Documents and Principles of American Constitutional Government
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Click on the links listed below to see the study maps for the SOLs studied in this unit.

CE 2a: Fundamental Political Principles Principles

  • Fundamental political principles define and shape American constitutional government.

CE 2b, 1: Influence of early documents on our Constitution: Early Docs

CE 2b, 2: Significance of historic documents: More Docs


  • American constitutional government is founded on concepts articulated in earlier documents, including the charters of the Virginia Company of London, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

CE 2c: The Preamble and the goals of the U. S. Constitution: Preamble/Goals

  • The Preamble of a constitution sets forth the consentgoals and purposes to be served by the government.

CE 2d: Procedures for amending: Amending

  • The constitutions of Virginia and the United States can be amended through processes outlined in the constitutions.
• The Virginia constitution has been rewritten several times.

What is it? Look at the image shown below. It's an artwork created by Mike Wilkins out of actual license plates from all 50 states. If you look closely, you'll see that they are shown in alphabetical order. It's found in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Take a close look! What does it mean???


It makes a good puzzle. Click on the link to play. Jig Saw!

Vocabulary: Click on the links to find the definition of each word. Copy the first sentence of each definition unless your teacher tells you to write it differently.
Fundamental Political Principles:

1. consent of the governed (Scroll to Consent of...) Consent

2. limited government (Scroll to limited.) limited

3. democracy (Scroll to democracy.) demes

4. republic ( Copy 1 & 2.) res publica

5. representative government (Scroll down to representative government.) Represent

6. political principles (Same as CE 2a above.) Principles

Influence of Earlier Documents:

1. Charters of the Virginia Company of London (Scroll to Charters of the...) charters

2. Constitution (Copy the first two sentences.) Constitution

3. Bill of Rights (Copy the first two sentences.) Bill

4. Declaration of Independence (Scroll to Declaration...) Declaration

5. The Articles of Confederation (Scroll to Articles of...) Articles

6. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (Scroll to Virginia Statute...) Statute

7. The Virginia Declaration of Rights (Scroll to Virginia Declaration...) Declare

Document Analysis

Many earlier documents contained beliefs and ideas that formed the basis of the U. S. Constitution. Look at this document analysis form. You can use it to analyze the early documents and understand their meaning. Look over the parts of the form show below. Then, click on the link that follows it for a printable copy.

Here is a link to the form shown above. Doc Analysis

Follow your teacher's directions to choose from the different links to the documents that are found below. You may be assigned to analyze one or more of the documents. For all of these, your teacher will tell you which sections to work on. The documents are usually too long for you to read the entire text.

1. Charters of the Virginia Company (Your teacher will tell which parts of the charters to look at. These will be worked on by the class and teacher together.) 1st Charter 2nd Charter 3rd Charter

2. Virginia Declaration of Rights VA Declaration

3. Declaration of Independence Independence

4. Articles of Confederation Articles

5. Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom Statute

It's a family tree! Our constitution has a family tree! It's true; the early documents are actually the ancestors of our current constitution and bill of rights. Follow the directions given by your teacher to create a "Documents Family Tree."

Draw your own tree for your documents tree or use one of these.

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Preamble to the Constitution

1. Preamble Preamble

2. domestic tranquility (Scroll to domestic tranquility for definition.) Tranquil

3. general welfare (Scroll to general welfare.) Welfare

4. blessings of liberty This one is too easy. Write the best definition that you can think of.

5. posterity Descendants

6. justice (Scroll to justice.) Just

Amending the U. S. and Virginia Constitutions



1. amendment (Copy 1, 2, and 3.) amend

2. proposal Suggest

3. ratify/ratification ratify

4. General Assembly Virginia

Think about it! Can you answer these thought questions after discussing the definitions with your teacher and classmates?

Discussion Questions

1. How have fundamental political principles helped to define the way our government operates?

Read this link to review the principles to answer the question. 5 principles

2. How is the Constitution of the United States based on documents written during the colonial period?

This link will help you to think of an answer. Founding

3. Why did the Articles of Confederation create a weak federal government?

Here is a link that will help with the answer. A. of C.

4. What are the purposes of the Constitution of the United States as listed in the Preamble?

Just scroll down to find an answer.

5. What is the formal amendment process?

A little help is found in this link. Amend

Compare the U. S. Constitution to the Articles of Confederation

Click on the link to find a worksheet that compares these two documents. Answer the questions in your notebook, following the directions given by your teacher.


Venn Diagram: Make a Venn diagram to compare the Articles to the Constitution. Illustrate around the outside of your diagram, making one symbol for each of the 15 questions (That's 15 different symbols). For example, you could draw a stick figure soldier for question # 13 or dollar signs for question #14. Use your imagination. Color your illustrations and diagram with at least 5 colors (black doesn't count as a color).
Here's a Venn diagram you could print and use.

The Preamble

Can you remember and repeat the words of the Preamble? If you can't, then why not SING it?? Click on the link for the Preamble song. Your whole class can sing along! Preamble After you sing it a few times, you can probably write it down completely. Try writing it on your own into your notebook. Good luck!

Today we hear the opening words of the Preamble, "We the People," often as they show up everywhere, quoted with pride.

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But not everyone agreed with their meaning when they were first heard across the new nation. Read what Patrick Henry had to say about it at the Virginia Ratifying Convention. Who is he talking about when he says, "those Gentlemen?" What is his objection to the use of the phrase, "We the People?" What do you think he means by a "consolidated national government," and what might be his opinion about that kind of government? Look at the words "anxious solicitude." You can understand what Henry means just by reading the whole sentence where they are found. If you've EVER been anxious, you can well imagine what he's talking about! Look for examples of sarcasm in this quote. Why would Henry speak in this manner?


Here is an early draft of the preamble from the writing of the constitution at the convention in Philadelphia in 1787. In fact, this was Washington's own copy. How is the wording different from the one that attracted objections from Patrick Henry?


The members of the convention eventually changed the wording of the preamble. Here's the reason for that change. This reasoning was the cause of Henry's objections. Explain what Patrick Henry was objecting to.

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This was George Washington's own working copy and shows his annotations. Here, the preamble lists each of the thirteen states by name; the preamble of the next printed draft of the constitution, first reported on September 12, began "We, the people of the United States, . . ." signaling one of the most fundamental precepts of the Constitution: the primacy of the national government over the states.


Meaning of the Preamble:

But what do the words of the the Preamble mean to us today?

Read the charts that follow. They explain the meaning of each part of the Preamble. Copy the one on the left into your notebook. Draw a circle around the section that you think is the most important job of our government. Write one sentence below the chart in your notebook explaining why you chose this section.
Review Games and Activities

Use the links found below to review the content of this unit.

1. Fundamental Principles Match Principles

2. Fundamental Principles #2 Principles 2

3. Principles Rags to Riches Rags Game

4. Principles and Documents Flash Cards Cards

5. Walk the Plank Fundamentals Plank

6. Preamble Mix-up Preamble

7. Preamble Picture Perfect Preamble again

8. Constitution and the Documents Millionaire

9. 20 Second Match--Principles (This is hard!) Hurry!!

10. Penalty Shoot-Out Basics Soccer!

11. Documents Matching Documents

12. Documents Rags to Riches Documents Again

13. Documents 13 Questions Multiple Choice