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The Constitution of the United States
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The US Constitution: Introduction
The original US Constitution is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The US Constitution was ratified (approved) by nine states on June 21, 1788 (Delaware was the first state to ratify it); it was later ratified by the remaining states. It replaced the earlier set of government rules, the Articles of Confederation, which were the law of the land from 1781 until 1788 (this document created a group of semi-independent states plus a weak national Congress, with neither an Executive nor a Judicial branch).
The Constitution sets up the United States with a federal (national) government plus state governments. It also specifies that the USA will be a republic, with an elected President, a bicameral congress (consisting of two legislative branches, a House of Representatives and a Senate), and a system of courts headed by a Supreme Court.
The Constitution is composed of a Preamble (an introduction), the main body (which consists of seven articles), and amendments (additions to the Constitution made after the Constitution was created).
The Preamble of the US Constitution:
The Preamble to the Constitution is the short, one-sentence introduction to the Constitution; it explains that the document proposes to establish a more perfect government complete with justice, tranquility, and liberty. It states, "We the People of the United States, 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, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The Body of the US Constitution:
The first three articles of the US Constitution sets up the US government as a republic with three separate branches of government:
This division of the government into branches is an example of separation of power, the idea that the enormous power of a government should be split into independent groups, so that any one group cannot have too much power. In this system, the separate groups check (monitor) the behavior of each other, having the effect of keeping an even balance of power; this is called checks and balances. The phrase "checks and balances" was coined by Charles-Louis Montesquieu (a French political philosopher) in 1748; he also wrote about dividing the power of a government into a Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branch.
The Legislative Branch is bicameral (it is divided into two parts): the House of Representatives and the Senate. The number of seats that a state has in the House of Representatives is based upon that state's population. Each state has two Senators. This system was agreed upon at the Constitutional Convention after much debate. The states with larger populations favored a system like the House of Representatives (so that they would have more representatives in government and therefore have more power). The states with smaller populations favored a system like the Senate, in which all states have equal representation (so that the larger states would not take too much power). The framers of the US Constitution compromised, and instituted a bicameral Congress.
In addition, the US Constitution sets up a power balance between states and the federal government. It also specifies how to add new states to the USA, and how the Constitution could be ratified and amended.
Many amendments to the Constitution have been made through the years. The first 10 amendments (additions to the Constitution), called the Bill of Rights, were added in 1791. Tthe Bill of Rights preserve the rights of the people, including the freedom of speech and religion, the right to a speedy trial, and others.
Later, 17 additional amendments were added; so far, there have been 27 amendments to the US Constitution.
The US Constitution has been the model for many countries' constitutions around the world. It is a great document that has withstood the test of time in creating a government that has functioned well for over 200 years while preserving individual liberty and justice.
The U.S. Constitution is the oldest national constitution and the shortest. The original US Constitution is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
PREAMBLE (Introduction) - Explains that the Constitution proposes to establish a more perfect government complete with justice, tranquility, and liberty
ARTICLE I - Establishes the Legislative Branch (House of Representatives and the Senate).
ARTICLE II - Establishes the Executive Branch (headed by the President).
ARTICLE III - Establishes the Judicial Branch (a system of courts and judges).
ARTICLE IV - Establishes the relationship between the states and the federal government. Describes how to admit new states to the Union.
ARTICLE V - Describes how to amend the Constitution.
ARTICLE VI - Establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of the USA. Authorizes the national debt (Congress can borrow money). Public officials must take an oath to support the Constitution.
ARTICLE VII - Lists the requirements for ratification of the Constitution.
AMENDMENTS 1-10 (THE BILL OF RIGHTS) (added in 1791) - Preserves the rights of the people.
Amendment 1 - Freedom of religion, press, speech
Amendment 2 - Right to bear arms
Amendment 3 - Limits the quartering of soldiers
Amendment 4 - Search and seizure of property
Amendment 5 - Right to a trial if accused, no self-incrimination required, no double-jeopardy (you cannot be tried twice for the same crime), right to compensation for takings by gov't.
