The fifty individual states of the United States each have separate histories. The nation itself began after thirteen colonies of Great Britain, situated on the eastern seaboard of what is now the United States, began an armed revolution against the mother country in 1775. Calling themselves “free and independent states,” this loose group of rebels declared independence from Great Britain on July 4th, 1776.
The American Revolutionary War, which lasted from 1775 to 1783, ended in a treaty in which Great Britain recognized the independence of its former colonies. A period of chaos and crisis followed, during which the thirteen states attempted to coexist under the “Articles of Confederation.” A centralized national government did not truly exist during this period.
After much debate and controversy, the states adopted a written constitution in 1787. The constitution gave certain powers to a federal government, reserving all others for the individual states. Today, the constitution forms the framework for the American legal, political and governmental system. As with any political system, the constitution has seen much interpretation, argument, political maneuvering, amendment, and other stresses over two centuries, but it remains a vital document today.
When the United States began, because the British legal and governmental system was such an influence, it set the tone for much of American government (although most Americans believe they have improved upon the British parliamentary system). Most of the thirty-seven states that joined the union after the original thirteen followed the standards set by the original states. A few states have legal systems that at least partially reflect the legal systems of other cultures: France in the case of Louisiana, and Spain in the case of some of the western states.
Next Section:The Bill of Rights
Government and Law: Chapter Home
Life in the USA Home Page.