Civics Short Course

US Capitol Washington DC/Getty Images

US Capitol Washington DC/Getty Images




Thank you for visiting this Resources page offering a Short Course on Civics for Americans.  We decided to organize this section in several parts. We use available online resources to make this Short Course convenient for home schooling and self-education. For further reading, consult our relevant Resource pages.


Part One

presents historical background on the Mother Country, England. Understanding the political and cultural situation in the Elizabethan, Early Stuart, Civil War, and Later Stuart periods is essential to an understanding of politics and culture in Colonial America. We learn how Elizabeth came to be Queen of England.  We learn what the political and religious issues were that spurred migration, including the Great Puritan Migration, to British North America.  We also learn about the culture and values of settlers here in the New World.  The culture and values of the settlers emphasizing political and religious freedom formed a foundation for the American Revolution. 


Elizabeth Comes to the Throne

Let's start with a brief overview of the politics and culture leading to Elizabethan England. Religious issues were intertwined with domestic politics and foreign policy. Tensions between Catholics and Protestants made both politics and foreign policy uncertain. The rule of Henry VIII was complicated.  He had six wives and, in that day, marriages reflected domestic and foreign political alliances.  His were constantly shifting. One result at home was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in England.  Another result was his son by Jane Seymour who became Edward VI.  He died young but advanced Protestantism.  Then came Mary I who was Henry VIII's daughter by Catherine of Aragon.  She was a Roman Catholic and persecuted Protestants.  She married Prince Philip of Spain who was a Habsburg.  She died childless and thus Elizabeth, Henry VIII's daughter by Anne Boleyn, succeeded to the throne.  Elizabeth I had to navigate the treacherous political conditions arising from foreign intrigue and domestic religious tensions. The reign of "Good Queen Bess" set the stage for British subjects to settle the New World.

Reading: Hinds entire

Allen B. Hinds, The Making of the England of Elizabeth (New York: Macmillan, 1895)

Elizabeth I and North America

In competition with the Spanish and French Empires, Elizabeth I authorized voyages of exploration and colonizing in the New World.  Her grandfather, Henry VII, first promoted exploration of the New World by authorizing the Cabot Voyages. During Elizabeth's reign, Sir Walter Raleigh promoted the voyages to what is today North Carolina.  The "Lost Colony" was briefly established on Roanoke Island.  It served to inspire the settlement of Jamestown, the first permanent British settlement, in 1607.  Sir Walter's half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, paved the way in what is today Canada.  Sir Walter and Sir Humphrey were strong Christians.  The tyrant James I King of England executed Raleigh.  Sir Humphrey died at sea.

Reading:  Hume entire.

Martin A. S. Hume, Sir Walter Ralegh (London: Fisher Unwin, 1897)