Amendment 6 - Right to a speedy trial by jury and confrontation of witnesses
Amendment 7 - Right to a trial by jury in civil cases
Amendment 8 - Prohibits cruel and unusual punishment
Amendment 9 - People may have other rights, even if they are not listed here
Amendment 10 - The federal government's powers are limited to those listed in the Constitution
Amendment 11 (1798) - Judicial limits
Amendment 12 (1804) - Method for choosing the President, Vice President
Amendment 13 (1865) - Abolished slavery
Amendment 14 (1868) - Rights of citizenship to all people born in USA or naturalized
Amendment 15 (1870) - Gives the right to vote to all citizens, regardless of color or race, but women are not mentioned
Amendment 16 (1913) - Income tax authorized
Amendment 17 (1913) - Senators elected by the popular vote
Amendment 18 (1919) - Prohibition - Liquor prohibited
Amendment 19 (1920) - Women's suffrage (voting rights)
Amendment 20 (1933) - New terms of office for the President and Congress
Amendment 21 (1933) - Amendment 18 repealed (overturned)
Amendment 22 (1951) - Presidential term limited
Amendment 23 (1961) - Presidential vote given to Washington, D. C.
Amendment 24 (1964) - Poll taxes barred (you cannot charge people to vote)
Amendment 25 (1967) - Presidential disability and succession
Amendment 26 (1971) - Voting age lowered to 18 years old (same as the age at which men can be drafted into the army)
Amendment 27 (1992) - Congressional pay increases go into effect only during the next Congressional session.
Worksheets and Printables
Classroom Constitution or Bill of Rights
Write a short set of rules on how your classroom should be run, including how to form a group that makes rules, how to form a group to enforce the rules, and how to choose a leader (and what the leader's powers will be). Also include how to ratify your constitution (how to get it accepted).
Three Branches of the US Government - Graphic Organizers
In these printable graphic organizer worksheets, the student fills in the three branches of the US government as outlined in the US Constitution. Older students can add facts about the three branches and the duties and responsibilites of each.
US Constitution - Cloze Worksheet
Print and do a fill-in-the-blanks activity on the US Constitution. Or go to the answers.
The US Constitution
A short, printable book on the history and continuing importance of the US Constitution. For fluent readers.
Constitution Word Pieces Puzzle
In this puzzle, combine pairs of word segments to make constitution-related spelling words. Words: amendment, article, branches, citizen, executive, freedom, government, judicial, legislative, liberty, preamble, ratify, rights, states. Or go to the answers.
Constitution Spelling Word Questions
Use the list of colors words to answer simple questions about words related to the US Constitution. Words: amendment, bicameral, branches, people, convention, executive, framers, Preamble, judicial, legislative, Rights, states. Or go to the answers.
Vocabulary Quiz #1
Define five terms related to the US Constitution, including Preamble, Legislative branch, Executive branch, Judicial branch, and Amendment. Or go to the answers.
Vocabulary Quiz #2
Define five terms related to the US Constitution, including Constitution, Framers of the Constitution, Checks and Balances, Suffrage, and Bill of Rights. Or go to the answers.
Write Constitution-Related Definitions
In this worksheet, write the definition of a word, what part of speech it is, and use it in a sentence. Words: preamble, constitution, ratify, amend, amendment, government, legislate, bicameral, election, judicial. Or go to the answers. Or go to a pdf of the questions and answers (subscribers only).
Put 10 US Constitution Words in Alphabetical Order - Worksheet
Put 10 US Constitution-related words in alphabetical order. The words are: ratify, framers, rights, liberty, freedom, article, citizen, branches, union, people. Go to the answers.
Write Eight US Constitution-Related Words
Find eight words related to the US Constitution. Sample answers: document, people, ratify, government, liberty, rights, amendment, framers.
US Constitution Alphabet Code
Use the alphabet code to find the constitution-related message. Answer: "We the people of the United States..."
Fill in the blanks on this printable US Constitution timeline quiz. Or go to the answers.
Quiz #1 - History of the US Constitution
Read the passage about the history of the US Constitution, then answer the questions. Or go to the answers.
US Quiz #2 - Constitution: Separation of Power
Read the passage about the separation of power as outlined in the US Constitution, then answer the questions. Or go to the answers.
Quiz #3 - Structure of the US Constitution
Read the passage about the structure of the US Constitution, then answer the questions. Or go to the answers.
Quiz #4 - Bill of Rights
Read about the Bill of Rights, then answer the questions. Or go to the answers.
Quiz #5 - Bicameral Congress
Read about the division of Congress into the House of Representatives and the Senate, then answer the questions. Or go to the answers.
A census is an official count of the number of people in a region. The survey is done by a government, usually periodically. The population figures from the census are used to determine how many members of the US House of Representatives represent an area, and to allocate federal funding for local programs.
US Constitution Riddle:
Add and Subtract, then Decode the Riddle
Solve the addition and subtraction problems, then use the alphabet code to answer the US Constitution riddle, "Where was the US Constitution signed? (Answer - At the bottom). Or go to the answer page.
US Constitution Vocabulary Word List
A list of words related to the US Constitution.
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