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Background And Emergence Of Democracy In The British North American Colonies

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Background and Emergence of Democracy in the British North American Colonies

Beginning in the early 1600's, North America experienced a flood of emigrants from England who were

searching for religious freedom, an escape from political oppression, and economic opportunity. Their

emigration from England was not forced upon them by the government, but offered by private groups

whose chief motive was profit.

The emergence of Democracy in colonial America can be attributed to the coming about of several

institutions and documents filled with new and "unconventional" ideas that were brought about by a people

tired of bickering among themselves and being torn apart by strife. The Anglo-American political thought

in the eighteenth century contained notions of right and freedom, which fueled their passion for a better

way of life. . The Virginia House of Burgesses, the Mayflower Compact, New England town meetings,

and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were all early stepping stones toward a truly democratic

government. These documents and organizations may not have been what we perceive, today, as being

democratic, but they were a start.

The first permanent English settlement was a trading post founded in 1607 at Jamestown in the

Old Dominion of Virginia. Virginian colonists had the right, granted to them by The Virginia Company, to

elect a colonial legislature, called the House of Burgesses. Since Virginia was the first royal colony, it was

only fitting that they should lead the way with the first representative government in the New World. Other

lawmaking bodies, not that dissimilar to the House of Burgesses, would soon pop up in other colonies.

The Pilgrims also pioneered the way to democracy. If the Pilgrims had settled in Virginia, where

they had originally planned, they would have been subject to the authority of the Virginia Company. In

their own colony of Plymouth, they were beyond any governmental jurisdiction, so established their own

political organization "to combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for out better ordering and

preservation... and by virtue hereof (to) enact, constitute, and frame much just and equal laws, ordinances,

acts, constitutions, and offices... as shall be though most meet convenient for the general good of the

colony...". This quote, from the unprecedented compact, the Mayflower Compact, displays their want and

willingness to strive for an independent and fair government. This document made plans for self-

government in Plymouth. The compact enacted a direct democracy, in which the citizens, not elected

representatives, were the lawmakers. The ideas of majority rule and !

equal justice under the law were also employed in this compact.

As New England towns grew, there became a typical layout for the towns, which included a

church/meeting house at the center of town. While church



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