United States Constitution
After the American Revolutionary War got the United States started as a new country in 1781 AD, the leaders of the United States got together to try to write up some rules for how the government of this new country would work. Men came from all of the thirteen states (except Rhode Island). Benjamin Franklin came from Pennsylvania. But even though they asked to join, women and people of color and non-Christians were excluded.
Some of the men at the meeting thought the government should help the poor to be equal to rich men. Other men disagreed; they thought the rich men knew more about how to run the United States. Some men thought that each state should decide most things for itself. Other men thought that the United States should decide most things together. Little by little, the leaders worked out compromises, and this is what they came up with (but shorter and in simpler words):
We, the people of the United States, are writing this Constitution in order to have justice, to have peace, to be able to defend ourselves, to be better off, and to be free - not just for ourselves, but for all our children and descendants.
Find out how a bill becomes a law
There will be a Senate and a House of Representatives, and both will be made up of men (not women) elected by the citizens. They will be the only people who can make new laws for the whole United States (but each state can make other laws just for that state). Together, these two groups are called Congress. Congress can make laws to raise taxes, to defend the United States and to make people's lives better. Congress can also borrow money, mint money, set up a post office, allow copyrights and patents, and a few other things. And Congress can declare war on other countries.
There will be a President, elected by the citizens. He will be the commander in chief of the army and the navy. He can make treaties with other countries, if two-thirds of the Senators agree. And he can appoint the judges of the Supreme Court.
There will be a Supreme Court, whose job it is to decide whether Congress and the President are doing what the Constitution tells them to do. The Supreme Court will also decide any law cases where people disagree about what the law means. All court cases will be decided by juries.
Every state has to honor any arrangement made by another state. If someone has committed a crime and runs away to another state, that state should send him or her back to be tried. Every state should have a Republican form of government. The United States government will protect each state against invasion and against riots or revolution.
Just after the men wrote this Constitution, some states insisted on having people's rights stated clearly. So they added a Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence
North American Government
The Revolutionary War
Study aids for the US Constitution
Constitution Bulletin Board set for classrooms
A big copy of the Constitution in a clear plastic tube
Schoolhouse Rock, with the famous "I'm Just a Bill" video