Names & Terms in
   Fasttrack to America's Past
   Section 3:  Revolutionary Years
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Adams, John - a key leader in the independence movement, and later, the second president of the U.S.  He was a lawyer and newspaper essay writer who began taking an active role in politics during the Stamp Act dispute of 1765.
    At the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, he was on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence.  While Thomas Jefferson was mainly responsible for writing the document, Adams spoke most forcefully on its behalf on the floor of the Congress.  His letters to and from his wife, Abigail, along with his diary, are famous for the insight they offer into this period.
    Adams was elected vice-president under George Washington, then as president in the election of 1796.  He was a leading figure in the Federalist Party, which favored a strong national government and support for commerce.  He kept America from becoming tangled in a war between England and France in these years, and considered that among his greatest accomplishments.
    Adams was defeated by Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800.   Bitter disagreements between the two were reconciled in their old age, and both men died on the same July fourth day, exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

amendment - an addition or change to the Constitution.  The first ten amendments, ratified in 1791, are called the Bill of Rights.

Anti-Federalists - people who opposed ratification of the Constitution.  Patrick Henry and other Anti-Federalists felt the proposed change from the Articles of Confederation gave too much power to the national level government.  They preferred a system that kept almost all governmental power at the state level, where citizens could keep a close watch on what was happening.
    Many Anti-Federalists tended to be farmers or craftsmen who were suspicious that wealthier classes would be able to turn a strong central government to serve their own ends, rather than the good of the people generally.

Articles of Confederation - the document that organized the 13 states into a national government during the Revolution, and for about five years after.  This “first constitution” proved to be not very workable, because it gave too little power to the national level of government.  As a result, a convention was called for 1787 in Philadelphia to consider changes to the Articles.  The delegates decided instead to write an entirely new document, the U.S. Constitution.

bail - money that an accused person can put up to avoid being held in jail while awaiting trial.  The money is returned once the trial is over.  In very serious crimes, bail may not be allowed, and the accused must stay in jail.  In minor crimes, bail sometimes is not required, and the accused is simply released while a trial date is set.

branches of the federal government - the three main parts of the national government as provided in the Constitution.  They are: the Legislative branch, which includes Congress, the Executive branch, which is headed by the president, and the Judicial branch, which includes the Supreme Court.

Cabinet - the president’s most important advisory body.  It is not mentioned in the Constitution, but emerged as George Washington took charge as the first president.  It is made up of the heads of the executive departments, such as the Department of State, Department of the Treasury, etc.

checks and balances - the concept by which different parts of the government keep an eye on the other parts, and prevent them from getting too far out of line.  For example, the president can veto a bill passed by Congress, while Congress is given the power to impeach the president.  

civil lawsuit - a legal case that grows out of a disagreement between people or groups of people, rather than criminal action.  A person injured by using defective medical equipment, for example, might sue the company that sold the equipment. 

common law - the “unwritten law” that is a result of the legal customs and past decisions of the courts, often tracing back hundreds of years.  (Contrast with statute law, which is a result of specific action taken by Congress or other legislative body.)

constitutional government - a government with a written constitution that describes the powers, the rules, and the limits of the government.  (Some forms of government have neither rules nor limits, such as dictatorships.)

Continental Army - the regular army of the U.S. that was formed in the Boston area after the fighting at Lexington and Concord in 1775.  George Washington was put in charge of the new army by the Second Continental Congress.  By appointing him, the Congress hoped to cement the support of the Southern colonies.  This army was initially created by enlisting men from the militia units around Boston. 

due process - the step-by-step process that must be followed by the government in a legal case or other action against a citizen.  This principle requires the government to “follow the rules,” and exists as a protection against abusive government power.

