The Constitution: Rules for Running a Country

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Living by the rules …

Just like there are rules that students must live by in school, the government must live by rules, too. Can you guess any of them? 

In the United States, the official government rulebook is called the Constitution. We started using it over two hundred years ago in 1789, but it is still a part of our modern lives! 

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!

The Constitution was not our first attempt at a government. Our first was called the Articles of Confederation, but it failed. In fact, it lasted less than ten years!

So, leaders of the new nation gathered in Independence Hall (pictured to the right) in Philadelphia to try again; they are referred to as the "Framers." Their goal was to improve the Articles, but they ended up starting all over and creating a brand new government.   

We the people …

The Constitution starts with three famous words … We the People! Given these words, who do you think has the power in our government? Exactly: WE DO!

The opening paragraph of the Constitution is called the Preamble and sets out the goals of this new government. Looking at it to the right, which do you think is the most important goal? Or do you think they are equally important? Do you think they got it right?

Dividing power

The Constitution divides power in the new government in several ways. First, it creates three branches of government, which are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The powers of the legislative branch are described in Article I, the powers of the executive branch in Article II, and the powers of the judicial branch in Article III.

Click on the link to the right to learn more about the three branches!

My state handles that best

The Framers didn’t stop dividing power there. They also wanted to make sure the new national government didn’t get too powerful, so they gave some powers specifically to the states. States have their own governments, too, and they make state laws. 

The Framers knew each state had its own customs and needs, and they wanted states to be able to make their own laws. Click on the link to the right and find your state. What makes your state unique?

Protecting the people

Remember, two hundred years ago, Americans had just fought a revolution to free themselves of a king and a government that didn’t care about their rights! So, when the Constitution created the new government, a specific list of what the government could not do was added immediately. This is called the Bill of Rights and includes the first 10 amendments (changes) to the Constitution.

Click on the link to see these. Scroll down to Amendment I. Which do you think is the most important? Are there any you think could have been left off the list? Are there any you think are missing?

It's not perfect

The Framers knew that life would change over time. For this reason, they included a way to change the Constitution. Changes are called amendments. Since the Bill of Rights, seventeen additional amendments have been added to the Constitution.

The amendments look complicated, but they are important! Click on the link and scroll down to Amendment XV (15) and Amendment XIX (19). Who got the right to vote because of these?