Section 1: The Constitution of the United States

A constitution is a document that contains rules and laws explaining how the government is organized and run.  The U.S. Constitution is called a “higher law” because all people in a nation must obey it. Lawmakers cannot make laws that go against what is written in the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution of the United States

Figure 7. The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land. It was adopted as the Constitution on September 17, 1787.

The Bill of Rights

Figure 8. The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments added to the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights protects the rights of the people and limits the power of the federal government. (SHSND-ND Studies)

The U.S. Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787.  Two years later it went into effect after being ratified by the states.  One part of the Constitution stated that amendments could be added to the Constitution.  Ten amendments, declaring the rights of the people, were added and ratified in 1791.  The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. 

In 1787, the Founding Fathers wrote the U.S. Constitution to “endure (continue to exist) for ages to come.”  They wanted it to be a “living document” which means that it could change with time.  That is why they added the Bill of Rights and a way to amend, or add to, the Constitution.

Main Points of the Bill of Rights

  1. Guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to gather in groups
  2. Gives citizens the right to bear arms (have guns)
  3. Requires homeowners to give permission before soldiers stay in their homes
  4. Protects citizens from unreasonable searches
  5. Forbids being tried in court more than once on the same charge; guarantees that no one needs to testify against himself or herself in court; forbids taking private property for public use without getting paid fairly
  6. Guarantees a speedy trial; says an accused person has the right to have an attorney
  7. Guarantees a trial by jury
  8. Forbids unreasonable fines; forbids cruel and unusual punishment
  9. Says that people may have other rights that are not listed in the Constitution
  10. Says that all powers that are not given to the United States belong to the states or to the people

Amendments 11-27

Amendment 11 (1795)  

Amendment 12 (1804) 

Amendment 13 (1865)  

Amendment 14 (1868)  

Amendment 15 (1870)  

 

Puts limits on suing a state in federal court

Method for choosing the President and Vice President

Abolished (got rid of) slavery

Gives citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the U.S.

Gives the right to vote to all citizens, regardless of color or race, but women are not mentioned

Amendment 16 (1913)  

Amendment 17 (1913)  

Amendment 18 (1919)  

Amendment 19 (1920)  

Amendment 20 (1933)  

Amendment 21 (1933)  

Amendment 22 (1951)  

Amendment 23 (1961)  

Amendment 24 (1964)  

Amendment 25 (1967)  

Amendment 26 (1971)  

Amendment 27 (1992)  

 

Income tax is permitted

Senators elected by the people

Prohibition—liquor prohibited (against the law)

Suffrage (voting rights) for women

Says when new terms of office for the President and Congress begin

Amendment 18 repealed (overturned)

Presidential term limited to two terms

Presidential vote given to the people of Washington, D.C

Poll taxes barred (people may not be charged money to vote)

Tells how President will be replaced if disabled or dies

Voting age lowered to 18 years old

Pay increases for members of Congress go into effect only during the next Congressional session