The American Founding: The Bill of Rights

This comprehensive, multimedia online exhibit features a trove of resources on the Bill of Rights. Part I contains the English, Colonial, State, and Continental origins of the Bill of Rights; Part II features the Federalist/Antifederalist Debate over the Bill of Rights; and Part III explains the politics of the Bill of Rights in the First […]

  • Resource Type: Audio, Interactives, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources, Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is on permanent display at the National Archives in Washington, DC. This original joint resolution of Congress proposed 12 amendments to the United States Constitution, but only 10 were ratified. Added to the Constitution in 1791 as the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights explicitly protected freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of assembly, among many other rights.

  • Resource Type: Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Creation of the Bill of Rights: “Retouching the Canvas”

This lesson will focus on the arguments either for or against the addition of a Bill of Rights between 1787 and 1789. By examining the views of prominent Americans in original documents, students will see that the issue at the heart of the debate was whether a Bill of Rights was necessary to secure and fulfill the objects of the American Revolution and the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Students will also gain an understanding of the origins of the Bill of Rights and how it came to be part of what Thomas Jefferson called “the American mind,” as well as a greater awareness of the difficulties that proponents had to overcome in order to add the first ten Amendments to the Constitution.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Congress and the Creation of the Bill of Rights

Students will explore the protections and limitations on authority contained in the Bill of Rights and the process by which the First Congress created it. They will do this by compiling a list of their rights as students, analyzing the Bill of Rights, and studying primary source documents to trace the origin and development of the first ten amendments. Students will then consider how the Bill of Rights might be updated to reflect 21st century circumstances. (Duration: 30–90-minute segments, up to 5 hours.)

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

James Madison and the Bill of Rights

This short video traces the evolution of James Madison’s thinking about the necessity of a Bill of Rights. While originally opposed to both a bill of rights and conditional ratification, Madison came to appreciate the political and the practical efficacy of both. Professor Jack Rakove notes that, unlike many bills of rights which use the phrase “the government ought not”, the American Bill of Rights says “the government shall not”, thus creating a set of legal commands to limit government.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 11, 12

Do I Have a Right?: Bill of Rights Edition (Game and Teacher Guide)

In the Bill of Rights edition of Do I Have a Right? your students run a law firm that specializes in constitutional law, specifically the rights protected in the Bill of Rights. Clients bring various complaints, and students must identify if they “have a right.” As students successfully resolve cases by matching them with the correct attorneys, their law firm grows along with the skills of their lawyers.

  • Resource Type: Games, Interactives
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

Congress Creates the Bill of Rights

Within the half-billion pages of records in the care of the Center for Legislative Archives, there are some special treasures from the First Congress that show how the ratification of the Constitution necessitated the creation of the Bill of Rights, and how the creation of the Bill of Rights, in turn, completed the Constitution. This remarkable story is told in Congress Creates the Bill of Rights, which consists of a mobile app, an ebook, and online resources for teachers and students.

  • Resource Type: Primary Sources
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Life Without the Bill of Rights?

Celebrate Constitution Day with a fun, interactive game – Life Without the Bill of Rights? is a click-and-explore activity that asks you to consider how life would change without some of our most cherished freedoms. Life Without the Bill of Rights invites you to understand the significance of constitutionally-protected rights including freedom of religion, speech, and press, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the rights of private property.

  • Resource Type: Games, Quizzes
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Teaching With Current Events

Read breaking news related to the Bill of Rights, gathered by Institute staff every school day, from reputable news sources across the country. Our news stories are chosen with young people in mind and on the basis of ease of use in the classroom, clarity of the constitutional issue, and neutral presentation.

  • Resource Type: Media, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

The Constitution in Action – Origin of the Bill of Rights: State Amendments

History is the chronicle of choices made by actors/agents/protagonists in specific contexts. This lesson places students at a critical moment in our nation’s founding, when Americans considered whether to ratify the Constitution. Should they agree to the document as-is, without making any changes? Students will examine and evaluate numerous amendments proposed at state ratifying conventions. Only by looking at the full sweep of amendments offered by the states can students understand the historical context of the Bill of Rights.

  • Resource Type: Interactives, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12