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to Europe, America has little history in terms of years. In a mere 398
years, assuming a settlement date of 1607 when the London Company
established the Jamestown settlement and the current year of 2005, a
total of three documents, a war for independence, a civil war, and a
particular depression have largely driven the social, economic,
political, and religious pulse of the nation. The first of the three
documents, the Declaration of Independence
(1776), was a bold, rebellious, and revolutionary statement in defense
of basic human rights, as they saw them, that resulted in the
Revolutionary War against England to defend those very
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Upon the victory of the revolutionaries against the tyrannical English monarchy, leading agitators and political figures, iconically branded in our brains as the powdered-wigged village elders known as the Founding Fathers, drafted The Constitution of the United States (1787-1788). This document made the rebellious assertions of the Declaration into a social contract, which would serve as the ultimate law of the land. Out of revolution came a new nation, one where old world values would continuously clash with new values on the virgin soil, at least until a uniquely American persona developed. The revolution, and the social contract of the Constitution were bright first steps, and the addition of the Bill of Rights in 1791 as amendments to the Constitution assured critics of the Constitution that the government could not take away basic rights of citizens as England did of the American colonists. They wanted to make sure that the American government had, as the Declaration boldly declared, "powers from the consent of the governed."
The first major threat to the Constitution and, thus the government of the new nation, came from within: a war between the states (1861-1865) over the right of the Confederate states to withdraw from the union of states and create a new nation. Though Americans today are more likely to site slavery and white/black relations as the primary cause of the Civil War, these issues were on the back burner of the nation's stove, with economic issues by way of states' rights campaign of the South simmering, and about to boil on the front. This challenge put the relatively new government in the same position as King George III just 75 years ago, and the Confederate revolutionaries in place of the Continental ones.