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Constitutional Law: A Student’s Learning Guide

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The United States Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788. At that time, it became the official foundation of the federal government. Constitutional law is the interpretation and implementation of the Constitution. The Constitution includes seven articles that outline the three branches of government, how state governments and the federal government coexist, the rights of individuals under state and federal laws, and more. The Constitution also includes the Bill of Rights and other amendments that further outline rights and laws.

Timeline of Events

In May of 1787, 55 men from 12 different states convened in Philadelphia to discuss and revise the Articles of Confederation, which was the existing framework for the nation’s government. Almost immediately, however, the focus shifted from revising the Articles of Confederation to designing a completely new plan for the national government. Over the next four months, the delegates debated and developed the Constitution. In September of 1787, they finished a final draft of the Constitution, and this document was read aloud to the 42 delegates still in attendance in Philadelphia. At that time, 39 of the delegates signed their names on the document and notified Congress that it was time to ratify it. Congress proceeded to debate and discuss the Constitution, and nine months later, on June 21, 1788, the ninth state ratified it, making it the country’s law.


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Founders of the Constitution

The founding fathers of the Constitution include John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and George Washington. These men were the main group of founding fathers, although several other men also contributed to the process, such as John Hancock, Patrick Henry, George Mason, and John Jay. The founding fathers had different backgrounds and professions, giving them unique perspectives and experiences that they brought to the process of creating the Constitution. George Washington was in charge of the proceedings at the Constitutional Convention, and James Madison took notes of the proceedings.


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The Three Branches of Government

The three separate branches of the United States government were set up to separate the power of the government in order to protect citizens’ rights. The three branches are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The legislative branch makes the laws. This branch consists of Congress, which includes the Senate and the House of Representatives. The executive branch enforces the laws. This branch includes the president of the United States, who serves as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The judicial branch interprets and applies the laws. The president appoints members of the judicial branch, and the Senate must confirm them.


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Bill of Rights and Amendments

The original Constitution ratified in 1788 was missing a lot of guarantees of individual rights. In an effort to streamline the already complicated ratification process, it was agreed that the first Congress would work on a group of amendments immediately to protect citizens’ rights. James Madison drafted the first Bill of Rights proposal in 1789. Some of the provisions in the original draft were rejected; of the 12 originally proposed amendments, ten were ratified to become the Bill of Rights in 1791. These amendments defined and protected citizens’ rights under the Constitution. Some of the rights protected in the Bill of Rights include the right to free speech, the right to assemble peacefully, the right to petition the government regarding grievances, the right to keep and bear arms, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the right to a fair trial.

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