over. Eventually there was an amnesty based on signing of a loyalty oath. Twenty-one leaders were order hung but only two got the rope. The governor lost reelection and the new governor was more sympathetic to the farmers and he pardoned Shay and the other leaders.

The rebellion provided much substance for those In the Philadelphia Congress who feared rebellion and anarchy. They wanted a strong central government to control dissent and scheduled a May of 1887 Philadelphia Constitutional Convention.



By September a constitution was written. Ratification followed in July of 1788 and the Bill of Rights followed in 1791. The founders wrote what is now the world's oldest written constitution. France was writing her first constitution and she is now on her seventeenth and counting. Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck.jpg

Contemporary depiction of Daniel Shays (left) and Job Shattuck, two of the main protest leaders

Editors Note: Difficult economic times after the revolution caused by an almost worthless Continental Currency caused many farmers to want debt forgiveness. Their actions united Oligarchs to maintain economic stability.

Causes of Shay's Rebellion

This popular uprisings cause a fear of potential anarchy in those with the abilities to accumulate wealth. They represented a rule of law conservative constituency which called for the  Constitutional Convention.

Economic policy
Aggressive tax and debt collection
Political corruption and cronyism
Reform of state government, later 
its overthrow
Direct action to close courts; then military organization in an attempt to capture the U.S. arsenal at the Springfield Armory
Rebellion crushed, and problems of Federal authority linked to the weak Articles of Confederation spur U.S. Constitutional Convention


Similar unrest was happening  in the Carolinas where rural farmers known as Regulators were having a difficult go of it economically and again taxes were the problem. It was the beginning of the Tea  Party/Libertarian movement.

13. Marshal Creates a Third Separate Power 

Of all a President's powers, many feel the appointment of a Supreme Court justice is most important.

The Federalist lost power in 1800 and feared anarchy from the new administration. They decided to decrease the new President's power. Outgoing Federalist under President  Adams decides to control the federal judiciary. He appointed John Marshall as Supreme Court Chief Justice. Then the Federalist congress passed a law that decreased the number of justices from 7 to 5 and increased the number of Federal Judgeships. Adams dutifully appointed these new justices with the last group appointed the night he left office. These 42 appointments were  left signed and sealed but undelivered by Chief Justice Marshall. They became known as the  infamous "Midnight Judges"   Chief Justice Marshal felt signed and sealed meant appointed and the new administration had to mail the appointments.

Jefferson refused and issued 25 new appointments in their place. Marshal wanted his fellow justices to rule the 1801 Judiciary Act unconstitutional. The justices refused. Then William



Marbury, one of the 42 envelope appointees, sued for his job. He wanted the soon to be appointed be Secretary of State John Madison to send the mail.

In Marbury v. Madison the court ruled that Marbury had a right to the commission and that the law provided Marbury with the correct legal remedy. Nonetheless, the Court stopped short of ordering Madison (by writ of mandamus) to hand over Marbury's commission. Instead it held that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that enabled Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court was itself unconstitutional since it purported to extend the Court's original jurisdiction beyond that established by Article III.

Over the years legal scholars have decided what Marshal did was a stretch at best but the deed was done. Voting for a President is almost always voting for a Supreme Court Justice or two and giving a direction for history toward a President's political philosophy. Madison felt adding to the court's power was more important than the short term political gain of his Federalist Party. The  concept of Judicial Review would spread throughout the world.


Inscription on the wall of the Supreme Court Building from Marbury v. Madison, in which Chief Justice John Marshall outlined the concept of judicial review.

  See FDR Court-packing plan