Common Sense: From Monarchy to an American Republic

Common Sense: From Monarchy to an American Republic

Section 1

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1776–1780s, the states draft revolutionary constitutions; a state constitution is shown. In 1781, the Continental Congress ratifies the Articles of Confederation; the first page of the Articles of Confederation is shown. In 1784–1787, the Northwest Ordinances outline the process for the sale of new lands. In 1786–1787, Massachusetts farmers rise up in Shays’ Rebellion; a woodcut depicting Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck is shown. In 1787, the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention drafts a plan for the federal government; a painting of the Constitutional Convention is shown. In 1787–1788, the Constitution is debated across the country.

While monarchies dominated eighteenth-century Europe, American revolutionaries were determined to find an alternative to this method of government. Radical pamphleteer Thomas Paine, whose enormously popular essay Common Sense was first published in January 1776, advocated a republic: a state without a king. Six months later, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence affirmed the break with England but did not suggest what form of government should replace monarchy, the only system most English colonists had ever known. In the late eighteenth century, republics were few and far between. Genoa, Venice, and the Dutch Republic provided examples of states without monarchs, but many European Enlightenment thinkers questioned the stability of a republic. Nonetheless, after their break from Great Britain, Americans turned to republicanism for their new government.

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