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Juan de Onate, the first Spanish governor, marked this rock in New Mexico to show he had been there.

Juan de Onate, the first Spanish governor, marked this rock in New Mexico to show he had been there (1605).

Throughout the 1500s, the governments of North America were a lot like they had been before 1500. But two important things changed. One was that the Spanish settlers in the south-west set up a government there. The Spanish governor was responsible to Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, so it was a monarchy. The governor ruled the Spanish settlers. He forced Pueblo people to do what he said, too – sometimes by cutting off people’s feet.

The other thing was that five different groups of the Iroquois got together and formed the Iroquois Confederacy. Members of the Confederacy all agreed not to fight with each other. They would defend their land all together as allies. This made the Iroquois much stronger than they had been before. They were able to push the Algonquin further north into Canada, and the Cherokee further south.

Mayflower compact

Mayflower compact

During the 1600s, the first English settlers began to arrive on the East Coast. These groups set up their own governments. Their governors were responsible to King Charles in England, so they were also part of a monarchy. One example of a written agreement to set up a government is the Mayflower Compact.

Further north, the French settlers who arrived at this time were under the rule of the French king – Louis XIV. The Iroquois continued their confederacy. All over the rest of North America each group of people continued their own system of government. But in the end of the 1600s the Pueblo people threw out the Spanish settlers in the Pueblo Revolt. They went back to their old system of government. And to fight the English and Spanish settlers, the Cherokee started the Cherokee Nation.

Rock Art from Utah, about 1700 AD

Rock Art from Utah, about 1700 AD

In the 1700s, there was a lot more change in systems of government. On the Great Plains, people like the Ute, the Comanche, the Blackfoot, the Sioux and the Cree got horses from Spanish settlers. They left their farms or their hunting and gathering and became horse-riding nomads, hunting bison. In order to succeed, these nomads formed chiefdoms and even complex chiefdoms, instead of living in small family bands.

On the East Coast, English settlers decided to break free of the English king. They fought the Revolutionary War to set up their own country, the United States of America. They wrote the Declaration of Independence to explain why they were fighting. Then they wrote the Constitution to explain how their new republic would work.

Hidalgo, who started the Mexican independence movement

Hidalgo, who started the Mexican independence movement

One main idea was that the President would be weaker than Congress. And both the President and Congress would be under the Constitution and balanced by the Supreme Court. So there wouldn’t be any one man with very much power. Another important idea was that individual people – both men and women – had legal rights that could not be taken away by the government. Some of these ideas came from the government of ancient Rome. Rome also had a powerful Senate and less powerful consuls.

After the American Revolution, though, the United States killed or threw out most of the Iroquois and the Cherokee. They broke up the Iroquois Confederacy and the Cherokee Nation. Many Iroquois moved to Canada. Most of the Cherokee moved to Oklahoma.

In 1821, the Mexicans threw out the governors of the Spanish king Ferdinand II. Instead they set up their own republic. But by 1848, the United States took most of Mexico and made it part of the United States. And in 1867, Canada asked the governors of the English king to leave, and Canada also became a republic.

American Government – 1800s AD

Bibliography and further reading about American government:

North American History
The Constitution
The Iroquois
The Pueblo people
The Revolutionary War
American History home