Articles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

Standard 2.5:  Articles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

Summarize the Preamble and each Article in the Constitution, and the Rights Enumerated in the Bill of Rights; explain the reasons for the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution in 1791.(Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Science) [8.T2.5]

FOCUS QUESTION: What are the Articles of the Constitution and What Rights are in the Bill of Rights?

Painting: Scene at the Signing of the Constitution

"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States"
by Howard Chandler Christy | Public Domain

The Constitution establishes the legal and structural framework of the United States government. Written in secret, behind closed doors guarded by sentries, during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, it is the oldest and shortest of all the world’s national constitutions. It was originally 4,543 words, including signatures; now with its 27 amendments, it is 7,591 words in length (Constitution of the United States: Fascinating Facts about the U.S. Constitution).

The Constitution set forth the following primary ideas about government (Six Big Ideas in the Constitution):

By 1777, ten states had drafted and adopted their own constitutions. These constitutions stressed the rights of individuals including freedom of religion, a lack of property requirements to vote, and power of government derived from the people. Concerns over the power of the new government and the desire to ensure and protect the rights of individuals led to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution’s first 10 amendments.

Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, on September 17, commemorate the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, and to “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens” (Library of Congress; 36 USC 106: Constitution Day and Citizenship Day).

How did African Americans and other people of color seek to acquire the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution? This topic's modules explore this question by examining the articles of the Constitution and the text of the Bill of Rights, the impact of W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP, and considering what might be the nation's most influential multicultural documents.

    1.INVESTIGATE: The Articles of the Constitution and the Many Bills of Rights in United States History

    The Constitution of the United States has a Preamble and seven articles:

    The Interactive Constitution website from the National Constitution Center has videos, podcasts, and blog posts for exploring and understanding every major clause and amendment.

    Constitute: The World's Constitutions to Read, Search and Compareincludes 202 national constitutions worldwide

    Daily Bellringer YouTube Channel features videos explaining Articles 1-10 of the U.S. Constitution. 

    Image preview of a YouTube video
    Watch on YouTube https://edtechbooks.org/-ZFUS

    The U.S. Constitution is not the country’s only constitution - each state has its own constitution. There have been nearly 150 state constitutions which have been amended 12,000 times (NBER/Maryland State Constitutions Project). Native American tribes have their own constitutions as well (Native American Tribal Constitutions).

    The first ten amendments to the U. S. Constitution—the Bill of Rights—set forth the rights and freedoms of citizens living in the United States.  

    Bill of Rights Car
    "Bill of Rights Car" by fusion-of-horizons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The first 10 Amendments of the Bill of Rights are:

    1. Freedom of speech, press, petition, religion, and peaceful protest
    2. The right to bear arms
    3. No quartering of troops
    4. No unreasonable search and seizure
    5. Due process, no self incrimination, no double jeopardy
    6. Right to a speedy trial
    7. Trial by Jury
    8. No cruel or unusual punishment
    9. Rights of individuals not outlined in the Bill of Rights
    10. Any powers not vested in the federal government are granted to the states and the people

    The national Bill of Rights has inspired numerous other bills of rights related to economic life, education, health care, shopping and buying, voting and more:

    These Bills of Rights outline the protections that every member of a free and democratic society should expect to have in their life. Nevertheless, rights are subject to interpretation. Individual rights (life, liberty, property) and social and economic rights (health care, education, housing) have different meanings for different people. Conservative political groups tend to define rights as individual rights while progressive groups tend to expand individual rights to include social and economic rights (for example, Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights).

    Media Literacy Connections: Tweeting the Bill of Rights

    The first 10 amendments to the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights consists of 472 words. It was signed on September 28, 1789. Here is the full text read aloud.

    Fourteen official copies were printed, one for the federal government and one each for the original 13 states. Only 9 originals remain today (Bill of Rights FAQs, National Constitution Center).

    At the time there were no systems of mass communication - no social media, no television, no streaming services. But what if there had been Twitter? Today, about one in five adults use Twitter, sending some 500 million tweets each day (Twitter by the Numbers, Omnicore, January 6, 2021).

    Activity: How would you have helped James Madison and the other members of Congress spread the word about the Bill of Rights on Twitter?

    • Directions: Rewrite the Bill of Rights with Twitter’s 280 character limit in mind. 
      • Be as concise as possible!
      • Make them contemporary! Draw connections to present-day events or news.
      • Each amendment can be its own tweet. 
    • Tweeting:
      • To engage in this activity without signing up for Twitter, use TweetGen to generate realistic screenshots of your tweets and then curate them in a Jamboard, Google Doc, or Padlet.
      • To engage in this activity with Twitter, post your Bill of Rights tweets on Twitter. Reply to the tweets and discuss the role of the Bill of Rights in today's society.