Electoral College - the body that actually casts the votes that elect the U.S. president.  The popular vote does not directly elect the president.  Instead, the popular vote in each state selects which political party’s nominees for electors in that state will go to the state capital to cast their votes for president.  (There are as many electors allowed each state as the state’s total representation in Congress, that is, congressmen and senators.)
    Under this system, whichever party takes a majority of a state’s popular vote gets to send all its electors to the state capital.  While electors are not required to vote for their party’s candidate, they almost always do.  Thus, a candidate normally gets all of a state’s electoral votes even if he or she wins only 51 percent of that state’s popular vote.
    As a result of this system, candidates often concentrate their campaigns on states like California with a large number of electors.  The system has its critics, but it does have some advantages.  The winner of the presidential election can usually be determined very quickly, usually on election night even before the final votes have been counted.

Enlightenment, The - the era in the late 1600s through the 1700s that is sometimes also called the “Age of Reason.”  During this period, a number of writers in Europe began criticizing such ideas as the “divine right” of kings to rule.  Thinkers like John Locke in England began developing new ideas about individual rights that led to modern ideas of government.  For example, he wrote that all individuals are born with certain natural rights.  He said a legitimate government’s authority can only be based on a kind of “social contract” among the people to allow the government to serve the common needs of all for security.   He also wrote of a right of the people to overthrow an abusive government.
    These ideas spread to the American colonies, and greatly influenced the leaders of the Revolution.  Many Enlightenment ideas are contained in such documents as the Declaration of Independence.
    Enlightenment era thinkers put a great emphasis on the ability of the human mind to understand the universe and human society.  Just as a clock worked on the laws of physics, so could a political system be conceived as a kind of machine that needed only the right design to balance all the forces of society.  Writers of the U.S. Constitution were clearly thinking along such lines as they developed its system of checks and balances, etc.

federalism - the concept of dividing government into two layers, a national level and a state level.  Under the Constitution, various governmental powers and responsibilities are split between the federal government and the state governments.  This keeps many key functions close to the people in their individual states, but also provides for a national government to handle functions appropriate to that level, such as the military, trade laws, and foreign relations.  (Cities, towns, and other local governments are actually part of the state layer, because they are established by state laws.)

Federalists - people who favored ratification (approval) of the U.S. Constitution.  Most tended to be from the wealthier classes, or were involved in finance or commerce.  Alexander Hamilton was a prominent Federalist.  Many of these people later formed the Federalist political party in the 1790s.

Franklin, Benjamin - a printer in Philadelphia who became a key figure in the push for American independence, and later, an important figure in the writing of the U.S. Constitution. 
    His interest in science led him to conduct a famous experiment with a kite that proved that lightning is electricity.  He invented the lightning rod and an efficient heating stove that used much less wood than a fireplace.  He is also famous for creating and publishing Poor Richard’s Almanac, with its witty and wise advice on everything from agriculture to marriage.
    Born in Boston, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia as a young man.  He rose in the printing trade, and went to London to learn more about it.  After returning to America, he made a small fortune in his various endeavors.  Franklin was an elderly man as the colonies rebelled against British rule.  He served on the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 at the Second Continental Congress.
    The Revolution created a hard split with his son, who had risen to be royal governor of New Jersey, and who favored the British side during and after the conflict. 
    Franklin went to France as the fighting began to win the help of the French government.  There, he became a celebrity  in French society, which saw something inspiring in this man whose background and style were so different from the typical European noblemen.  Later, Franklin helped negotiate the peace treaty ending the Revolution.
    By the time the Constitution was written in 1787, Franklin was over 80, but played a big role in keeping the delegates working and compromising.  His arguments in favor of the document helped swing support toward the new plan.

grand jury - a panel of citizens that decides if there is enough evidence to accuse someone of a crime. 
    The panel does not determine guilt or innocence - that is the job of the trial jury.  The grand jury only decides if there is enough evidence to justify bringing a formal accusation - called an indictment - against a person suspected of a crime.  The grand jury thus protects citizens from unjust accusations by police or other officials.

