Sunday, November 6, 2011

The United States of America has one of the oldest governments in the world

Growing up in the USA, i remember being taught (or at least believing) that America is a teenaged country, compared to the adult-aged countries in Europe. The opposite fact emerges if we look at modern countries’ actual present form of government.

In 1776 a bunch of revolutionary English colonialists told the King of England to go blow. This was the beginning of the idea of America. But these ideas were not formalized into the government that it is today until 1787, with the ratification of The Constitution of the United States. These 200+ years later, that document is still the foundation of that country.

We have not had a revolution, a coup, any change in form or type of government since that time. This is a nearly unique accomplishment among existent countries today. Only one country has a living governmental founding document older than that: The Republic of San Marino. Never heard of it? It’s a fairly irrelevant city-state within the country of Italy that has the lucky duel advantages of being well-enough naturally fortified and pragmatically uninteresting enough that the government-changing invaders of European history, from the Goths to Napolean to the Nazis, didn’t bother to invade it.
They hold their traditional foundation to be in the year 301, when Saint Marinus, a stonemason (!) cum bishop, set down roots there. That is their 1776. More interesting is that they wrote their constitution in the year 1600 and it still stands today (their 1787). This makes theirs the oldest government in the world.
The only other country that i can find that might have an older continuous government than the USA is the UK. The Kingdom of Britain was formed, i think, in 1706-1707. i say, “i think” because i understand that is when the Acts of Union united the Kingdom of of England and Scotland into a new Kingdom, that of Britain. At some point along the way they realized they wanted to be “Great” and added that into their name though i think this was a purely aesthetic change. From what i’ve heard in references in stories about other topics, they have an “unwritten” Constitution. i guess it actually is partially written in laws and treaties, but…in fact i really struggle to understand the foundation of what we today for some reason call The United Kingdom. i would in fact be thrilled to hear from any Brit (or anyone else) who could share some understanding of when exactly your current country was formed, when exactly was your equivalent of the American 1787. In any case, since it was from the UK that the US sought independence, we can be sure that the UK is older.
Other than that no country has a form of government older than the United States. All of the countries of Africa, except Liberia, took their current form in the 20th and 21st centuries. (Liberia was founded in 1847, largely as a settlement of American ex-slaves.) All of the American countries, except for the one that claims the continent’s name as their own informally, were formed in the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly as seceded European colonies.
Most, though not all, countries of Europe and Asia are clearly younger. Italy, for example, where i live, is right now celebrating it’s 150th anniversary. Founded in 1861 as a monarchy (their 1776), they transformed into a Republic by referendum in 1948 (their 1787). All of the Eastern block countries all take on new forms after their independence, precipated by the end of The Cold War.
There are some other countries that are admittedly a bit more difficult to compare to. Denmark, as one example, was founded in the 10th century, but has had various forms of government preceding its current constitution, dating from 1953. Sweden, for another, was founded in the 1523, but takes their current governmental foundation from their 1905 constitution. In Asia, China, India, Iran, and Japan all have ancient roots, but have been through changes, invasions, coups and revolutions before they each formed their current constiutions, all in the 20th century.
(An interesting wiki with a list of countries’ foundation dates:
But if we look at the actual beginning of government as it stands today, the United States of America stands in the top three, with San Marino and Britain. It should stand there proudly. We should not be confused into thinking that America’s culture or history are older than say, France is, just because we are in a longer stretch of governmental stability at the moment. But we should be proud of the profound strength and survival of our foundation, our constitution, as other modern countries have all taken on new shape more recently than America has.
Do you agree?

(“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”)


  1. Britain has had a parliament since 1215 when the Magna Carta was written.

  2. This is really very nice post and its information is really great.

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