But first, we must go back to the Sumerians. Huh? (just keep reading;))
The Sumerians had a very simple form of democracy, where groups of villagers would gather together and would vote in their leaders and etc.
You’ve probably already heard that Athens (when it was a city-state) was a true democracy, where it was literally one vote for every man. Sound good? Maybe not so much. You had to be freeborn, a natural born citizen of Athens, male, and over 21. That left 1/5 of the population. So, yeah it was a true democracy, but only for 1/5 of the people. But getting together so many people to discuss to every petty issue got kind of tiring so they selected the Council of 500 to deal with their problems. That became more of a democratic republic.
Then on to the Roman Republic. You probably are familiar with the Roman Senate made up of the rich land owners. Many years and several wars later the Assembly was formed so the middle and lower classes could have a voice. Before that happened though, the Republic’s two Consuls were elected out of the Senate once a year to prevent their power from growing out of proportion. The consuls had to be in complete agreement with each other or the other one could cancel the other out and halt the entire government. So get along with each other, got it?
The Anglo-Saxons, those hairy brutes from Europe who invaded England, weren’t as barbaric in some respects as others. They had courts with juries rather than just a single judge, and property rights. Pretty good for a bunch of drunk barbarians. Until the Normans came along in 1066 and squarshed the whole system, converting it to the feudal system.
Henry II (1133-1189) made a common law, making everyone, even the king under the law to be judged by their own peers. Another element Henry instituted was circuit courts with traveling judges, unrelated to local towns for impartial judgments. Before that time, judges were the local lord which of course created a very biased ruling for the poor peasants.
John I, in 1215, was forced by the English barons to sign the Magna Carta, in the 12th Clause says no taxation without representation.
Now we’re back to the Black Plague! Do I have you all thoroughly confused about this? How does the Black Plague have anything to do with America?
Well the after the Plague, Europe and parts of Asia lost nearly 1/3 – 2/3 of their populations. Still not getting it are you? Before the Plague’s peak in 1348-1350, peasants and workers were a dime a dozen but after the Plague, whole villages were dead. Obviously now workers weren’t quite so cheap and they realized they could demand better wages and working conditions, without being killed for voicing their ideas. Once peasants started getting more money, this gave rise to a middle class and artisans. And if the all of the villagers pooled their money they could buy a charter for the town.
What’s a charter you ask? Basically, it was the right to rule their own town, under the jurisdiction of the king.
If you think about it, if the Black Plague had not happened peasants would not have had the chance to demand better rights we might still be stuck in the feudal system. And if we were still stuck in the feudal system, why would people have travelled across oceans to new lands? Any revolts under the feudal system were quickly and easily crushed. Including, if we were still under the feudal system, the American War of Independence.
Seriously. Think about it. And Happy Birthday America!