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Standard 1.0 Political Science

Topic A. The Foundations and Function of Government

Indicator 2. Analyze the impact of historic documents and practices that became the foundations of the American political system during the early national period

Objective b. Identify the principles in European historic documents and show their connections to the development of American political ideology such as Magna Carta and English Bill of Rights


Prior to declaring independence in 1776, American colonists were subjects of the British monarchy who were governed under Great Britain’s unwritten constitution. As such, they were ruled according to long-established British practices known as common law as well as formal laws passed by Parliament. The colonists also enjoyed the rights of Englishmen. As a result of this experience, the colonists’ views about government were greatly influenced by British ideas and traditions. Two historic documents were particularly important in the early development of America’s democratic political ideology: the Magna Charta and the English Bill of Rights.

Signed in 1215, the Magna Charta was an agreement between English nobility and King John that bound the King to respect the nobles’ private property rights. In return, the nobility agreed to support the King and obey the law. Although the nobility only made up a small portion of Britain’s population, The Magna Charta influenced the American political ideology in two important ways. First, it was the source of the colonists’ belief that government should be based upon a contract between those who make public policies (the government) and those who are governed by them (the people), and that if either side breaks the contract, it is no longer valid. Second, by requiring the king to govern according to established rules of law, and by setting forth procedures he must follow in order to take away the property of nobles, the Magna Charta instilled in the colonists the principles of rule of law and limited government.

In 1689, the British Parliament passed the English Bill of Rights. This law gave certain rights to Parliament that limited the power of the monarch. It required elections to Parliament to be free and declared that the people had the right to petition the king. It also stated that the monarch would no longer be permitted to collect taxes without Parliament’s consent, interfere with Parliament’s right to engage in free speech and debate, maintain peacetime armies, prevent Protestants from having arms to defend themselves, require excessive bail, and declare that laws passed by the Parliament should not be obeyed. The English Bill of Rights influenced the political ideology of the American colonies by setting forth the idea that the voice of the people, expressed through the actions of Parliament, could not be suppressed by the monarch. It reinforced the extended the principles of limited government that had been established in the Magna Charta.

Resources for Objective 1.A.2.b:
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