Article V and the 27 Amendments – Module 15 of Constitution 101
With the Constitution, the Founding generation created the greatest charter of freedom in the history of the world. However, the Founding generation did not believe that it had a monopoly on constitutional wisdom. Therefore, the founders set out a formal amendment process that allowed later generations to revise our nation’s charter and “form a more perfect Union.” They wrote this process into Article V of the Constitution. Over time, the American people have used this amendment process to transform the Constitution by adding a Bill of Rights, abolishing slavery, promising freedom and equality, and extending the right to vote to women and African Americans. All told, we have ratified 27 constitutional amendments across American history. Learning objectives: Describe the reasons that the Founding generation included a formal process for amending the Constitution;
explain how the Constitution’s amendment process works, and why the founders made it so hard to amend the Constitution; identify the key periods of constitutional change in American history and outline factors that drive successful pushes to amend the Constitution; describe all 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
14th Amendment: Battles for Freedom and Equality – Module 14 in Constitution 101
The 14th Amendment wrote the Declaration of Independence’s promise of freedom and equality into the Constitution. Ratified after the Civil War, this amendment transformed the Constitution forever and is at the core of a period that many scholars refer to as our nation’s “Second Founding.” Even so, the 14th Amendment remains the focus of many of today’s most important constitutional debates (and Supreme Court cases). In many ways, the history of the modern Supreme Court is largely a history of modern-day battles over the 14th Amendment’s meaning. So many of the constitutional cases that Americans care about today turn on the 14th Amendment. Learning objectives: Explain why the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution; identify the core principles in the 14th Amendment’s clauses; summarize how the Supreme Court has interpreted the meaning of the 14th Amendment; evaluate the effect of the 14th Amendment on liberty and equality.
The Fourth Amendment: Module 11 of Constitution 101
The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizures of our person, our house, our papers, and our effects. In many cases, this amendment governs our interactions with the police. Before the government — including police officers — can search your home or seize your property, it needs a good reason. This is the big idea behind the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The government needs particularized suspicion — a reason that’s specific to each suspect — before it can get a warrant. Broadly speaking, our Constitution says that the police should only be able to invade a person’s rights to privacy, property, or liberty if they have a specific reason to think that the suspect has done something wrong.
The First Amendment: Module 10 of Constitution 101
The First Amendment protects some of our most cherished rights, including religious liberty, free speech, a free press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition our government for a redress of grievances. Together, these essential rights are connected to the freedom of conscience—protecting our ability to think as we will and speak as we think. As we examine the First Amendment’s text and history, we will explore debates over the First Amendment’s five freedoms, analyze landmark Supreme Court cases, and examine how the First Amendment has been used by groups of all perspectives to promote their vision of a more perfect Union.
The Judicial System and Current Cases – Module 9 of Constitution 101
Article III of the Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the national government, which is responsible for interpreting the laws. At the highest level, the judicial branch is led by the U.S. Supreme Court, which consists of nine Justices. In the federal system, the lower courts consist of the district courts and the courts of appeals. Federal courts—including the Supreme Court—exercise the power of judicial review. This power gives courts the authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed (and actions taken) by the elected branches. The Constitution also promotes the principle of judicial independence—granting federal judges life tenure (meaning that they serve until they die, resign, or are impeached and removed from office). This module will examine the judicial branch and its powers.
Choice Board: Our Founding Documents
This document is a choice board covering 12 different topics related to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Students are linked to a C-SPAN video and other .gov source, and then have specific activities to complete for each topic. Teachers can customize this document as needed — the current directions ask students to complete 6 topics, but that can be adjusted. This is a multi-day activity that can be done in person or via distance learning.
The Legislative Branch: How Congress Works – Module 7 of Constitution 101
The Constitution grants Congress—our nation’s legislative branch—the power to make laws. The legislative branch is outlined in Article I of the Constitution. The Constitution divides Congress into two houses—the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives is composed of representatives proportionate to each state’s population. At the same time, the Senate is organized under the principle of equal state representation—with each state, regardless of its population, receiving two Senators.
In this module, students will examine primary and secondary sources to learn about the legislative branch’s structure, functions, and powers as granted by the Constitution and defined by the courts over time. Students will also explore the legislative process and the role that civil dialogue and political compromise play in crafting national laws.
Separation of Powers and Federalism – Module 6 of Constitution 101
When crafting the Constitution, one of the central concerns of the Founding generation was how best to control government power. With the new Constitution, the Framers looked to strike an important balance—creating a new national government that was more powerful than the one that came before it while still protecting the American people’s most cherished liberties. They settled on a national government with defined but limited powers. Instead of placing authority in the hands of a single person (like a king), a small group of people (like an aristocracy), or even the whole people (like a direct democracy), the Framers divided power in two ways. At the national level, the Framers divided power between the three branches of government—the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. This process of dividing power between different branches of government is called the separation of powers. From there, the Framers further divided power between the national government and the states under a system known as federalism. In this module, students will explore the key functions of the different parts of government and the role that the Constitution plays in controlling government power.
The Constitution EXPLAINED
This comprehensive, short-form video series explains the text, history, and relevance of the United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, and additional amendments. The videos are assignable and end with call-to-action questions, prompting learners to further explore the topics covered in the video through a modern lens. Click on each category to see its related videos, and click on the video thumbnail to watch the full clip. You can also autoplay each category’s videos using YouTube playlists. The series was developed in partnership with the Center for Civic Education, and with the contributions of constitutional scholar Linda R. Monk, JD.
The Bill of Rights – Module 5 of Constitution 101
Shortly after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the Founding generation added the Bill of Rights—the Constitution’s first 10 amendments. These amendments guarantee many of our most cherished liberties, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right to a jury trial. After the Constitutional Convention, the absence of a bill of rights emerged as a key part of the debates over ratification. Anti-Federalists — those who opposed the Constitution — pointed to the missing bill of rights as a fatal flaw in the new document. Several states ratified the Constitution with an understanding that amendments would be promptly added by the new government. This module will explore the origins of the Bill of Rights, explain its importance to the debate over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and walk through the specific rights enshrined in each of the first 10 amendments.