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Our Heritage of Liberty: The Bill of Rights


In 1787, delegates from 12 of the 13 states gathered for a second time to come up with a different structure for the federal government. The first plan under the Articles of Confederation had failed to give the federal government enough power to do its job.

After three months of debate, arguing and compromise, the Constitution was ready for a vote. Those opposing adoption voiced their concerns loudly and with great passion. The power of the government had been well defined, but what about the rights of the people? They were not protected in the Constitution. Had the framers miscalculated? It didn’t take long to realize the survival of the Constitution was at risk.

After the Constitution was adopted, it had to be ratified by the states. Would the people ratify if the Constitution didn’t protect individual rights? Opposition was growing quickly.

James Madison and other Federalists didn’t believe a bill of rights was needed, but to get the Constitution ratified, he made the states a campaign promise: He would add a bill of rights after ratification. They believed him, and the Constitution was ratified in 1788. On December 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights were added. Madison had kept his promise.

This lesson is based on the two-part Annenberg Classroom video “The Story of the Bill of Rights,” which explores one of the toughest political fights in American history and the outcome that became a symbol of liberty and freedom in America – the Bill of Rights.

Download the lesson plan