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About rights and rules

ou are part of a large group of people called Americans. They live in your town and go to your school. America includes your friends and your parents. It includes the person who brings the mail. It includes police officers, librarians, business owners, construction workers and many others. Across America, people live together in thousands of cities and towns. They have jobs, families and pets. You and all other people have rights, things a person deserves just for being alive. Rights do not have to be earned. You have a right to be free and to be safe. You have a right to make many choices for yourself. But when people work and play together, they need to have some rules for getting along. You have rules in your school, in your home and in sports. A country needs rules, too. Another name for rules is the law. Laws govern many things — driving cars, selling land, building houses, licensing your pets, getting medicine and much more. People must obey the law.

If you break big laws, you can go to jail. But the highest law is called the Constitution. It protects your rights and your freedom. It works like a rule book for the whole country. All good Americans live by the rules of the Constitution. They may also change it if they need to.

Your country: The United States of America




How hard would it be to start a country? What are some of the problems you might face? What rules would you make?

Some things the government does ∫ Builds roads ∫ Creates schools ∫ Delivers the mail ∫ Pays police and firefighters ∫ Collects taxes ∫ Provides Army and Navy ∫ Settle disputes in court

∫ WHY DO WE NEED A GOVERNMENT? Imagine what your school would be like if it had no rules and no one to protect you from bullies? You might be afraid to go out to recess. People would steal your lunch money. Each class would make its own rules. Small children would always lose out to larger ones. Who would get to use the gym if two classes wanted to play at the same time? It would be very confusing, unpleasant or even dangerous. This is why schools have rules that protect students and keep things running smoothly. In the same way, the government brings order to America.

ere is a map of the United States of America. It is a big country, about 3,000 miles across. The colors show each state. There are 50 states in all. Can you find yours? Millions of people live in the United States. People have different ideas and religions. They are of many races and come from many different places. They have different talents and languages. But everyone wants to have a good life, with food, shelter and good health. They need to have jobs to pay for their homes, food, education, health care and even vacation. The government of the United States is a big organization that tries to help make all these things possible. It works in many different ways. For example, it helps build roads and schools, makes rules to protect the environment, supports the army and makes sure our food and water are safe. Sometimes people have disagreements and they need help to settle problems. The government provides courts with judges who listen to problems and decide what is fair according to the law.

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How America began

tarting in the 1600s, large numbers of Europeans sought a new life in America. Some came because they wanted to worship God as they wished. Others came for land or business. Much of the new country was ruled by England, also called Great Britain, and many people were loyal English citizens. For centuries, England was led by powerful kings and queens. It had a strong army and navy, and it often got into wars with other countries. In 1760 King George III needed more money to pay for a seven-year war against France and Austria. He began to tax the people in America unfairly. This made the people angry. Eventually, they decided to make their own government. They believed George they could rule themselves Washington better than the king of ∫ He was a great leader. All of England could. America loved him. He led the In 1775, they asked American army George Washington to lead to victory over King George III. an army against England’s He became the soldiers. It took six years, but first president of the United States. Washington and his army finally won the war.



∫ AMERICA’S FIRST BATTLE: This drawing shows the war starting at Lexington, Massachusetts. Nobody knows who fired first, the Americans or the king’s soldiers. Americans who rushed to fight were called Minutemen.

∫ AN OLD MAP showing America in about 1750 — 256 years ago.


Would you ever start a war? Why or why not? If someone was hurting you, would you fight him? What kind of leader would you follow?

King George III of England ∫ England was the most powerful country in the world in the mid-1700s. It had a strong army and navy. But it did not treat the people in America fairly. Its old enemy, France, helped the Americans win their independence.

Fighting Words

hen war started against King George III, a lot of people thought it was time to tell the rest of the world why they were fighting. They believed that their basic rights and freedoms were being taken away. The leaders asked Thomas Jefferson to write a paper that would explain everything, including all the unfair things the English government had done. Jefferson was a good writer, but he had help from others, including Benjamin Franklin. The paper, Thomas called the Declaration of Jefferson Independence, was signed on ∫ He believed that all people have July 4, 1776. That is America’s basic rights just birthday. because they are alive. He later Jefferson died exactly 50 became the third years later, on July 4, 1826. president.

