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Learn About The Constitution

The US ConstitutionThe basic document by which the United States is governed, the Constitution was drafted at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and ratified the following year. The Constitution divides governmental powers between the national and state governments in a system known as federalism. It also divides the national government into three independent branches-executive, legislative, and judicial-which can serve as checks and balances upon one another.

In addition to listing the powers of the national government-which include the power to collect taxes, regulate trade, and declare war-the Constitution enumerates the powers forbidden to the states and to Congress; and the procedures for electing and appointing government officials as well as procedures for amending the document. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was ratified in 1791. These amendments, which were originally intended to protect individual liberties from the power of the central government, guarantee freedom of speech, the press, religion, petition, and assembly; and specify the rights of the accused in criminal and civil cases.

Only about 7,000 words long, the U.S. Constitution is one of the shortest constitutions in the world. It is also the oldest written constitution still in effect.

Learn more about the history and meaning of the Constitution
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"The only step of moment taken by Cong[res]s…has been a recommendation of the proposed meeting…for revising the federal articles." Letter from James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, February 24, 1787
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More documents related to the Constitution
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Handouts and fact sheets:

Conflict Over Ratifying the Constitution
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Recommended lesson plan:

Lesson Plans on EDSITEment related to the Constitution
http://edsitement.neh.gov/search/content/constitution
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Quizzes:

Quiz 1, Answers to Quiz 1
Quiz 2, Answers to Quiz 2
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Recommended books:

Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic
This classic work describes in rich detail the evolution of American political thought from the Declaration of Independence to the ratification of the Constitution.

Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution
This volume shows that the framers had serious disagreements about many elements of the Constitution, including slavery, the federal system, judicial review, and the "necessary and proper" clause, and that the document was a product of many compromises. The author also shows that the Constitution's meaning was disputed by the 1,500 delegates who attended state ratifying conventions as well as by the members of the first Congress.

Recommended film:

A More Perfect Union, a 1990 recreation of the Constitutional Convention shown on PBS.
To learn more about this film:
http://www.libertymall.com/Products/Video/A-More_Perfect_Union.htm
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Recommended Website:

The Constitution
http://www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/
charters/constitution.html

This National Archives website contains a copy of the U.S. Constitution and biographies of the document's fifty-five framers.
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