|How does a nation protect its freedoms?|
Democracies offer its citizens unique opportunities—and great responsibilities. As this unit explains, citizens in our democracy should know and follow our nation’s beliefs as expressed in founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution. Our responsibilities also include staying informed about major issues affecting the country and speaking out against injustices. Students learn about ways Americans have done that from the Civil War days until the present.
What Primary Sources Can Tell Us about the American People, Then and Now
In Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union address, the President promoted the concept of the four basic freedoms to which all people are entitled: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Captured by Norman Rockwell in his famous 1943 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, these freedoms are also embedded in most of the items listed here.
The Bill of Rights
Bill of Rights
To create the Constitution of the United States, delegates to the Constitutional Convention had to compromise. For example, many delegates felt strongly that, a Bill of Rights should be added to the Constitution. Those delegates wanted a list of individual rights —such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion—that the federal government could not take away from the people. Several states agreed to support the Constitution with the understanding that a Bill of Rights would be added. That promise was fulfilled on December 15, 1791, when Virginia became the eleventh state to ratify ten of twelve proposed amendments. These first ten Amendments are now known as the Bill of Rights. Of the original two that were not accepted, one was later adopted. This was the Congressional Compensation Amendment of 1789, which dealt with congressional pay raises. It became the 27th Amendment to the Constitution years later, in 1992.
Amending the Constitution of the United States
Adding a new amendment to the Constitution is a complex process. A new
amendment requires two-thirds of the Congress and three-quarters
of the state legislatures to agree to it. Obtaining that many approvals
is not easy. (Another method, which has never been used, is for two-thirds
of the state legislatures to call for a Constitutional Convention. Any
amendments they create would then be sent to the states for approval. Three-fourths
of their legislatures or conventions must approve of the amendment for
it to become law.) Although more than 11,000 amendments have been introduced
to Congress, only 27 have been approved. And only one—the 18th Constitutional
Amendment legalizing prohibition in 1919—has been repealed. This
occurred when the 21st Amendment was ratified in 1933.
Hold a Constitutional Amendment “Game Show”
1. Tell students that you have a riddle for them. Then challenge the class to guess what these clues refer to:
2. If no one is able to figure out what the clues refer to, tell students that all these facts apply to our nation’s Constitutional Amendments. Using the information provided above, ask students questions to elicit what they know about the Bill of Rights and the methods that can be used to amend the Constitution.
3. Distribute a copy of the Bill of Rights to each student. Have the class read the Bill of Rights. Ask students to explain each amendment in their own words. Then assign individual students a single ratified, proposed, or failed amendment. Have them research the history behind other ratified amendments, proposed amendments, or failed amendments. Have each student present a short report on the amendment that she or he is assigned.
4. After students have given their reports, distribute an index card to each of them. Have the students write on the card a short paraphrase of the ratified, proposed, or failed amendment that she or he has been assigned. All students should write whether the amendments were ratified, proposed, or failed. If ratified, students should also indicate which numbered amendment it is. Ask volunteers to collect the cards.
5. After the cards have been collected, place them in a bag or box. Have students number a sheet of paper with the number of cards that you have collected. As you randomly pull cards out of the bag and read them aloud, ask students to write whether each amendment is ratified, proposed, or failed. For the ratified amendments, have students identify which amendment number they are. Ask a volunteer to stack the cards in the correct order as you pull them out of the bag.
6. Help students check their work by going through the cards a second time, this time going over the answers as a group. Then take a poll to see which student(s) had the best score. Have students give themselves an extra point for each Amendment for which they knew the correct number. Appoint the student with the most points “Speaker of the House” for the day. Tell the class that this means she or he is entitled to a prize or whatever privileges you decide upon. (You might also explain to students that this country’s real Speaker of the House is one of the nation’s most influential people. If, for some reason, the President and Vice-President were both unable to serve, the Speaker of the House temporarily serves as President.)
Additional Primary Sources
Chapter 17: Slavery Is Ended
Chapter 18: Newcomers Help Build the Nation
Chapter 19: The Promise of Democracy
Image credits: a. Comstock Images/Getty Images; b. Hisham F. Ibrahim/Getty Images