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Benjamin Franklin
(1706-1790)
Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. He died on April 17, 1790, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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"No Taxation without Representation"
In the beginning of the 1700's, the United States of America had not been formed. Instead, it was thirteen colonies under Great Britain's rule.

In the mid-1700's, the American colonies began to pull away from Great Britain both politically and socially.

Great Britain imposed taxes on the colonies, including the Sugar Act in 1764, the Stamp Act in 1765, and the Tea Act in 1773. The colonies thought these taxes were unfair because the colonies did not have a representative or voice in the British Parliament when these laws were passed. This led the colonies to demand "no taxation without representation."

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Boston Tea Party
On December 16, 1773, a group of Bostonians boarded three British ships in Boston Harbor carrying $50,000 worth of tea. The Bostonians showed their dislike for the Tea Act by throwing the tea overboard into the Boston Harbor. This is known as the Boston Tea Party.

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American Revolution
The colonies demanded independence from Great Britain, and the situation was on the verge of a revolution. In March, 1775, Virginian Patrick Henry stated, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

On April 19, 1775, British Redcoats and Colonial Minutemen met at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. In the confusion, a shot was fired, and the American Revolution had begun. Although no one knows which side fired this shot, it is known as "the shot heard around the world" because the American Revolution had a far-reaching impact on the rest of the world.

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Declaration of Independence
The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1775. The next year, it appointed a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. The committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. Thomas Jefferson was the primary author.

The text of the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 2, 1776, and adopted by all the colonies on July 4, 1776. Four days later, on July 8, it was read publicly in the State House Yard in Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell was rung. On August 2, the Declaration of Independence was signed by all the delegates of the Second Continental Congress.

Today, the United States celebrates its Independence Day on the 4th of July.

The Declaration of Independence is one of the world's most important political documents. It defines a new kind of government based on freedom and self-rule.

The beginning of the Declaration of Independence is often quoted: "When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another…"

The Declaration of Independence also states the famous words, "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."

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The United States of America
On October 19, 1781, British Commander Lord Cornwallis surrendered to American General George Washington in Yorktown, Virginia.

On September 3, 1783, the American Revolution officially ended when the Treaty of Paris was signed. In the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain recognized the independence of the colonies, and the United States of America was born.

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The Articles of Confederation
In 1777, the Second Continental Congress drafted the Articles of Confederation. It was ratified in 1781, and it became the first set of laws of the United States.

The Articles of Confederation provided for a weak and ineffective central government. There was no executive power (like the President), and there was no judicial power (like the courts).

The Articles of Confederation provided for a Congress, but the Congress had no power. The Congress could not tax, raise armies, or pay debts. The Congress also had no power to regulate commerce between states. This led to states passing tariff laws against the other states.

The new country was heading for disunity.

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The Constitution of the United States
In 1787, the United States held a meeting in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. George Washington was the president of the meeting.

The delegates, however, did not revise the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they drafted a new document to govern the United States, called the Constitution of the United States. This meeting is known as the Constitutional Convention.

The Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1789. It was a new and revolutionary idea. The power to govern is derived from the people, rather than from the states. Also, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

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U.S. Congress: House of Representatives & Senate
During the Constitutional Convention, there was a division between small states and large states regarding how representation in the federal government would be determined. The small states wanted the states to have equal representation. The large states wanted representation based on population.

A compromise was reached which satisfied both sides. The Constitution set up a bicameral system. A bicameral system is a legislature made up of two chambers. The United States legislature is called the United States Congress. It is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

     The House of Representatives is elected according to population. This pleased the large states because the large states would have more representatives.

     The Senate is made up of two Senators from each state. This pleased the small states because each state would have the same number of Senators.

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The Three Branches of Government
The Constitution of the United States is made up of seven Articles. The first three Articles describe the three branches of government.

     Article I describes the legislative branch. It consists of the U.S. Congress which contains both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

     Article II describes the executive branch. It consists of the President and Vice President.

     Article III describes the judicial branch. It consists of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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The Bill of Rights
The Constitution of the United States was an improvement over the Articles of Confederation. However, it did not address certain individual rights.

In 1791, ten amendments were added to the Constitution to guarantee these individual rights. These are the first ten amendments. They are known as The Bill of Rights.

     The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government.

    It states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    This is a very important Amendment in the United States. People refer to this Amendment when they talk about their right of free speech and press and the separation of Church (religion) and State (government).

      The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

    It states, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

    This Amendment is usually a very controversial topic between the political parties and during elections.

      The Third Amendment guarantees soldiers cannot be quartered in any house.

    It states, "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

    This Amendment was more important after the Revolutionary War than it is today.

      The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.

    It states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    This Amendment is important during criminal trials. If a search or seizure is found to be unreasonable, then the evidence obtained from that unreasonable search or seizure cannot be used in court.

      The Fifth Amendment guarantees a person the right to be indicted in Federal Court by a Grand Jury, not to be charged twice for the same crime (double jeopardy), not to be forced to incriminate themselves (self incrimination), to the due process of law, and not to have their property taken by the government without payment (eminent domain).

    It states, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

    This Amendment is the grounds for the part of the Miranda Warnings which states, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." Have you heard this on television or in the movies?

      The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant in criminal proceedings, the right to a public and speedy trial, a fair jury, cross examination of witnesses, and an attorney.

    It states, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

    This Amendment only addresses the rights of criminal defendants. It is the grounds for the part of the Miranda Warnings which states, "You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you." Have you heard this too?

      The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury in a civil proceeding.

    It states, "In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."

    This Amendment addresses the right to a jury in a civil matter. Twenty dollars was worth more in 1791 than it is today.

      The Eighth Amendment protects against excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.

    It states, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

    This Amendment is cited in discussions about the death penalty. Opponents of the death penalty say it is cruel and unusual punishment.

      The Ninth Amendment reserves other rights to the people.

    It states, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

    This Amendment has not been used much to protect individual rights.

      The Tenth Amendment reserves States Rights.

    It states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

    This Amendment is important in determining the rights of the separate states. The United States Constitution describes the laws of the federal government, and its laws are the "supreme law of the land" as defined in Article VI. This Amendments reserves to the States all the powers not covered by the Constitution.

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