In the United States, the government runs by a set of rules that are called laws. These laws created the government, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, and Congress, and are called the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution is also meant to protect the rights of every person living in this country. Because it governs what government can do and protects everyone’s rights, it is very important. It is so important that it is considered the highest law in the United States! The document is extremely old. It was written more than 200 years ago in 1787 by a group of men in Philadelphia. Learning about the Constitution is a great way to learn about when the country was still new.
Timeline of Events
July 12, 1776: People representing the 13 original colonies began creating the Articles of Confederation. This is the first set of national laws that was written in the U.S.
November 15, 1777: On this date, the Articles of Confederation were finished.
March 1, 1781: All 13 states approve the Articles of Confederation.
September 11-14, 1786: A meeting to improve the Articles of Confederation takes place in Annapolis, MD. It is called the Annapolis Convention. At this meeting, members decide to hold a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in one year.
May 14, 1787: Representatives from five states are supposed to meet to find a better foundation for the United States government. This is the Constitutional Convention. But only Virginia and Pennsylvania’s representatives appear on this day.
May 25, 1787: Representatives from seven states arrive to attend the convention and offer their plans to improve the Articles of Confederation.
May 29, 1787: The Virginia Plan for the Constitution is given to the representatives. This plan has several ideas, like a two-house legislature. This is similar to our Congress.
June 15, 1787: The New Jersey Plan is proposed. One of its recommendations is to appoint federal court judges to lifetime positions.
June 18, 1787: Alexander Hamilton recommends the British Plan. A two-house legislature is a part of the plan. He also proposes term limits of three years.
July 16, 1787: This is the day of the Great Compromise. It defines people who are slaves as counting as three-fifths of a person. It also gives each state exactly two votes in the U.S. Senate.
July 26-August 6, 1787: During this time, the members of the Convention take a break. The first version, or draft, of the Constitution is created during this break. This draft is created by the Committee of Detail.
September 17, 1787: The Constitutional Convention is finished and the final version of the Constitution is signed.
September 25, 1789: The Bill of Rights, proposed during the Constitutional Convention, is created.
December 15, 1791: The Bill of Rights is ratified. When something is ratified, it becomes law.
- Day-by-Day Summary of the Convention
- Time for Kids Explains the U.S. Constitution (Video)
- Early American History
- The U.S. Constitution: An Overview
- Constitutional Convention for Kids
Components of the Constitution
The Constitution’s purpose is written in the section called the preamble. It is the first part of the Constitution, and it lists six reasons why the Constitution was created. The preamble says the Constitution was established “in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
The part of the Constitution that actually explains the authority of the United States government is the articles. There are seven articles in the Constitution. These articles define the Legislative Branch, which makes what is called the laws of the land. They also define the Executive Branch, which includes the president, and the Judicial Branch, which includes the Supreme Court. The articles also say what the federal government’s powers and those of state governments are. Article Five, in particular, is very important because it allows for amendments to the Constitution. The amendments are the next and final part of the Constitution. They were passed after the Constitution became the law of the land. These amendments, beginning with the Bill of Rights, further explain the powers and limits of the United States government. They can also put limits on the actions of regular people.
Bill of Rights and Amendments
The men who created the Constitution wanted to make sure that the American people had basic rights. This is why they created the first ten amendments to the Constitution. They called these the Bill of Right. When creating the Constitution, it was suggested that the wording that would become the Bill of Rights be the original articles in the Constitution. That suggestion was not approved, but it was agreed that they would be the first amendments to the Constitution. But what does the Bill of Rights do? They can be confusing to understand, but they basically guarantee legal protection to the people so that government actions cannot cause suffering.
For example, the First Amendment gives people the freedom to have their religious beliefs, and it also gives them the legal right to say what they want without worrying about being arrested. The Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms. The Third Amendment prevents the housing of soldiers in a person’s house if the person does not give permission first. The Fourth Amendment protects people and the things that they own from what is called “unreasonable searches and seizures.” When people commit a crime, the Fifth Amendment prevents someone from being tried for the same crime twice or having to testify against themselves during a criminal trial. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a fast criminal trial before a group of people known as a jury. This jury must not have opinions about the trial or crime beforehand, and they must be considered the person’s peers. People are also entitled to a lawyer. The Seventh Amendment provides the right to a jury trial for non-criminal lawsuits. In the event that one is convicted of a crime, the Eighth Amendment forbids what is called cruel or unusual punishments. A cruel or unusual punishment would be getting the death penalty for stealing a candy bar, for instance. The Ninth Amendment opens the door to rights not already defined by prior amendments, and the Tenth Amendment gives power to the states over rights not covered by the federal government.
There are 17 additional amendments after the Bill of Rights so far. This makes a total of 27 amendments. These include the 13th and 14th amendments outlawing slavery and defining people born in the United States as citizens. Another amendment, the 15th Amendment, gave all men the right to vote. The 19th Amendment, passed in 1920, gave women the right to vote, too. The 18th Amendment, passed in 1919, was the only one to pass restrictions on citizens’ activities by making consumption of alcohol a crime in most cases; called Prohibition, it was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. The 22nd Amendment made it so that the president could only be president for two terms. Poll taxes were made illegal with the 24th Amendment. A poll tax is a fee that people had to pay before they were allowed to vote. The 26th Amendment granted the right to vote for every citizen age 18 or older. The last amendment, the 27th, was passed in 1992, and it controls increases in pay for members of Congress.
The Founding Fathers
When you think of a father, you’re probably thinking of your own father. As funny as it might sound, the United States also has fathers. The fathers of this country are called the Founding Fathers. When people say the Founding Fathers, they are talking about the men who helped found the United States and create the Constitution. These men were Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson. While all of the Founding Fathers were important, there were a few who are very well-known for doing great things. George Washington is a name that is very well-known. He was the leader of the revolutionary Continental Army and the first president of the United States, and he led the Constitutional Convention. Benjamin Franklin had many accomplishments. He was an inventor, someone who spoke against slavery, a Revolutionary War hero, and the only Founding Father to sign the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War in America’s favor. James Madison was known for writing the U.S. Constitution and pushed for the Bill of Rights, and he was also the fourth president of the United States. Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States, and he was also the main writer of the Declaration of Independence.
Activities and Lessons
There are a lot of ways to learn even more about the Constitution. Teachers are a great source of information, and the Constitution is something that kids are taught about while in school. Often, teachers have lesson plans and even games that make learning about the Constitution fun. Another great way to learn about the Constitution is to go online. Ask your parents for help, and together, you’ll find cool games and quizzes. With a parent’s help, kids can also learn interesting facts that can be shared at school, too.
- Constitution Day Lessons for Elementary Grades
- Name That Founding Father Game
- Pirates of the Preamble Game
- Bill of Rights Game
- U.S. Constitution Crossword Puzzle (PDF)
- Lesson Plan: The U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights (PDF)
- Constitution in the Classroom: Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel (PDF)
- Bill of Rights Word Hunt (PDF)
- Constitution Games
- Interesting Facts About the Constitution