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Teachable Texts from the National Archives at Boston

Constitution 225th Anniversary 1787-2012 National Archives

Teach the Constitution: It's the Law!

Document

Signed Copy of the Constitution of the United States; Miscellaneous Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789, Record Group 360; National Archives (D.C.). See larger view.

Historical Background

" We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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 Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government.

All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected--directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.

Document Description

Drafted in secret by delegates to the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787, this four-page document, signed on September 17, 1787, established the government of the United States. It is written on parchment, which is treated animal skin, typically sheepskin. The original Constitution of the United States lives at the National Archives headquarters in Washington, D.C. But the Constitution is alive and well in everything we do.

You can visit the Constitution in person.

And you can see an exact facsimile of the Constitution in the lobby of National Archives at Boston.

Document Background

The Constitution defines our rights and the government's responsibilities and limitations.

Anyone can learn about and understand the Constitution. Consider keeping a copy of the Constitution with you. Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has said, "don't leave home without it!"

Everything you ever needed to know is here:

Examine it!

The best way to learn about the Constitution is to actually read it! It's short. It's important. Although it is very deep, it is also not hard to read. Here are some activities.

  1. IT'S ALIVE! It may be 225 years old, but the Constitution is alive and well and in everything we do. It's EVERYWHERE! And it's working. RIGHT NOW. Get the activity here.

    In this activity, students will find examples of the U.S. Constitution in everyday life. And they read a real, hard copy daily newspaper, too!

    Time Required: 30 minutes      Grade level: Gr 5 - adults.

    Materials:

    • Front pages of newspapers (Plan ahead: start saving up the front page of the daily newspaper. You might ask kids to bring them in, IF they get a daily paper. Or check with the school library as your school may have newspapers delivered, and you can start saving them.)
    • The U.S. Constitution or the Abbreviated Constitution handout.
    • Pen, marker, or highlighter.

    Activity:

    • Students will examine the front page of a newspaper to find examples of the U.S. Constitution in action. It's alive!
    • Hand out newspaper front pages to each pair of students and have them mark examples of the U.S. Constitution. Even the paper's masthead is an example (1st Amendment!)
    • Older students will cite Article and section (or Amendment).
    • Share their findings in class.
  2. Learn the Preamble
    It's easy to accomplish our legal responsibilities to Teach the Constitution. Just use the Preamble. Memorizing bodies of text is good for our brains, and it's a lost art among school children. The Preamble is short and it carefully describes the responsibilities of our government. Memorize it today; you'll never forget it!


  3. Draw the Preamble
    The Preamble is one long topic sentence in which the verbs are varied. Just as we teach our students to create a topic sentence and then support it with details, our Constitution does this, too.

    In this activity, students are given a single phrase, and asked to draw a representation of what that phrase means. Then, they share their interpretations.


  4. Draw We the People
    For younger children, the concept of community and country can be challenging. Yet this is the most important and fundamental concept of our Constitution and of all that we teach. Here's a template or just use paper and crayons. This can be a small or large group activity, too.


  5. Sign the Constitution
    Here's a fun culminating activity for younger children. The Preamble lays out the basic concepts of the Constitution. We can all sign it and commit ourselves to We the People.


  6. Outline the Constitution
    This simple fill-in-the-blank activity, designed for middle- and high-school students, was created by high school teacher Kristine Forsgard, Academy of Notre Dame, Tyngsboro, MA. It is used with permission and gratitude.
    In this activity, you fill in an outline of the entire Constitution. By doing so, you can learn the structure and content of our Constitution. Begin with the Articles and the Preamble below. The entire outline structure is here.

List the function of each Article

  • Article I: _____________________________________________________

  • Article II: ____________________________________________________

  • Article III: ___________________________________________________

  • Article IV: ____________________________________________________

  • Article V: _____________________________________________________

  • Article VI: ____________________________________________________

  • Article VII: ___________________________________________________

The Preamble to the Constitution

The purpose of establishing the Constitution

  • A. ____________________________________________________

  • B. ____________________________________________________

  • C. ____________________________________________________

  • D. ____________________________________________________

  • E. ____________________________________________________

  • F. ____________________________________________________

Collect Needed Knowledge of the Time and Place

  • Find out about the 39 delegates who signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787.
  • Explore in this simulation how the members of the Constitutional Convention might have felt as they gathered in Philadelphia's Independence Hall and began the arduous and memorable task of writing the United States Constitution.
  • Uncover the issues involved in the creation and ratification of the United States Constitution and the new government it established in this Teaching With Documents lesson on Delaware's ratification.
  • Following ratification, the next task was implementation. Analyze historic documents and determine the extent to which the Constitution provided for the reestablishment of the Navy.
  • The Charters of Freedom. Discover additional information about the Constitutional Convention and the ratification process and dozens of fascinating facts about the Constitution.

Additional Resources

Constitution Day Workshop

Teaching with Documents: Observing Constitution Day Activities & Links

Constitution 225: The Committee of Detail

Constitution 225: No quorum, no Constitution!

10 Facts about the Constitution

The Constitution has a facebook page

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