Hamilton, Alexander - an aide to George Washington during the Revolution who went on to argue successfully for ratification of the U.S. Constitution.  Born in the British West Indies, he was sent to New York by relatives, and was in college there as the Boston Tea Party occurred.  Hamilton began writing pamphlets supporting the rebellion against Britain, and was made captain of an artillery unit.  He led an assault at Yorktown in that last battle of the Revolution.
    After the peace treaty, Hamilton practiced law in New York.  He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  There, he argued forcefully for creation of a stronger national government.  He was one of the principal authors of The Federalist, the series of essays that appeared in newspapers to promote ratification of the document by the states.
    Hamilton served as Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington.  He played a key role in establishing a solid financial foundation for America, and promoted the formation of a National Bank.  He was among the most important leaders of the Federalist political party, which generally allied itself with the wealthier interests.
    Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, another prominent political figure, in 1804.

Hancock, John - the Massachusetts political leader whose name is first - and largest - on the Declaration of Independence.  He had been active in organizing opposition to the British in the Boston area, and was among those who had to flee Concord when the British marched there in 1775.  Hancock was president of the Second Continental Congress when the Declaration was written.  After the Revolution, he served as governor of Massachusetts.

Henry, Patrick - the famous Virginian best known for declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death!” in 1775.  Although he received little formal schooling in youth, he later studied law, and became well known for his powerful speaking style.  He became a member of the House of Burgesses, and delivered a strong attack on the Stamp Act in 1765.  Over the next decade, he was a leader of the most radical opponents of British rule in the colonies.
    Following his “liberty or death” speech in 1775, he served on the committee that wrote the first constitution for independent Virginia.  He was elected governor during the early years of the Revolution, and continued in various offices after.
    Henry refused to attend the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia, and he opposed ratification of the Constitution itself during debate in Virginia.  Like other Anti-Federalists, he feared that a strong national government would threaten the power of the states, and even individual liberty.  Once the Bill of Rights was added a few years later, however, he accepted the new system.

Hessians - a nickname the colonists gave the hired German soldiers, or mercenaries, used by the British in the American Revolution.  A large group of Hessians was captured at Trenton in a famous attack led by George Washington.

House of Representatives - the “lower house” of the U.S. Congress.  The number of Representatives a state gets is based on the state’s population.  There are presently 435 members.  Every ten years, following the Census, adjustments are made to reflect population changes.
    House members are expected to closely follow issues that affect the people who elect them, and they face election every two years.

idealism - a belief that human society can be made better, and that one should work toward that goal.  In the American Revolution, the belief that older forms of government could be replaced by government based on the choices of ordinary citizens was very idealistic.

inflation - a general rise in the level of prices.  In the Revolution, paper money was printed in such large quantities that it led to rapid inflation of prices.  An excess or rapidly growing supply of paper money is often at the root of inflation.  In modern times, a year-to-year increase of three to five percent is considered normal.  During the Revolution, inflation at times ran well over 100 percent a year.

Jefferson, Thomas - the Revolutionary era leader from Virginia who was the main author of the Declaration of Independence.  He was born near Charlottesville, and later built his famous hilltop home, Monticello, nearby.  Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary at a young age after his father died.  There, he became well known for his intense interest in ideas and knowledge of all kinds.
    By the 1770s, he was involved in Virginia political life, and was sent as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  While not a powerful speaker, his written language in the Declaration has often been declared “immortal.”
    Back in Virginia, Jefferson was for a time governor of Virginia during the Revolution, but could do little to stop British attacks on the state.  After peace was established, he went to France to represent the United States, and was there as the Constitution was being debated in Philadelphia in 1787.  He wrote to friends, arguing forcefully for the adoption of the Bill of Rights.
    A common theme in Jefferson’s writings is a faith in democracy, the value of rebellion as a liberating force, and suspicion of government power.  He argued repeatedly for ending slavery, although he owned more than a hundred slaves himself.
    His views brought him into conflict with Alexander Hamilton when both served in the administration of George Washington.  Hamilton favored policies that helped promote business interests, banking, and a strong government power.  Jefferson felt the power of these groups would slowly undermine the ideals of liberty and equality that had been expressed in the Revolution.  His vision of America was a land spread with small independent farmers, all filled with civic virtue and eager to protect their liberties.
    Jefferson emerged as the leader of the Republican political party, and won the presidential election of 1789.  As president, he arranged the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France, which doubled the size of the country, and arranged the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the region.  He retired home to Monticello, and established the University of Virginia in 1819.  Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration was signed.

