The Bill of Rights—A Reason to Celebrate!

December 15 is a very important date in American history-it is Bill of Rights Day! Why? On this date in 1791, The Bill of Rights became part of the United States Constitution. This was only four years after the delegates to Constitutional Convention of Philadelphia signed the Constitution and only three years after the Constitution became the Law of the Land. The Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the most important documents in our nation's founding and history.

What is the Bill of Rights? It is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. An amendment is a change or addition to the Constitution. Why did our Constitution need ten amendments so soon after its adoption? This is one of the most interesting stories about the early days of our country. Some of our founders, like Patrick Henry, felt there were not enough freedoms and rights mentioned in our Constitution. Others, like James Madison, felt our Constitution protected all the people's rights and freedoms even though they were not mentioned. The compromise between the two groups is the Bill of Rights. Over the last 211 years, the Bill of Rights has been used by many people to ensure their freedoms.

Teaching activities:

Grades 4-6: Look at Amendments 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 in the Bill of Rights. List all of the rights and freedoms contained in those amendments. As a class, collect newspaper articles that are related to the rights and freedoms guaranteed in those amendments. Why did our Founding Fathers include these freedoms and rights in the Bill of Rights?

Grades 7-9: Look at Amendments 2 and 3 in the Bill of Rights. Why do you think these two amendments were put in the Bill of Rights? Do you think they will still be in there if the Bill of Rights was written today? How did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the rights and freedoms found in the Bill of Rights to help segregation?

Grades 10-12: The two groups who argued about the need for a Bill of Rights were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Research their views on the Bill of Rights and then prepare a debate on the desirability of having a Bill of Rights. Are some of their arguments still relevant today? Why was the Fourteenth Amendment needed to make the Bill of Rights an actual protection of people's rights?


Celebrating our liberty under the law!

Law Day is a special day in the United States to celebrate how we use laws to solve problems and to make sure everyone in our country is treated fairly.

The tradition of celebrating Law Day began in 1958 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed that every year on May 1 we as a nation "should remember with pride" how our laws help people to be treated fairly and how our laws have inspired other countries to treat their citizens more fairly.

Why Law Day is celebrated on May 1 is a very interesting history lesson. When the Soviet Union existed and was a major world power, the Soviets had a parade every year on May 1 to show their new weapons. This parade showed that the Soviet Union was a nation that ruled by force. To show the difference between our nations, American politicians and lawyers wanted to show that we were a nation that is ruled by laws made by our citizens so we began celebrating Law Day on May 1.

Suggested Activities:

Grades K-5: Classroom rules are excellent parallels to our legal system. First, teachers may want to point out that they tell their students about the rules and the consequences for not following the rules at the beginning of the year, so students have "notice" of both the rules and the consequences. Second, ask the students why they think it is good to have classroom rules: Are they about making sure everyone is safe? Are they about giving everybody a chance to learn? (Extension: ask the students how laws made it safer for them to come to school that morning i.e. traffic laws, bus inspections and bus driver licensing.)

Grades 6-12: Ask the students what they think the phrase "liberty and justice for all" means in the Pledge of Allegiance. How have laws, including our Constitution, helped to make "liberty and justice for all" possible? (As discussion points, have the students look at the following Constitutional Amendments: 4th ,6th,15th, 19th and 26th.)

Happy 215th Birthday to our Constitution!

On September 17, 1787 the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention signed the Constitution. The Constitution is the law of the land and the document that tells us what kind of government we should have. Although the Constitution was not ratified (approved) by the necessary nine of thirteen states until May 29, 1790, we celebrate every September 17th as Constitution Day in the United States. 2002 marks the 215th anniversary of the Constitution. Certainly, the framers (the men who wrote and signed the Constitution) could never have imagined how enduring this document would be!

A terrific website about the history of our Constitution, the 39 men who signed the Constitution and the battle to ratify the Constitution is Other activities for this special day are:

Grades 4-6: Research other countries that have constitutions and see how old their documents are. (Examples: Canada, Japan, France, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico). After sharing the information, students should discuss why the U.S. Constitution has survived so long compared to other countries. Or do some research about one or two of the 39 Constitutional framers and report on them to the entire class.

Grades 7-9: Read the Preamble to the Constitution. What do the various phrases mean? What provisions did the framers put in the Constitution to carry out the purposes they talked about in the Preamble? How is our current government striving to still carry out those purposes?

Grades 10-12: When we think of rights in this country, we usually look beyond the original Constitution and examine the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments. However, there are some protections in the original Constitution that guarantee some of our rights. Define: Writ of Habeas Corpus, Bill of Attainder, and Ex Post Facto Laws. Why did the framers include these provisions? What has been the history of these provisions? How are they applicable today?

More Educational Resources

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Library of Congress (Bill of Rights)
TeacherLINK The Bill of Rights Institute
Plainfield Community School Corporation National Constitution Center
Education World Library of Congress (Constitution)
AskERIC - Educational Information Glencoe/McGraw Hill Publishers
New York City Department of Education Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
United States Capitol Historical Society - Educational Resources

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