Copyright

What is Self-government? - Definition & Explanation

  • 0:05 Definition of Self-government
  • 0:27 Roots of…
  • 1:42 Belief in…
  • 3:57 Basic Principles of…
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
Create An Account
To Start This Course Today
Used by over 10 million students worldwide
Create An Account
Try it free for 5 days
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laurel Click

Laurel has taught social studies courses at the high school level and has a master's degree in history.

In countries that have self-government, the people direct their own affairs, free from external authority. Learn more about the history and principles of self-government in the United States, and check your understanding of this topic with a quiz.

Definition of Self-government

Self-government is a system in which the citizens of a country (or smaller political unit, such as a state) rule themselves and control their own affairs. Self-governments are free from external government control or outside political authority. Republican governments and democracy in the United States are based on principles of self-government.

Roots of Self-government in Colonial America

Between 1619 and 1776, American colonists had representative colonial governments for making laws. In 1619, the House of Burgesses in Jamestown, Virginia, was established as the first representative assembly. In 1620, the Pilgrims in Massachusetts signed the Mayflower Compact, agreeing to form a government and submit to the will of the majority. This form of direct democracy meant that laws would be subject to the citizens for their approval and consent. These, along with other colonial assemblies, laid the foundation for future self-government in America.

Here's where the problem comes in. Even though there were elected assemblies in the colonies, no English colony was fully democratic or completely self-governing. Following the French and Indian War between Great Britain and France for control of North America, which lasted from 1754 to 1763, Great Britain ended the policy of salutary neglect. This policy had allowed the colonies to govern themselves without much interference. Changes in British policy prompted resistance by the colonists and ultimately led to the American Revolution.

Belief in Self-government Leads to an Independent United States

The American colonists' belief in self-government was influenced by the writings of political activist and theorist Thomas Paine. In his fifty-page pamphlet 'Common Sense,' published in 1776, Paine made the argument for political independence from Britain and a representative self-government and helped draft a constitution for the colonies. Paine felt the monarch had no place in government and that the people themselves were the legitimate authority for government. Thomas Jefferson was also influenced by the ideas of Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, who wrote the book Two Treatises of Civil Government, published in 1689. According to Locke, the main purpose of government should be to protect the people's natural rights.

This sounds good - everyone wants their rights protected. But, what exactly are people's natural rights? To put it simply, natural rights are those you are born with. According to John Locke, these are the rights to life, liberty, and property. He also said that kings should not have absolute power, that is, power without limits.

In the Declaration of Independence, signed in 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote that 'all men are created equal' in their right to enjoy 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' Jefferson goes on to say that government derives its power from the consent of the governed. Basically, this means that governments must be representative of the people and limited in power by the recognition of basic political rights. When the government violates people's natural rights, the people have the additional right to alter or abolish that government. Jefferson urged colonists to part with the monarchy and become a republican self-government, that is, one in which the political authority comes from the people.

Ok, so once independence from Great Britain was declared, what then? Well, to make a long story short, the Revolutionary War was fought, and colonists attempted their first national self-government under the Articles of Confederation of 1781. Later, the Articles were revised under the United States Constitution, drafted in 1787, which further strengthened the power of democratic self-government in the new republic.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member

Already a member? Log In

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 100 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,900 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Click "next lesson" whenever you finish a lesson and quiz. Got It
You now have full access to our lessons and courses. Watch the lesson now or keep exploring. Got It
You're 25% of the way through this course! Keep going at this rate,and you'll be done before you know it.
1
The first step is always the hardest! Congrats on finishing your first lesson.
5
Way to go! If you watch at least 30 minutes of lessons each day you'll master your goals before you know it.
10
Congratulations on earning a badge for watching 10 videos but you've only scratched the surface. Keep it up!
20
You've just watched 20 videos and earned a badge for your accomplishment!
50
You've just earned a badge for watching 50 different lessons. Keep it up, you're making great progress!
100
You just watched your 100th video lesson. You have earned a badge for this achievement!
200
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 200th lesson and earned a badge!
300
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 300th lesson and earned a badge!
500
You are a superstar! You have earned the prestigious 500 video lessons watched badge.
1K
Incredible. You have just entered the exclusive club and earned the 1000 videos watched badge.
20
You have earned a badge for watching 20 minutes of lessons.
50
You have earned a badge for watching 50 minutes of lessons.
100
You have earned a badge for watching 100 minutes of lessons.
250
You have earned a badge for watching 250 minutes of lessons.
500
You have earned a badge for watching 500 minutes of lessons.
1K
You have earned a badge for watching 1000 minutes of lessons.