2.0—Building the Republic

Welcome back to AP Gov!
As I’ve mentioned before, I have re-organized the units and sections in this course so that it follows a more thematic approach and (I hope) makes the content more relatable. In the CollegeBoard’s course, Unit 1 can feel like a long and detached repeat of a Unit 1 course in U.S. History. This first section, 2.0, is a condensed version of the most required content. It will cover democratic ideals, and their reflection in founding documents like the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Federalist Papers.

What you need to learn

How are Enlightenment ideals around limited government and democracy reflected in the founding documents of the United States?

Limited Government Enlightenment Ideals

natural rights

social contract

popular sovereignty

republicanism

Required Founding Document

Declaration of Independence

Limited Government Enlightenment Ideals


Natural Rights

John Locke’s concept of natural rights revolves around the idea that certain rights are inherent and universal to all humans, not granted by any government. These include the right to life (everyone’s right to live), liberty (freedom to act within the law), and property (the right to own and protect one’s possessions). The U.S. Declaration of Independence reflects this, asserting that the government’s role is to protect these basic rights.


Social Contract

The social contract is a straightforward but powerful idea. It’s like an agreement among people to form a society. Imagine everyone agreeing to follow certain rules for everyone’s benefit, and in return, they receive protection and order from a government. This concept, detailed by Locke and Rousseau, underlies the Constitution of the United States, highlighting that the government’s power comes from the consent of the people it governs.


Popular Sovereignty

Popular sovereignty is about who holds the ultimate power in government. It’s the principle that the government’s authority comes directly from the people. Think of it as a school electing its student council; the council has power because the students chose them. This idea is visible in the U.S. Constitution, where the government is created “by the people, for the people,” ensuring that citizens have a say in how they are governed.


Republicanism

Republicanism in the context of Enlightenment and U.S. history isn’t about the modern political party. It’s about having a government where citizens elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf. It’s like choosing a class representative to speak for you at school meetings. This form of government, favored by Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, is designed to serve the common good and protect individual rights, a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution.


In summary, these Enlightenment ideals – natural rights, social contract, popular sovereignty, and republicanism – aren’t just historical concepts. They are the foundation stones of the U.S. government, shaping its structure and ensuring the protection and participation of its citizens. Understanding these principles provides a clear window into the workings and origins of American democracy.

Declaration of Independence

What you need to learn

Influences of Enlightenment ideals in the Declaration of Independence

Enlightenment Ideals

natural rights

social contract

popular sovereignty

republicanism

Enlightenment Ideals in the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence, one of the foundational documents of the United States, is a profound reflection of Enlightenment ideals such as natural rights, social contract, popular sovereignty, and republicanism. Here’s how each of these concepts is represented:

  1. Natural Rights: The Declaration famously states that all men are endowed with certain unalienable rights, including “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This directly mirrors John Locke’s theory of natural rights, which argues that individuals inherently possess rights that cannot be taken away by any government. The Declaration asserts that the primary role of government is to protect these basic human rights.
  2. Social Contract: The Declaration of Independence embodies the social contract theory, primarily advocated by John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It suggests that governments are formed by the consent of the governed to protect their rights. When a government fails to do so, the people have the right to alter or abolish it and establish a new government. This concept is clearly articulated in the Declaration when it states that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.
  3. Popular Sovereignty: This principle is the belief that the authority of the government is created and sustained by the consent of its people, through their elected representatives. The Declaration of Independence represents this idea by emphasizing that the legitimacy of the government comes from the people’s will. The colonists’ decision to separate from Britain was an exercise of popular sovereignty, reflecting the people’s will against what they saw as a tyrannical rule.
  4. Republicanism: While the Declaration does not directly address republicanism in the modern sense of political structure, the spirit of republicanism is inherent in its emphasis on collective action and the common good. The document reflects a commitment to civic virtue and public-mindedness, where the colonists are acting together for a noble purpose – the pursuit of liberty and justice. It sets the stage for the later adoption of a republican form of government with the U.S. Constitution.

In summary, the Declaration of Independence serves as a clear and powerful manifestation of these Enlightenment ideals. It not only justified the American colonies’ break from Britain but also laid the ideological foundation for the new nation’s governance and political philosophy.