The First Ten Amendments

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12251

The United States Constitution is an unusual document because of its freedoms and guarantees, based on what is best for the citizens. Learn how those ideas were added to the original Constitution!


United States, United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What are the first ten amendments to the Constitution called? What is an amendment anyway, and why are they important to all United States citizens?

In 1781, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress quickly passed the Articles of Confederation.

The Articles of Confederation acted as the first Constitution of the United States. It described what the government would look like and what it would be responsible for. Unfortunately, the Articles of Confederation were riddled with problems. Some of those problems included:

  • The Continental Congress did not have the ability to levy taxes, or issue and collect taxes. The United States had a lot of debt at the end of the Revolutionary War, meaning they owed more money than they had. If Congress could not collect taxes, they could not pay off their debts.
  • There was no common currency between the states. Without a consistent form of money throughout the United States, it was difficult to buy, sell, and trade goods outside of the state where you lived.
  • Each state was given only one vote in Congress, no matter what their population size. Larger states with larger population sizes, such as New York and Massachusetts, felt they should have greater representation than smaller states.

By 1787, it became clear the Articles of Confederation could not support a strong, lasting government.

In 1787, each state (except Georgia) sent representatives to a Constitutional Convention. The delegates, or representatives, drafted a new Constitution that created three branches of government with shared powers. In order for the new Constitution to go into effect, at least nine states had to ratify (approve) it. That was easier said than done.

Many states refused to ratify, or pass, the Constitution because they felt it took too much power away from the states and individuals, and gave it to the federal government. In an effort to get the states needed for ratification, it was agreed amendments would be added to the Constitution that gave more power to states and individuals if the states would ratify it. On June 21, 1788, the Constitution was ratified by the ninth state, New Hampshire, and became the official Constitution of the United States.

After the Constitution was ratified and the first congress met, efforts were made to begin creating amendments to the Constitution. In 1789, nineteen amendments were proposed to congress. Congress approved twelve of the amendments and, over the course of more than a year, Congress debated and refined these amendments until they were ready to be ratified by the states.

The amendments would need approval by three-fourths of the states before they could be added to the Constitution. The states quickly ratified ten of the amendments. The ten amendments that were ratified became the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The first ten amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights, were added to the Constitution on December 10, 1791.

Now, take a closer look at the Bill of Rights by clicking on each amendment:

Now that you have taken a closer look at the Bill of Rights, discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • Why is each amendment important?
  • How does each of the amendments affect you and your family?
  • Did the Continental Congress keep its promise to add additional amendments, giving power to the states and the people? If so, in what amendments do you see reference to this promise?

When you are finished discussing the questions, move on to the Got It? section to play a game that will help you to review the first ten amendments.

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