The Constitution

Lesson 1 - Articles of Confederation

While Revolutionary War was going on Second Continental Congress acted as the government. They made laws, appointed officers in the army, and made loans. When the war was over the Congress made a plan for the new nation. This plan was called the Articles of Confederation.

The Articles of Confederation created rules for the states to work together instead of each ruling separately as they had before the war. A Congress was formed with each state having one vote. The colonists did not want the Congress to have many powers.

Congress was given the following powers:

could declare war

make treaties

print or borrow money

The Congress did not have these rights:

could not raise an army or navy

could not tax

could not control trade with other nations
or between states

no national courts to enforce laws

The Articles of Confederation was approved in 1781. This Congress was so weak that its members did not attend the meetings. They hardly had enough members to vote on the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War. The government was so weak that other countries took advantage of Americans such as the Spanish stopped the American farmers and fur traders from working on the Mississippi River. Another major weakness was each state printed its own money, and people disagreed what each state's money was worth.


  1. Which statement is true about the Articles of Confederation?
    1. America was ruled very well under the Articles of Confederation
    2. The Articles of Confederation called for a strong central government.
    3. The Articles of Confederation did not work well in governing the new nation and a new form of government was needed.
    4. Most people did not want to see the Articles of Confederation work.
  2. Some colonists were not sure they wanted a strong form of government because -----.
    1. they wanted King George of England to rule them
    2. they wanted to make their own laws
  3. One of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation was -----.
    1. the states would not work together in any way
    2. the government could not make treaties
    3. each state printed its own money, and people disagreed what each state's money was worth
    4. the government could not declare war
  4. The Spanish took advantage of the weakness of the American government by -----.
    1. sending soldiers into the Northwest Territory
    2. stopping and searching American ships and stealing their goods
    3. only allowing Spanish ships to unload cargo in the American ports
    4. stopping the American farmers and fur traders from working on the Mississippi River

Lesson 2 - Writing the Constitution         

In 1787 Congress called for a convention of representation from each of the 13 states to be held in Philadelphia. This Congress was to change the Articles of Confederation. The men worked for four months to write a new Constitution to present to the states.

The Congress argued over three main problems:

One of the biggest problems was the smaller states thought the bigger states would take over. They wanted an equal number of members from each state. The larger states wanted to have representatives based on the population of the state. This problem was solved by dividing Congress into two houses.


House of Representatives - based on population

The Senate - equal members from each state


The second problem was the control of trade. Many people in the New England and Middle states made a living through the shipping business. The people in these states wanted the government to pass laws to protect their businesses against foreign shippers. The southern states did not want to pay more for shipping their goods to foreign markets. A compromise was worked out in this area.


At this time slaves were not counted as part of the American population. They were considered property of their masters, and not really counted as people. Since the number of representatives in the House of Representatives and taxes paid to the American government were based on the population of the state, the issue of how to count slaves became a heated debate. A compromise was worked out.
The northern states were happy with the three-fifths rule. This rule stated that five slaves would count as three people for deciding on how many representatives and how much tax would be collected in each state. The southern states were happy in that the American government would not keep the southern people from bringing in slaves for twenty years. The government would also charge a tax of no more than $10. for each slave.

Members of the Philadelphia convention signed the new Constitution on September 17, 1787. Nine out of the thirteen states had to approve the Constitution before it could become a law. The Constitution was ratified by (approved of) June 1788, and all states passed the Constitution by May 29, 1790.


  1. At the convention the larger states wanted representation based on -----.
    1. equal representation
    2. population
    3. land area of state
  2. The smaller states wanted each state to have representatives based on -----.
    1. equal representation
    2. population
    3. land area of state
  3. A compromise was found. It called for ----- houses of Congress.
    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
  4. One house would be based on -----, and the other to have  -------  from each state.
    1. land area   -  ten members
    2. the location of the state  - one to five members based on physical size
    3. population  -  an equal number
  5. All of the following except ----- were argued at the convention.
    1. who would be the first president
    2. the representation of each state in the Congress
    3. the control of trade and other business interests
    4. slavery
  6. The South wanted the Constitution to allow slavery, but the northern states did not. A compromise was made saying there would be no action against slavery for ---- years.
    1. 5
    2. 10
    3. 20
    4. 100
  7. For the new Constitution to ratify ----- of the thirteen states had to vote in favor of it.
    1. 5
    2. 7
    3. 9
    4. all

Lesson 3 Checks and Balances of the Government

The Constitution set up a system of checks and balances. This system was to make sure that none of the three branches of government would become too strong.

Checks and Balances

The new Constitution had three branches of government:

Legislative (make laws)


House of Representatives


Congress makes all the laws of the country.

After a veto by the President the law can take effect if 2/3rds of the members of Congress vote for it again.

Congress may reject Supreme Court Appointments.

Executive (carry out laws)



President must ask Congress to make a new law.

The President may veto (say no to) any law passed by Congress.

The President appoints the Supreme Court Justices.

Judicial (courts)

Supreme Court (9 members)

Appeals Courts (11 in U.S.)
District Courts (93 in U.S.)

The judicial branch decides if laws or acts of Congress are in line with the Constitution. If not they can declare a law unconstitutional.


