America's First Constitution

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12252

Getting a country of multiple states with different populations and locales to live and work together can be difficult. Learn about the first time the United States tried to structure its government!


United States, United States

learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Every group that comes together for cooperation must have a common set of rules and expectations, or they cannot work together.

The same is true with states that have to live together!

A constitution is a document that outlines the founding principles of a country and explains the rules and responsibilities of the government (ruling body).

Having a constitution is an important part of a democratic government (a government of elected representatives) because it keeps the government from doing whatever it wants by outlining its roles and responsibilities.

Outlining the roles and responsibilities also creates stability and order within the country — the people are dissuaded from creating their own laws and starting uprisings.

After the American colonies declared independence, it was agreed that something was needed to provide order. Even though the Americans had declared independence, they were more like thirteen independent nations that agreed to work together to fight a common enemy.

Something official was required to structure terms such as when they would work together and how they would operate when they did come together.

Several people, including Benjamin Franklin, submitted outlines to Congress that proposed ideas for the document governing the new nation. It was not until the summer of 1777, nearly a year after the Declaration of Independence, that a proposal written by John Dickinson, a representative from Pennsylvania, was accepted by Congress.

Dickinson’s draft received many revisions and was approved by Congress in 1777. The approved document was referred to as the Articles of Confederation and was ratified (approved and accepted) by all the states in 1781.

The Articles of Confederation is considered the first written constitution of the United States. In its thirteen articles, most power was given to the individual states.

The following is the list of rights given to the federal government under the Articles of Confederation.

  • make treaties
  • establish foreign alliances
  • declare war
  • establish a postal service
  • manage Native American affairs
  • establish military courts
  • resolve disputes between states

All other rights and powers were given to the states. They could create their own unique laws and currencies.

Re-read the list of rights given to the federal government.

  • What benefits were to how the Articles of Confederation distributed power?
  • What are the possible consequences of how the Articles of Confederation distributed power?

Move on to the Got It? section to watch a video about the Articles of Confederation.

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