Some ways England made Americans angry ∫ Forced people to let soldiers stay in their homes any time the soldiers wanted to. ∫ Told the people they could not live where they wanted to. ∫ Soldiers shot citizens in Boston who threw snowballs at them.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” From the Declaration of Independence

∫ Refused to allow paper money, which the people needed for business. ∫ Forced people to pay extra for things like sugar, wine and coffee. ∫ Made people pay for special stamps on newspapers, legal documents and even playing cards. ∫ Required people to go to England to settle legal disputes, instead of using judges here.

4 • SEPTEMBER 17, 2006


The Constitution

MEETING IN PHILADELPHIA, 1787: George Washington leÐ


fter winning the war against England, the American people had their freedom. Now they needed to form a government to help them get along with each other. In 1787, there were 13 states with many problems. The country was poor and needed better rules for trade and security. Each state sent men to a serious meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they planned a new

government. They talked a lot. They had to decide how laws should be made for the country and how to elect a president. Small states worried that big states would have too many votes and pass unfair laws to help themselves. Southern states had slaves and wanted to keep them, while Northern states didn’t like slavery. In the end, they all compromised, which means that each side gave in a little bit.

THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT America’s founders belÐ three parÐ




∫ CONGRESS WRITES LAWS. This branch has two parts: a Senate and a House of Representatives, all of whom are elected by the people. States have an equal number of Senators — two each. But the number of Representatives for each state depends a state’s population. The more people, the more Representatives a state gets. This makes things fair. Big states cannot boss around little states, or the opposite. The photo above shows where Representatives work.

∫ PRESIDENT CARRIES OUT LAWS. The president is the country’s top executive. He is elected and has a lot of power, but not too much. He is commander-inchief of the military and is higher than any general. He gets help from many departments in carrying out the law.

∫ JUDGES SETTLE DISPUTES. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. It is made up of nine judges who are appointed for life by the president and Senate working together. These judges can throw out bad laws made by Congress. If problems are not settled in lower courts, an unhappy person can “appeal” to the Supreme Court. The nine justices may then listen to the problem and make a decision they think is fair. Once the Supreme Court decides how to settle a dispute, that is the end of it. The decision is final.



MERICA’S NIFTY SYSTEM: One meaning of the word “check” is to stop something or slow it down. In America’s government, each part of government checks the actions of the others so that no individual or part gets too much power. ∫ CONGRESS (Legislative Branch) makes a law when a majority of its members vote yes. ∫ If the PRESIDENT (Executive Branch) doesn’t like the law, he can check Congress and say no. This is called a “veto.” Congress can force the law

through, but two-thirds of the House and Senate must agree. Congress has power to kick out a really bad president. ∫ JUDGES of the Supreme Court (Judicial Branch) check Congress by deciding whether laws are proper. Judges may throw away bad laws. Congress can then make changes. The people of America are in charge of most everything because they vote to elect the president and Congress. This system is stable, which means it is difficult to upset. It is hard for one branch to get out of control. This protects our freedom.

PAINTING ABOVE: Detail of work by Junius Brutus Searns, 1856. (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Online:

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Great men, great ideas


ames Madison of Virginia is called the “Father of the Constitution.” He was a brilliant political theorist who proposed throwing out the failed Articles of Confederation that had been used since the war. He wanted to start over with a whole new plan. He understood the need for branches of government to have some power over each other. Madison was a major influence in creating the Constitution, but other people contributed important ideas, too. Some are shown on this page. When fierce opposition arose in some states, it took the vigorous efforts of many to persuade the whole country to agree. Madison helped by giving speeches and writing a series of newspaper articles that explained the benefits of the Constitution. His detailed notes of the Convention are a national treasure today. They help us understand what happened there.

“It was not, like the fabled Goddess of Wisdom, the offspring of a single brain. It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.” — James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” writing in 1834

THE PREAMBLE The opening words of the Constitution are not law. Instead, they explain the “why” of the document. It reflects the desire of those who created it to make a better life for themselves and all Americans who would follow. Students are often required to memorize the Preamble.

Some other important men at Philadelphia Many individuals helped write the Constitution. Here are a few, and a little of what they did:

George Washington

CONSTITUTION: One version of the document was handwritten. It was also printed in regular type.

The f ordin irst line sp idea ary folks. eaks to them that the p It is the or othselves, no eople the ru er ruler, t a king make les.