  1. To make sure that no one branch of government would become too strong, the writers of the Constitution built in a series of -----.

    1. checks and balances

    2. scales and weight

    3. rights and wrongs

    4. true and false

  2. If the Congress passes a bill and the President refuses to sign it that is called a -----.

    1. dead bill

    2. refusal act

    3. impeachment

    4. veto

  3. After a veto, two-thirds of the Congress must vote if the bill is to become ------.

    1. a bill

    2. a law

    3. a rule

  4. A representative form of government is on in which -----.

    1. all the people vote directly for new laws

    2. the people vote for representatives who make the laws for them

    3. no laws are necessary

    4. the President makes the laws

  5. If the President wants a law passed, he must -----.

    1. pass it alone

    2. ask the courts to pass it

    3. ask the Congress to pass it

    4. ask the American people to pass it

  1. The three branches of government are

    ____________________________________ , ____________________________________ , and

    ____________________________________ .

  2. Which two bodies make up the legislative branch?

    ____________________________________ & ____________________________________

  3. The person who heads the executive branch is the ____________________________________ .

  4. Which is the most important of the three courts in the judicial branch? ____________________________________

  5. Which are the lowest courts in the judicial branch? ____________________________________

  6. The ----- branch of government may decide if a law is unconstitutional.

    1. Legislative

    2. Executive

    3. Judicial

  7. The main reason for the legislative branch of government is to -----.

    1. make sure the laws are carried out

    2. make the laws

    3. start wars

    4. elect the President

  8. The branch of government that controls the federal courts is the ----- branch.

    1. Legislative

    2. Executive

    3. Judicial

  9. Name the three main kinds of courts in the federal court system. They are

    ____________________________________ , ____________________________________ , and

    ____________________________________ .

Lesson 4 The New Government

New powers included:

One of the first things the Congress did was tell George Washington he had been elected the first President of the United States of America. On April 30, 1789 Washington took the oath of office in New York City.

Today the President and Vice President are elected every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Anyone over the age of 18 who is a U.S. citizen can vote in that election. The winner of the total vote is said to be the winner of the Popular vote. However the President and Vice President are really elected by a group of people called electors. Each state has the same number of electors as they have Senators and Representatives (535). After the Popular Vote in November, the electors vote. They give the electoral votes from their states to one candidate or the other. The one who has the most electoral votes wins the election. In most cases the electors vote for the same candidate that the people of their states voted for. There have been a few times in history when different candidates won the popular and the electoral votes.


  1. Which of the following is not a right of the federal government
    1. control trade with other countries
    2. elect the President of the United States
    3. to raise and collect taxes
    4. control one money system for the government
  2. The President and Vice President are really elected by -----.
    1. the Senate
    2. the House of Representatives
    3. the voters of America
    4. the 535 electors in the Electoral vote
  3. The President serves for a term of ----- years.
    1. 2
    2. 4
    3. 6
    4. 8
  4. Each state has a total of electors equaling -----.
    1. the number of their representatives in Congress
    2. two per state
    3. an equal number of representatives from each state
  5. All of the following are duties of the President except -----.
    1. make treaties with other nations
    2. appoint representatives to other nations
    3. appoint Supreme Court judges
    4. make laws for the country
  6. At different times in history different people have been picked by the ----- vote and the Electoral vote.
    1. popular
    2. electoral
    3. Congress
  7. The President is in charge of the ----- branch of government.
    1. Legislative

    2. Executive

    3. Judicial

Lesson 5 Bill of Rights

After the Constitution was passed, many people wanted the rights of Americans spelled out more clearly than they were in the Constitution. To do this, Congress passed amendments (changes) to the constitution. The first ten amendments were passed in 1791. They are called the Bill of Rights.

Bill of Rights

1 People may practice any religion they choose.
Freedom of speech or right to a free press
5 No person shall be held for any crime unless made to do so by a grand jury.
No person shall be made to give evidence against himself.
6 Right to a speedy trial by people who do not favor either side.
Accused person must be told the charges against him.
He has the right to face the witnesses against him and to have a lawyer in his defense.

Reasonable bail
Protection from cruel and unusual punishment


How the Constitution is Amended

2/3 of each House of Congress

B or C

2/3 of all state legislatures or conventions



3/4 of all states (38) needed to ratify



becomes an amendment to the Constitution


  1. Match the word with its meaning.
a.  judicial __________ highest court in the U.S.
b.  Supreme Court __________ against the Constitution
c.  unconstitutional __________ change in the Constitution
d.  amendment __________ ruling on laws
  1. The first ten amendments, passed in 1791, are called -----.
    1. the Bill of Rights
    2. the Constitution
    3. the Amendments
  2. The ----- Amendment gave the right to a free press.
    1. 1
    2. 5
    3. 6
    4. 8
  3. The ----- Amendment promised that citizens were safe from cruel and unusual punishment.
    1. 1
    2. 5
    3. 6
    4. 8
  4. To start an amendment on the way to being part of the Constitution, 2/3 of either ____________________________________ or

     ____________________________________ must call for the amendment.
  5. Once the amendment is proposed, ____________________________________ of the states must ratify it in order for it to become a part of the Constitution.