    Suggested Learning Activities

    • Learn Online
      • Which Founder are You? an online quiz from the National Constitution Center where you can compare your personality traits with those of 12 delegates to the Constitutional Convention (flash required).  
        • How does your personality most resemble one of the founders? 
    • Analyze the Demographics of the Signers of the Founding Documents  
      • View the names and pictures of the 56 individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence, the 40 people who signed the Constitution, and the 15 delegates to the Constitutional Convention who did not sign the Constitution from Wikimedia Commons. Here is a list of the Signers of the Constitution by state.
        • What do you conclude from your analysis about who the signers were?
    • Write a Classroom Constitution or a Student Bill of Rights
      • Ask each student to create a list of rights, responsibilties, and rules that should be in a classroom constitution or a student Bill of Rights - the rights that anyone attending a public elementary, middle, or high school should have.
      • As a class, identify the rights and responsibilities that appear most often in everyone’s list.  
      • Students work in small groups to design a graphic representing the class Constitution or student Bill of Rights.
    • Design Pandemic Bill of Rights for Students, Teachers, Families, and School Staff
      • Ask students to compose a list of rights, responsibilities, and rules for individuals and groups in schools impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • Students design a graphic representing a Pandemic Bill of Rights

    Online Resources for the Constitution

    Online Resources for Bills of Rights in United States History

    2.UNCOVER: W.E.B. Du Bois, the Niagara Movement, and the History of the NAACP

    Born in 1868 and raised in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, W.E.B. DuBois was an immensely influential African American educator, writer, activist, and scholar. He was born just before the passage of the 14th Amendment and he lived nearly a century until just one day before the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

    Du Bois was one of the founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909. His 1935 historical study, Black Reconstruction in America, placed “the struggles and triumphs of African Americans at the center of the Reconstruction story” (Gates, 2019, p. 255). His book, The Souls of Black Folks, sold nearly 20,000 copies between 1903 and 1940. The book contains the famous phrase, “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

    Du Bois was also the founding editor of The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP. The first issue appeared in November, 1910.

    W.E.B. DuBois’ life and writings, said Henry Louis Gates (2019), “often set the terms of the civil rights debate” and “his critique of white supremacy was insistent" (p. 254).

    Read a short biography at NAACP Histoy: W.E.B. Du Bois.

    The Niagara Movement (founded by W.E.B. Du Bois and William Trotter in 1905) and the NAACP were political organizations formed to oppose racial segregation and political disenfranchisement of African Americans and to realize the goals of equality for African Americans. In The Niagara Movement's Declaration of Principles (1905), Du Bois declared: "We want full manhood suffrage and we want it now... We are men! We want to be treated as men. And we shall win."

    Niagara Movement Meeting in Fort Erie Canada 1905

    W.E.B. DuBois is in the second row at this Niagara movement meeting in Fort Erie, Canada, 1905
    "Niagara movement meeting in Fort Erie" | Public Domain

    The NAACP set forth a belief in using nonviolent protests and legal actions as the most effective way to achieve full and equal rights for African Americans. In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the practice of nonviolent resistance against segregation and discrimination faced by African Americans in the United States.

    Suggested Learning Activities

    Online Resources for W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP

    3.ENGAGE: What Are the Most Influential Documents in America’s Multicultural History?

    In 2003, the National Archives, in conjunction with National History Day and U.S. News & World Report magazine, conducted a People’s Vote to determine the most influential documents in United States history. Some 39,000 people voted, online and by paper ballot. Based on the results, the documents were ranked from 1 to 100. The Declaration of Independence was first, followed by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Here is the entire list: The Results of the People's Vote: The Most Influential Documents in American History.

    Would the list and the vote have been different if people had been asked to choose America’s most influential multicultural documents? Multicultural documents are those speeches, laws, books, declarations, and other sources that positively impact and feature the lives and freedoms of African Americans, Native Americans, women, Latinos, LBGTQ individuals, and other ostracized groups.Suggested Learning Activities

    Suggested Learning Activities

    • Give Your Opinion
      • Considering the 100 most influential documents from the National Archives and adding others you consider significant, what would be your top ten list for multicultural history?

    Standard 2.5 Conclusion

    The Constitution established the structure of United States Government; the Bill of Rights set forth the freedoms the Constitution guaranteed to the American people. INVESTIGATE identified the Articles of the Constitution and the many other Bills of Rights that have evolved from the original ten amendments. UNCOVER discussed the African American civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois, the Niagara Movement, and the history of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). ENGAGE asked what are the most influential multicultural documents in U.S. History.