WE THE PEOPLE ment ry govern na The oldhe Revolutiorking t o r e w t f t a as no le War wso the peoped , ll we erica want ing of Am ate someth to cre . better

of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic

It was hoped that the new powers given to the federal government would create stability in the whole country and that people would not become angry and try to overthrow the government.





People are happier when they are free to make choices in their own lives. They wanted freedom for themselves and all their children and grandchildren.

and our Posterity, do ordain and

common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves

Why is the spelling funny? Did someone make a mistake? Not really. In those days, people spelled words in different ways. This is a common way that “defense” was spelled.

The word “ordain” reminds us of the higher power involved in the nation. The people themselves had the power to create — or ordain — their own government.

establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


The name of the document telling the rules that the government must use was the Constitution.

Washington had great prestige, but he was reluctant to go the meeting in Philadelphia. He wasn’t sure anything good would come of it, and he had health and business concerns. He finally decided to attend because he didn’t want people to think he was opposed. He was elected unanimously as president of the Convention, and his presence brought it a sense of legitimacy.

Benjamin Franklin Printer, scientist, inventor and diplomat, he was perhaps the most remarkable man of his time. He persuaded France to aid the Americans in the war, and signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In Philadelphia, he was able to calm things down with good humor when tempers got hot over controversial issues like representation and slavery.

Roger Sherman He represented the state of Connecticut. Everyone admired him because he was a man of principle. It was Sherman who proposed what is known as the “Great Compromise” on representation, which created two houses of Congress — a Senate, in which each state had an equal vote, and a House of Representatives, where votes were based on a state’s population.

Alexander Hamilton He represented New York and supported a strong central government. He wrote brilliant essays to help people in New York to understand the Constitution and vote for it. Later, he ran for president and was killed in a duel by his rival Aaron Burr.

Gouverneur Morris THINK ABOUT IT:

How are“the people” of America alike? What traditions should they share? How can they show their individuality?

Morris represented the state of Pennsylvania at the Convention and was author of much of the Constitution. The noble phrases of the Preamble — “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union” — came from him.

6 • SEPTEMBER 17, 2006


Personal rights SLAVERY

The biggest problem was left unsolved


ost of the black people in America in 1787 were slaves. A slave is a person who is owned by someone else, like a car or a pet. Black people in Africa were packed into ships and forced to come to America. Then they were sold to white farmers in the South. They were forced with generations of their families to work hard on farms, often picking crops like cotton and tobacco. They were not paid. And if they tried to run away, they were often harshly punished. Were slaves people or property? Slaves themselves were worth money. They could be bought and sold in slave markets, just like sheep or horses. There were few laws to protect them.

∫ TODAY, THERE ARE NO SLAVES in America, but slavery was common in 1787. Most of the men from the North wanted to end slavery. They said everyone should be free. But the people of the South worried because they made money using their slaves. A big argument started in Philadelphia over the question of slavery. Some men from the South became so angry that they threatened to stomp out of the meeting. So the two sides agreed to a compromise — which means each side gave in a little, but not all the way. Congress would have to wait 20 years before it could make a law to stop the slave trade. Slaves would be counted in a state’s population when deciding how many votes that state would have in Congress. But a slave would not count as a whole person, only as three-fifths of a person. Many people thought this compromise was terrible. No law was being made against slavery. The Constitution would only allow Congress to limit the slave trade in the future. It did not free any slaves who were here already. But the compromise was important in getting the new country going. It might have been worse for everyone if the meeting had broken up. Our country might not have been made. ∫ MANY YEARS LATER, IN 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. Slaves were still owned in the South and used on farms without being paid. A great war began between the people of the North and South called the American Civil War. It lasted four years. The economics of slavery was a major reason for the war. When the North won the fight, Abraham the Constitution was changed at Lincoln last. Slavery was finally outlawed ∫ 14th president in 1865. Slaves became citizens helped end and were given the right to vote. slavery.

