Week Three: The Shaping of the American Republic





Mosaic Law:










·        The republican conception of liberty, like the words "republic" and “liberty" themselves, originated in Rome

·        Roman constitution instituted by Lucius Junius Brutus in 509 B.C.

·        Three branches of government – executive, deliberative (Senate), and legislative (several popular assemblies)

o       American gov’t combined deliberative and legislative branches and added judicial

·        Three parts of the Roman consitution: magistrates, Senate, and people

Roman liberty was associated with annual elections and the rule of law

·         Livy observed that republican laws should be blind and inexorable, while the justice of kings is subject to personal influence.


Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

à This is key: if there is a natural law that applies to all people, with God behind them, there are absolutes of right and wrong. This is the first step toward a check against despotism. If there are no absolutes, no law written on our hearts (Rom. 2), then we can’t punish the Hitlers or Saddam Husseins of the world. We also can’t really have a system of law with punishments for wrongdoers.

à Influences American thought on “checks and balances”

à No real checks and balances in Roman government

-         mob rule was commonplace

-         problem was that rulers came to see that they were above the law

o       “The lesson of Roman history is that letting the ambitious go unpunished [by the Roman Senate] invites even bolder, more dangerous action.” (Matthew Robinson, The Claremont Insitute)

-         new rulers consistently cancelled the edicts of older ones, often bringing criminal indictments that reached back years, even decades

-         Ambitious politicians spent fortunes to win approval through gaudy theatrics and gladiatorial displays, while subsidizing grain to support the lower classes ("bread and circuses")


Sidebar: John Locke


à big concern about arbitrary power







English History



55 B.C. – Julius Caesar conquers England and brings further civ. to Celts

-         encounters Druid culture

-         Caesar did little more than establish a foothold on the island


43 AD. - Britain officially became a frontier province of the Empire with the invasion of the emperor Claudius' troops

-         cities founded

-         Roman stone roads


Celts live in peace for centuries

R. Empire crumbles and Rom. Legions withdrawn from England

Celts thus powerless before Anglo-Saxons and other invaders


British bishops attend Council of Sardica (347)

449 A.D. – Anglo-Saxons from Germans, Denmark, and the Netherlands invade England

-         blue eyes

-         fair skin

-         common language (Anglo-Saxon)

-         crush higher Celtic civ. (Christian civilization beginning with St. Patrick)

-         Destroy monestaries, etc.

-         King Arthur – Celtic king who fights in vain against A-S invaders

-         Celts pushed to north and west of island

-         A-Ss have lower classes (slaves and peasants) who do most of farming and domestic work

-         Upper class men (thanes or free warriors) were king’s consultants and who obey king in times of battle; often relatives or good friends of king

-         Loud existence – heavy drinking, disputes, fights, braggarts

-         The flyting – bragging contest between two warriors

-         A-S warriors are plain-spoken and straightforward

o       Like Mainers?

-         loyalty to king


à Jefferson studied Anglo-Saxons in their own language

Before Norman Conquest of 1066:


597 A.D. – Christian missionaries come to England from Rome and Ireland (which had been Christian for a hundred years thanks to St. Patrick and others)

            -     Augustine is first Archbishop of Canterbury

-         uneven results

-         A dominant Anglo-Saxon king in South, Ethelbert, was converted after marrying a German princess

-         “officially” Christian by 700 A.D. (book says 664 A.D.)

-         still, large pockets of paganism or Christian veneer

-         superstitions, charms, and legends of old heathen gods persist

-         monestaries founded and their influence spreads to the populace

o       monks start writing in Latin, but then begin writing in English

-         Viking raids on British coast begin in 786 and continue for several hundred years

o       Converted in 900s and by c. 1000 A.D. raids stop

o       By then they had settled Iceland, where the Althing, an assembly of all free men

§         Cast votes

§         First rudimentary democracy since Ancient Greece


English Common Law



English Tradition Takes Root in America


-         Reformation – 1517 – Martin Luther

-         English Reformation – Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) – wanted to annul marriage to Catherine of Aragon after 18 yrs of marriage and no male heir

o       Bore some children, but they all died in infancy except Mary, who eventually became Queen

o       Henry was model husband – no affairs – asks for annulment 9 yrs after last pregnancy

o       Pope Clement VII says no

o       Henry marries Anne Boleyn, whom nobody liked except Henry

o       Henry declared himself head of Church of England

o       Finally has son with 3rd wife, Jane Seymour – King Edward VI (r. 1547-1553)

-         Church of England under pressure from those who wanted to purify church of “papist” influences

o       Enemies called them “Puritans”

-         Puritans and Separatists

o       Separatists: seperate from Church of England entirely

o       Puritans: work within the Church of England to push forth reforms

-         The Pilgrims were Separatists

o       Persecuted by Church of England

o       Flee to Holland in 1608

§         Children becoming corrupted

o       Head to America in 1620

§         Mayflower Compact

·        Seeds of American liberties planted

·        First time in human history a free people come together to establish a government

·        No longer under the thumb of external powers such as Church of England

à They claimed the rights of Englishmen whenever it was convenient, but thought of themselves as Americans almost from the start

à Within 30 years of the founding, the colonies were run by men who were born in America

à In time, the split between the crown and colonies would force folks to choose sides!


Steps Toward Unity


à message: One nation under God and that only God can give liberty, equality, and fraternity


Steps Toward Independence


à Now both King and Parliament were at war with the Colonies

o                   Jefferson is a Virginia Delegate to the Second Contintental Congress in 1775 at age 33

o                   Committee is formed in June 1776 to draft a declaration of Independence

à Truth is that England had been at war with Colonies for 13 or 14 months, since Lexington and Concord in April 1775 (or even since Boston Massacre of 1770)

o                   With exception of tinkering by Franklin and John Adams, D of I is Jefferson’s work alone

o                   His great contribution to American political theory:



This day will be the most memorable in the history of America; to be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.




à Reminder: Read Articles of Confederation for Monday (textbook, pp. 261-268)