Just like there are rules that students must live by in school, the United States government must live by rules, too. Where can you find these rules? In the United States Constitution!
The Constitution was written a long time ago, but its rules must be followed just as much today as back then. Other things come and go, but the Constitution is here to stay!
Follow the link to see a timeline of the years when the Constitution was written, debated, and ratified.
The Constitution starts with three famous words: We the People. Given these words, who do you think has the power in our government? That’s right — WE do!
Back when the Constitution was written, this concept of self-government was pretty shocking. In those days, almost all countries were ruled by a king of some kind. People were used to their government telling them what to do, not the other way around.
The opening paragraph of the Constitution is called the Preamble. It explains what the writers were trying to do:
- Form a better union among the states
- Create a fair legal system
- Guarantee peace inside the country
- Join all the states together to defend against attacks
- Help support people’s well-being
- Make sure all future generations remain free
And how did they plan to accomplish all this? Well, they tell you in the very last line of the Preamble: by establishing the Constitution!
Follow the link to watch a famous music video that’s all about the Preamble! (Can you sing along?)
By now, you probably can’t wait to dive in and learn about the Constitution! Before you do, you should know this:
The Constitution was carefully designed to divide the powers of government and put them into different hands.
Why this “separation of powers”? Because the early Americans knew that too much power in one place can lead to all kinds of trouble—and even threaten people’s freedom!
Follow the link to read about separation of powers. Then, answer the questions below.
** Update 10/14/15: The link for this slide has been temporarily disabled. Please skip to the next slide.
Article I: The Legislative Branch
The Constitution is organized into different parts called Articles. There is one article for each branch of government—and a few extra articles that talk about other stuff.
Article I talks about the legislative branch of our government. The Constitution says more about this branch than it does about the other two. (Any ideas why?)
Follow the link, then follow the instructions in the questions to find out about Article I. (If you have trouble with roman numerals, you might want to keep this chart open: Roman Numerals Chart)
Next, the Constitution explains the executive branch of our government.
Follow the link, then follow the instructions in the questions to find out about Article II.
Last but not least, it’s the judicial branch of government!
Follow the link and click on Article III, Section I. Find the part that says The Meaning.
In the early days, states often got along like quarreling brothers and sisters. They didn’t always play nice! That’s why Article IV talks about the way states are supposed to treat each other.
Follow the link, then follow the instructions in the questions.
Could there possibly be any rules left to make about our government? Of course! (You can always make more rules, right?)
Actually, the last three articles are pretty important. Follow the link, then follow the instructions in the questions to find out why!
Article VII was the end of the Constitution… but it isn’t the end of the rules! Why? Because stuff has been added to the Constitution since then.
In fact, one set of rules was added almost immediately after the Constitution took effect. Back then, a lot of people disapproved of the Constitution because they thought something was missing: a guarantee of individual rights.
The first ten amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They guarantee citizens certain protections against the government.
Follow the link and play the game to learn some of the rights that were included in the Bill of Rights. Then answer the question.
The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. (How long ago was that?) You can probably guess that more changes have been made to the Constitution since then.
Follow the link to see them. (Here’s that Roman Numerals Chart again. You might need it!)