CHARTER OF FREEDOM: Schoolchildren look at the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims basic human rights.


he people of America had to agree to the Constitution. If they didn’t, it would not become the law of the land. Eventually, the people of all 13 states agreed. But many were concerned that it did not clearly protect certain rights. They thought the Constitution should include a specific list of individual rights that the government cannot change, so 10 things were added in 1791. When anything is added, it is called an “amendment.” To amend something is to change it. The first 10 amendments are called the Bill of

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Rights and they are now part of the Constitution. Here are some protections of citizens listed in the Bill of Rights: ∫ Freedom of religion ∫ Right to gather in groups ∫ Freedom of speech ∫ Right to own guns ∫ Freedom to print information ∫ Right to a lawyer and a jury if you are accused of a crime ∫ A person cannot be tried more than once for a particular crime ∫ Government may not punish people in cruel or unusual ways ∫ Police may not search a home without the approval of a judge


How can you show respect for others’ rights? What is more important, a person’s skin color or the way he behaves?

A long road to equality

he Declaration of Independence proclaimed back in 1776 that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” This means a person’s basic rights cannot be taken away by anyone. But it took a long time to change people’s minds. After the Civil War, many whites continued to dislike blacks. They thought whites were better. For 100 years, some laws continued to reflect this prejudice. In some states, black people had to stay separate from white people. They could not share a white person’s drinking fountain, restroom or school. They were forced to give up a good seat on a bus if a white person wanted to sit there.

SEGREGATION: Whites and blacks didn’t mix.

This was called “segregation.” Living with segregation made it very difficult for many blacks to succeed in life. The system worked against them. Finally, in the 1950s and 1960s the Supreme Court decided that such laws were unfair. The jus-

tices said that the laws violated the rights of blacks, so they ruled that segregation must end. Today, the law forbids segregation. Most people today do not think people are better or worse than any others just because of their skin color.

SEPTEMBER 17, 20067 • 7

Just for fun

The rest of the Amendments

From and

Mystery Word Puzzle — Find the mystery word by filling in the horizontal rows.


T’S NOT EASY TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION. The founders wanted it that way so that it would be less subject to political winds. Amendments are most often started in Congress, where both houses must approve by two-thirds majorities. Then the amendment is sent to the states for consideration. Three-fourths of them must approve before the amendment becomes part of the Constitution. Many amendments are proposed every year. Most never get out of congressional committees. Here’s a list of amendments enacted since the 10 of the Bill of Rights:

1. The Supreme Court is part of the ____________ branch of government 2. This document is the basis for our system of government. 3 The _______ of Rights guarantees many of our basic freedoms. 4. The president lives at the ______ House. 5. People who left other countries to come to America for a better life. 6. Congress meets in this building. 7. The number of states in the U.S.

Ben’s Lost

11— 1795. COURT LIMITS. Cleared up a concern many people had that the federal courts were too powerful.

Ben went out for a walk between sessions at the Constitutional Convention. He wandered a little too far and got lost. He has a meeting at Independence Hall in half an hour. Help Ben find the way back

12 — 1804. LEADERSHIP. Made an adjustment in the way the president and vice-president are determined.

13— 1865. SLAVERY ENDS. After the bloody Civil War, this amendment ended all slavery in the United States. 14— 1868. EQUAL PROTECTION. Stopped states from making laws against freed slaves. Also established the right of citizenship. If you were born in the United States, you are automatically a citizen of the United States.

15 — 1870. VOTING RIGHTS FOR ALL. Guaranteed the right to

vote regardless of race, or whether a person had been a slave.

16 — 1913. INCOME TAX. Allows taxes on a person’s wages. 17 — 1913. ELECTION OF SENATORS. Changed the way Senators are elected from legislatures to votes of the people in a state.

New York police dump a barrel of liquor into the sewer. 18 — 1919. PROHIBITION. Banned alcoholic drinks.

19 — 1920. WOMEN’S VOTE. Before this amendment, only men could vote. Women wanted this right, too, and they got it.

20 — 1933. LAME DUCKS. Limits the time a representative may pass laws once he or she is voted out of office.

21 — 1933. PROHIBITION REPEALED. Alcohol is legal again.

Color the Capitol

22 — 1951. PRESIDENTIAL TERM LIMIT. This amendment limits presidents to serving no more than two four-year terms.

Original 13 states crossword — Search Web site for clues.

23 — 1961. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. Allows citizens in the nation’s capital to vote in national elections.


24 — 1964. NO POLL TAX. Many Southern states found ways to stop blacks from voting, such as charging a fee for poor people. This amendment outlawed such practices.

1. Called for representation based on population. 4. First capital of the U.S. after Constitution was approved. 5. State where Annapolis Convention was held. 6. Last state to approve the Constitution. 7. John Adams was asked to represent this state in Philadelphia, but he couldn’t attend.