judicial review - the right of the Supreme Court to review laws passed by Congress and determine whether they are constitutional or unconstitutional.  While this right is not spelled out in the Constitution itself, it was established in a famous 1803 Supreme Court case, Marbury v. Madison.  This power thus became a part of the system of checks and balances in the federal government.

legislature - the part of the government that discusses and votes on laws.  In America, Congress is the legislature at the national level, and there are state legislatures to make laws at the state level.

Lexington & Concord - the two towns near Boston where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in April, 1775.  The British, worried about spreading talk of rebellion, were marching to Concord to seize weapons and rebel leaders there.  Warned by Paul Revere, 70 minutemen from the area assembled at Lexington.  Shots were fired, and eight colonists were killed.  The British marched on to Concord, but found little left to seize.  On the way back to Boston, swarms of minutemen fired on the British soldiers, killing more than 200.
    This first conflict gave what was later called “the shot heard ‘round the world.”  It tended to push colonists further toward the independence movement, and angered the British, who felt the attack by the minutemen on the British soldiers as they marched back to Boston was cowardly.

[Locke, John - an English writer and philosopher who lived during the  Enlightenment era and developed the social contract theory of government.  In his famous Two Treatises of Civil Government (1690) he developed the idea of natural rights to life, liberty, and property.  He also attacked the idea of the “divine right” of kings, and suggested that individuals in a society have a right to revolt when their natural rights are abused.  His writings had a profound impact on American colonists like Thomas Jefferson as they developed their own ideas during the Revolution.] 

Loyalist/Tory - two common terms for the people during the American Revolution who remained loyal to England, and opposed independence.

Madison, James - the Virginia political leader who is often called “the father of the Constitution,” and who later served as fourth president of the U.S.
    Madison made a name for himself as an early advocate of independence, and was at the Virginia convention that wrote the first constitution for the newly independent state in 1776.  Madison served in a number of other public capacities during the Revolution, all the while working for a stronger union among the states.
    Madison promoted the calling in 1787 of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.  There, he was ready with “The Virginia Plan,” which became a starting point for creation of the Constitution.   His extensive study of past systems of government made him an expert whose views were often consulted as the proceedings went forward. 
    As the document went to the states for ratification, Madison joined with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers, which promoted the benefits of the new system.
    Madison served as an influential Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson, then was elected president himself in 1808.  He was still president when the War of 1812 broke out following many years of trouble on the seas with both England and France.  The conflict saw the White House and the Capitol burned during a British attack before the conflict ended.
    After leaving the presidency, Madison returned to his farm in Virginia.  There, he argued for the abolition of slavery and the resettlement of freed slaves in Liberia.

minutemen - the most active and committed members of the volunteer militia units in Massachusetts.  They were pledged to be ready in a minute’s notice to defend against the British as tension mounted in 1775.

