The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up this Bill of Rights, and James Madison led the colonies in their adoption of them. Teach your students about the Bill of Rights and the first ten amendments to the Constitution with our free Bill of Rights Unit Study Download.
Unity and Patriotism after the Revolutionary War
When you think of the early days of American history shortly after the American Revolution, do you ever picture a time when all the people of the United States were full of patriotic feelings and the country was united in a new way? If you do, you might find the picture is less realistic than you might think.
It is true that there was a strong feeling of unity and patriotism following the Revolutionary War. The American colonists had risked everything and sacrificed a great deal, and they had miraculously won against the most powerful empire in the world. But they were also faced with a problem. They were now their own country, but who would run the country and how?
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Creating a New Government
There was a fear that giving too much power to a strong central government could lead to the same kind of tyranny the colonists had just broken free from under British rule. The colonies’ first attempt at creating a government came with the Articles of Confederation, an agreement that established the nation’s first federal government in 1781. The nation was called the United States of America, as the Declaration of Independence had stated.
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation attempted to balance the needs of one united government to rule the nation while honoring the individual rights and needs of the different states. Each of the thirteen colonies had different needs and different priorities. They had been settled by various groups with different goals.
You can see the difference in states even today. While many of the things that make each state unique are different than what separated the colonies then, the same principles are evident. The needs of people leaving in Maine are different than those of people living in Kansas or Texas or California. The weather is different, the needs of agriculture and businesses are different, and the people themselves form many different communities.
Votes in Congress
The Articles of Confederation gave each state one vote in Congress and allowed Congress to handle affairs concerning war and peace, foreign relationships, the military, and issuing and borrowing money. These were important parts of the nation to be centralized, because it wouldn’t work to have Pennsylvania, for example, go to war but not Virginia. And money issued in Massachusetts had to be honored in Georgia.
Trouble with the American Government
But as time went on, it became clear that the American government was in trouble. The Articles of Confederation did not give the central government enough power to do its job efficiently.
It could order states to send troops, for example, but it didn’t have any power to enforce its own orders. It was an important time in the new nation’s history because the articles helped highlight what was working and what was not. It revealed the need for a new foundation for the government to be built on so the federal government would be strong, but the civil liberties of the people would be preserved and protected.
A Constitutional Convention was set to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in May 1787. All the states except Rhode Island agreed to the convention. The debates over how to govern the new nation were long. The delegates met from May 25-September 17, 1787. They struggled to find a way to fairly represent the small states as well as the large states.
If all the states were equally represented as they had been under the Articles of Confederation, it would lead to problems because what was fair for one state might not be fair for another. But if the states had power based solely on their size, the small states could quickly be overlooked.
Dividing the Legislature
In time, a compromise was agreed to that divided the legislature into two branches, with one having representation based on population (the House of Representatives) and one having equal representation for every state (the Senate).
There was still much to be decided, and eventually, the Constitution of the United States could only move forward if members of Congress agreed on a list of rights guaranteeing certain individual freedoms for the people.
Bill of Rights
The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up this Bill of Rights, and James Madison led the colonies in their adoption of them.
The United States Bill of Rights drew upon the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights as well as Virginia’s 1776 Declaration of Rights and the underlying belief of the colonists in God-given rights and the value of individuals.
Because people are made in God’s image, they have rights that are inalienable, rights that are theirs simply because they are human beings, not because a government gives them the rights. And because these rights are God-given, they cannot be taken away by a government.
The Bill of Rights attempted to honor these rights and protect citizens of the United States from an over-reaching, powerful government.
Let’s take a look at the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment
The First Amendment declares that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” It guarantees the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press for all people.
The Second Amendment
The Second Amendment gives people the right to keep and bear arms.
The Third Amendment
The Third Amendment guarantees that the government cannot quarter, or force people to house and care for military troops, during peace time and only during war time under certain laws. This was a direct response to the Quartering Act Britain had passed that forced American colonists to care for British soldiers at their own expense.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires that probable cause must be given and a warrant issued before a search or seizure of private property can be carried out.
The Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment addresses procedures regarding criminal cases and the due process of law including the right that no one ever has to testify against themselves in a trial or be tried twice for the same crime. Being able to be repeatedly brought up on charges after a person has been proven innocent in a court of law would allow prosecutors or governments to endlessly harass someone who had already been found innocent.
The Sixth Amendment
The Sixth Amendment guarantees that anyone charged with a crime has a speedy and public trial and that the case be decided by an impartial jury of the defendant’s peers. It also guarantees the right of someone who is accused to know what he is being accused of and to face those accusing him.
The Seventh Amendment
The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury and protects people from being required to post excessive bail.
The Eighth Amendment
The Eighth Amendment protects people from excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishment.
The Ninth Amendment
The Ninth Amendment says that just because a right isn’t mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, it doesn’t mean the people don’t have that right.
The Tenth Amendment
The Tenth Amendment says that any power not specifically given to the federal government by the United States Constitution remains with the states or the people.
Where is the Bill of Rights Kept?
You can still see the Bill of Rights today at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and original copies are still held by several states. Its scope is unique in the history of the world.
No other nation on earth has a document protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals in the same way as the U.S. Bill of Rights. Americans should continue to be thankful for the wisdom and foresight of the Founding Fathers in creating and establishing a system of government that, as President Abraham Lincoln would later say, was “of the people, by the people, for the people.” (Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863)
Learn More About the U.S. Constitution
Learn more about the U.S. Constitution with these resources from WriteBonnieRose.com including a Deluxe U.S. Constitution Notebooking Journal that challenges students to study the entire U.S. Constitution one section at a time, U.S. Constitution Terminology Copywork, copywork for the Preamble the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights, and more!
Free Bill Of Rights Unit Study for Kids
Use our free unit study download to teach about the Bill of Rights in your homeschool. Includes facts and copywork for the first ten amendments.
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Carrie is the owner & operator of Homeschool Giveaways. She has been homeschooling for over a decade and has successfully graduated her first homeschooler. She has two girls and works side by side at home with her awesome husband. She has been saved by grace, fails daily, but continues to strive toward the prize of the high calling of being a daughter of the Most High God.