25 — 1967. VICE-PRESIDENT. When a vice-president becomes president, he can choose his own replacement.

26 — 1971. VOTING AGE. Lowered the age to 18 from 21.


27 — 1992. CONGRESSIONAL PAY. Originally proposed in 1789,

2. Ninth state to approve the Constitution made the plan the law. 3. Southern “Tarheel State” that voted against the Constitution but changed later. 8. Charles Pinckney was a delegate from this state, known as the “Palmetto State.” 9. First state to approve the Constitution. 10. This state’s plan called for equal representation. 11. William Leigh Pierce came from this state and published articles about the Constitutional Convention. 12. Benjamin Franklin was a delegate from this state. 13. The Great Compromise was proposed by this state’s delegate, Roger Sherman.

this amendment wasn’t approved for 203 years. It requires that pay raises for Congress cannot go into effect until the next election, allowing the voters to decide.

PopQuiz Test Your Knowledge 1. Which future U.S. President led the American army to victory over England? A. George Washington B. Thomas Jefferson C. James Madison D. Abraham Lincoln 2. How many states approved the Constitution? A. 9 B. 12 C. 7 D. All 13 of them 3. On what date did delegates approve the Constitution? A. Sept. 17, 1787 B. Oct. 17, 1800 C. July 4, 1776 D. Jan. 1, 1790 4. Which is NOT a branch of the government? A. Executive B. Federal C. Legislative D. Judicial 5. The opening lines of the Constitution are called the A. Introduction B. Bill of Rights C. Declaration D. Preamble

6. The ______ are called the Bill of Rights A. First 10 amendments to the Constitution B. Last 10 amendments to the Constitution C. The first paragraph of the Constitution D. The main ideas in the Declaration of Independence 7. How many states must ratify an amendment to the Constitution? A. One-half B. Two-thirds C. Three-fourths D. All of them 8. Who is called “Father of the Constitution”? A. James Madison B. George Washington C. Benjamin Franklin D. Thomas Jefferson 9. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are guaranteed by the Constitution: A. True B. False ANSWERS: 1. A; 2. D; 3. A; 4. B; 5. D; 6. A; 7. C; 8. A; 9. B



Daily Herald’s top Web pick for K-12 teachers — From the U.S. Government Printing Office. Ben’s Guide includes #1 ∫grade-specific lesson material, K-12. GPO’s main site,, has pictures, historical documents, analysis and links to many other government Web sites for students.

Other good Web sites ∫ — A comprehensive Constitution site. Includes activities and lessons for various ages. ∫ — Independence Hall Association supports mission to educate the public about early U.S. history. ∫ — Huge collection of National Archives, with large amounts of public-domain material, images and maps. ∫ — The Constitution Society is a private non-profit organization dedicated to research and public education. ∫ — A guide for high school and undergraduate history students. ∫ — A large compilation of documents compiled by the Yale University Avalon Project. ∫ — Excellent site includes lesson plans for all grade levels. ∫ — Interactive online learning for all grade levels. ∫ — National Archives site designed for Constitution Day. ∫ — Excellent interactive site from National Archives ∫ — Search prints and photographs from the Library of Congress. ∫ — Library of Congress collection. Subsections on American history. Prints, maps, audio, film. ∫ — The largest reference site on the Internet. Free content written collaboratively. Users should confirm data.

CREDITS: The Daily Herald thanks all who generously allowed us to draw from t, which provided core material; and to Frank W. Fox, author o or rewritten from U.S. Government sources in t

Writing and design: Randy Wright.


“Let the American youth never forget that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils and blood of their to do better and to appreciate the great freedoms ancestors; and capable, if wisely improved and faithfully guarded, that enjoy as Americans” of transmitting towe their posterity all the blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of liberty, property, hal wing, member, chairman’s leadership council, america’s freedom foundation religion and independence.” founder, wing enterprises “Studying the actions of patriots inspires us

Justice Joseph Story, United States Supreme Court T H I S S P E C I A L E D U C AT I O N A L S U P P L E M E N T I S P ROV I D E D A S A P U B L I C S E RV I C E B Y:





Constitution How America Works  

Kids Guide to The Constitution of The United States. Amazing people and events that shaped the constitution