Paine, Thomas - an English immigrant to the colonies whose pamphlet Common Sense was a key factor in swinging public opinion toward independence in the early part of 1776.
    Paine had little formal education, and went to work as a corset maker in England at a young age.  He failed at several businesses and two marriages before meeting Benjamin Franklin in London.  Franklin advised him to come to the colonies, which he did, arriving in Philadelphia in 1774.  He found work with a magazine printer.
    As the conflict with England intensified in 1775, Paine began writing his famous pamphlet, which called for a complete break with England.  It was published in January of 1776.
    During the war he wrote a number of inspiring calls to the Patriots to keep their spirits up, and even traveled to France personally to get more supplies and clothing for the soldiers.
    In 1787, Paine traveled to England and France, and wrote a famous book on the causes and events of the French Revolution that is still read today.  His views, however, got him in trouble in both countries.
    Back in America in 1802, Paine found that he was out of favor, in part because of his agitation against the privileges of the wealthy classes, and in part for his criticism of organized religion.  He continued writing, but died almost forgotten by the country he had done so much to help create.

Patriots - Americans during the Revolution who favored and supported the effort to break away from British control.  Historians estimate that about one-third of the colonists were committed Patriots as the fight began.

[plead the 5th - see "take the 5th."]

[probable cause - the level of evidence or reasonable grounds needed to obtain a search warrant from a judge, as stated in the Bill of Rights.  It does not need to be proof, but must be more than merely a hunch or suspicion.]

ratify - to officially approve or confirm, especially by a vote of a governmental body.  After the Constitution was written, the states held special conventions to ratify or to reject the document.  By July, 1788, all but two states had voted to ratify the Constitution, and the new government began organizing.

republic - a form of democracy in which laws are made not by a direct vote of the people, but by representatives elected by the people.  The United States is a republic.

Revere, Paul - the silversmith in Boston who rode toward Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, to warn the minutemen that the British were coming to seize weapons stored at Concord.  He was also a print maker whose famous image of the Boston Massacre portrayed it as a savage slaughter of colonists.  He was among the colonists who dressed as Indians and dumped British tea overboard in the Boston Tea Party.  He served in the Revolution in the Boston area, and after the war, set up a business to make sheets of copper used in buildings and ships.

rule of law - the principle that laws, rather than the arbitrary judgment of rulers, should govern the affairs and disputes of a society.  This concept is among the most important ideas developed in world history, and traces back in various forms to ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea.  The famous Code of Hammurabi in ancient Babylonia and Roman law were both early expressions of the concept.  In England, the Magna Carta (1215) and the English Bill of Rights (1689) were important steps forward.
    The American colonies were born with the rule of law already well established, if not always completely followed.  The Revolution, by its declarations of  liberty and equality under law, and its rejection of privileges of noble birth, was a great advance for the principle.
    Societies built on the rule of law, such as our own, can steadily incorporate improvements and reforms into the law.  These become a solid foundation for later generations to build upon and extend.  The Civil Rights movement is a good example.  Societies based on the power and whim of an individual, whether a communist dictator or tribal chief,  find it very hard to make similar progress.

search warrant - a document that police and other officials must normally get before they can enter a private home to search for evidence of a crime.  To get a search warrant, police do not need proof of a crime, but need probable cause.  The search warrant must also state specifically what is being sought.  These requirements, set forth in the Bill of Rights, are vitally important, because they establish that a citizen’s home is a special, private place that is safe from arbitrary invasion by the government.

Second Continental Congress - the meeting of  delegates from the colonies that assembled at Philadelphia in May of 1775, after the fighting at Lexington and Concord.  The delegates voted to establish the Continental Army, and named George Washington as its commander in chief.  But the Congress also declared loyalty to King George III, and asked that he help restore normal relations.  The king, however, proclaimed that the colonies were in rebellion, and approved a plan passed by Parliament to cut off all colonial trade.
    The Congress, outraged by such treatment, began acting more and more as a central government.  It sent colonial leaders to other European countries to seek aid, and set up a postal system in the colonies.  It also authorized American ships to attack those of Great Britain.
    Hope remained for many delegates that a total break could somehow be avoided.  But in June of 1776, the Congress heard a motion from a Virginia delegate for independence.  A committee was established to write a declaration.  On July 4, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and the United States of America was formed.

