Suppose you started a club. What would the rules be? Who would make decisions? If you needed new rules, how would they be made? Would you need some basic rules about how to make rules?
A constitution is a set of rules for a country. It tells how the country should be run and how new rules should be made.
HOW WAS THE CONSTITUTION BORN?
The United States Constitution was written in 1787. At that time, the country was brand-new. It consisted of 13 small states along the Atlantic Coast.
In the mid-1700s, many British colonists in America were angry at King George III. He had imposed a number of taxes on them, demanding more and more money. The colonists felt that they were not being supported or listened to by the British government. Finally, the colonists had enough. In 1776, they wrote up a document that announced they were forming a new nation. They didn’t want to be part of Great Britain anymore.
This document was the Declaration of Independence. It fueled a long and bloody war, the American Revolution (1775-1783). The document resulted in the birth of the United States of America.
What do the presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton all have in common? Answer: They all were elected to office as candidates of the Democratic Party.
WHAT IS A POLITICAL PARTY?
A political party is a group of people who have similar ideas about what their government should do. Political parties in the United States try to get their candidates elected to the presidency, the U.S. Congress, and many other political offices. The Democratic Party is one of the two main political parties in the United States. The other one is called the Republican Party.
When you play with friends, who gets to choose the game? Do you all decide together? Do each of you play a part in the decision? If so, you and your friends are a democracy.
Usually, when we speak of a democracy, we mean a country. In a democratic country, the people choose how they will be governed. Most of the time, they do this by electing leaders who run the government.
ARE ALL DEMOCRACIES THE SAME?
There is more than one type of democracy. In a pure democracy, elected leaders simply carry out the wishes of the voters. But this is not easy to do. Voters must get together often to tell elected leaders what they want. They must take part in many, many decisions.
In 1849, one word sent thousands of people scrambling on a dangerous journey to California: GOLD! A worker at John Sutter’s sawmill in California’s Sacramento Valley discovered gold there in January 1848. The word spread across the country like wildfire. The news flew to faraway China and Europe. The gold rush was on!
HOW PEOPLE GOT TO CALIFORNIA
The journey west to California wasn’t easy in those days. Many Forty-Niners, as the gold seekers were called, traveled by boat. Some sailed around the tip of South America (called Cape Horn) and up to California. A large number of ships sank on this dangerous voyage. Others sailed to Panama, traveled on land to Panama City, and then hopped on another boat to San Francisco.