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The Articles of Confederation

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• Part 2: The Power of the States
Part 3: The First National Government

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Part 1: The Basic Rights

The American colonies were in the middle of a war when they declared themselves independent from Great Britain. By the end of 1776, just a few short months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 10 of the 13 colonies had their own constitutions. Four years later, they all did.

The colonists who wrote these constitutions thought it very important that they have written documents. The British constitution wasn't written down, so British laws could be interpreted any way the judges saw fit. The American colonists wanted the powers of the government to be in writing, so everyone would know what they were.

The colonists also wanted their individual and natural rights protected. They thought that the British government didn't respect what they saw as natural rights (such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"). To this end, most state constitutions included a bill of rights to protect these natural and individual rights. This bill of rights included many of the rights guaranteed by the current Bill of Rights, including:

  • freedom of speech
  • freedom of religion
  • freedom of the press
  • trial by jury
  • search warrant for property searches

These constitutions also restricted the power of government. Fearful of another king, the American colonists wanted a government that would serve them, not the other way around. One state, Pennsylvania, didn't even have a governor.

Next page > The Power of the States > Page 1, 2, 3


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