Sedition Act - a law pushed through Congress by the Federalist Party in 1798 that made it a crime to speak or publish criticism of federal officials or the federal government.  The law, which clearly violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech rights, was intended to silence newspapers published by supporters of the Republican party.  (John Adams, a Federalist, was president at the time, and the country was involved in a very serious dispute with France.)
    Republicans under Thomas Jefferson denounced the law, and made it an issue in the election of 1800.  Jefferson won, and issued a pardon for the handful of people convicted under the law. 

Senate - the “upper house” of the U.S. Congress.  There are two U.S. senators from each state, and they serve six year terms.  Originally, they were appointed by each state’s legislature, but in the early 1900s, a constitutional amendment set up direct election of senators by the voters.  Senators tend to be older and have more political experience than members of the “lower house” - the House of Representatives. Since they serve longer terms, they are expected to take the “long view” of the nation’s affairs, rather than cast their votes according to the swings of public opinion.  (In many state governments, the upper house of the legislature is also often called the State Senate.) 

separation of powers - the principle of dividing government power among different parts of the government so no one part gets too much power.  It can be seen clearly in the Constitution, with its division of the national government into three main branches, the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial.

social contract theory - a political theory which holds that governments are formed as individuals form a kind of “social contract” among themselves.  With this contract, they each agree to give up a small part of their individual liberty to enjoy the benefits of a secure society.  This theory, also called the social compact theory, was developed during the Enlightenment by writers like John Locke.  Its influence can be seen in the Declaration of Independence in the lines that state, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
    The social contract theory, which tries to base government on the broad masses of people, was a direct challenge to older ideas, which held that government was based on “God’s will” or ancient tradition or simply raw power.

take the 5th - making use of the right guaranteed by the 5th amendment (in the Bill of Rights) to avoid testifying against oneself.

tyrant/tyranny - A tyrant is a ruler who is oppressive, cruel, or arbitrary.  Tyranny is the condition under such a ruler.

Virginia Declaration of Rights - a historically important document adopted by delegates writing a constitution for Virginia in June of 1776.  The declaration lists most of the key principles of government that were written into the national Declaration of Independence and later, the Bill of Rights.  George Mason was the principal author.

Washington, George - the Virginia plantation owner who rose to command the Continental Army during the Revolution, and later served as the first president of the United States.
    Washington was born into a fairly wealthy family, but had little formal education.  He learned the surveyor’s trade, and in his teenage years, was already riding through many of the wilderness areas of Virginia.
    In 1754, the British sent Washington to check out the activities of the French in the Ohio River valley.  It marked the beginning of the French and Indian War.  Following the conflict, Washington turned his attention to his family plantation, Mount Vernon, where he lived with his wife, Martha.
    Washington was named commander in chief of the Continental Army as the Revolution began in 1775 outside Boston.  His courage and determination were often all that stood between victory and defeat for the cause.  At Yorktown, he led the combined American and French forces that defeated the British forces there in 1781.
    Washington actively sought to promote close relations among the states, and was selected to lead the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  He was elected under that document as the first president in 1788.  During his two terms, he did much to shape the traditions and practices of the presidency, including formation of the Cabinet.  In a famous  farewell address, he warned Americans to beware of entanglement in the affairs of Europe.
    Washington died at Mt. Vernon in 1799.

Whiskey Rebellion - a rebellion by farmers in western Pennsylvania in 1794 against a federal tax on the production of whiskey.  The tax was adopted by Congress to raise money for the federal government.  But farmers resented the tax, which they claimed robbed them of their profit.  (Farmers in frontier lands often turned their grain crops to whiskey, since that was cheaper to transport than bulk grain.)  Before long, farmers were refusing to pay the tax, and were even threatening federal tax collectors themselves.
    President George Washington sent an army of 15,000 men to put down the rebellion, which collapsed with no bloodshed.  But the incident proved that the federal government, under the new Constitution, could and would enforce its laws.

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