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500 BCE The Greeks lived in self-governing cities. Free Male citizens of Athens would gather to discuss and debate issues. Decisions were reached by consensus. Since the number of free citizens was relatively small, direct democracy could take place. Women, foreigners, enslaved people, and children were not considered citizens.
527 CE Byzantine Emperor Justinian proclaimed the divine right of kings. Ever since King David the Old Testament was anointed by God’s prophet, monarchs claimed that they had the divine right to rule their people as absolute rulers. The monarchs claimed that they had received their right to govern from God and were accountable only to God.
1215 In England, King John's nobles revolted against him and forced him to sign the Magna Carta (Great Charter). Though it benefited the nobles most, it also established some basic legal rights: the rule of law, which said that the king was not above the law; and habeas corpus, which gave everyone the protection of the law and the right to a fair trial within a reasonable amount of time.
1450 Five distinct Aboriginal nations – the Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, and Onondaga – formed the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. This may have been the first federated government known in history. A Grand Council of 50 representatives from five nations met to make major decisions based on consensus.
1642-1646 At the end of the English Civil War, the parliamentary forces defeated King Charles 1 and abolished the monarchy. Parliament was declared the governing body of Britain. Later in the century a constitutional monarchy was established with the monarch ruling with parliament.
1700's The American Revolution (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799) ended monarchical rule and established republics with elected leaders in both countries.
1849 Lord Elgin, the governor of a united Upper and Lower Canada, accepted that the elected body was supreme. Responsible government was created. The executive branch became responsible to the elected Assemblies and followed the will of the people’s representatives.
1867 Four provinces in British North America united under the British North America Act to form Confederation. The Act set out the structure of the federal system. The division of power was separated between federal and provincial governments. The structure of government modeled the British system with an elected House of Commons. An appointed Senate replaced the British House of Lords.
1916 In 1916 the federal vote in Canada was given to white women over 21 years of age who were British subjects.
1929 Britain’s highest judicial authority, the Privy Council, overturned a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada. The Privy Council ruled the term “person” refers to both males and females. Women had the right to vote for public office and to be appointed to government positions. The Famous Five fought for this ruling.
1931 The Statute of Westminster was passed by the British Parliament. It gave the former colonies the power to self-govern and the right to pass laws involving foreign affairs. The former colonies became equal members in the British Commonwealth.
1982 The Constitution Act gave Canada the right to make changes to its own Constitution without having to apply to the British Parliament. The Act also included the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that outlined the rights of Canadian Citizens.
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