The Bill of Rights and The Founders

Provides an introduction and overview of the Bill of Rights, including the Founders’ understanding of the “rights of Englishmen,” British law, and natural rights philosophy. This unit also examines the Federalist and Anti-Federalist debate about a bill of rights.

Why A Bill of Rights? What Impact Does It Have?

Clock 60 minutes

The debate over the Bill of Rights at the Founding was not an argument over whether rights exist, but about how best to protect those rights. The Founders disagreed about whether a bill of rights was necessary, and whether it would be effective. Later generations continue to face the challenge of finding the best way to safeguard individual rights. This lesson explores these debates and discussions.

Founding Principles

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

Liberty image

Liberty

Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Majority Rule / Minority Rights image

Majority Rule / Minority Rights

Laws may be made with the consent of the majority but only to the point where they do not infringe on the inalienable rights of the minority.

Overview

The debate over the Bill of Rights at the Founding was not an argument over whether rights exist, but about how best to protect those rights. The Founders disagreed about whether a bill of rights was necessary, and whether it would be effective. Later generations continue to face the challenge of finding the best way to safeguard individual rights.

Objectives

Students will:

  • Explain the arguments of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists regarding a bill of rights.
  • Identify continuing controversies regarding appropriate powers of government versus individual rights.
  • With respect to civic participation, analyze the ongoing implications of Federalist and Anti-Federalist positions.
  • Participate in civil discourse concerning the Bill of Rights.

Materials

  • Handout A: Background Essay – Why a Bill of Rights? What Impact Does it Have?
  • Handout B: Understanding Positions of Federalists and Anti-Federalists
  • Handout C: Federalists and Anti-Federalists Venn Diagram

Standards

  • NCHS (5-12): Era III, Standards 3A, 3B
  • CCE (9-12): IIIA1
  • NCSS: Strands 6 and 10

Background 10 minutes the day before

  1. Assign Handout A: Background Essay – Why a Bill of Rights? What Impact Does it Have? for students to read prior to class time. Along with the essay, give students Handout B: Understanding Positions of Federalists and Anti-Federalists to complete as they read.

Warm-up 10-15 min.

  1. Divide students into pairs or trios and ask them to share their Handout B chart responses and compare their answers.
  2. Have each group identify which argument they feel is strongest for each heading: Federalists and Anti-Federalists.

Activities 20-25 min.

  1. Give each group a copy of Handout C: Federalists and Anti-Federalists Venn Diagram, instructing them to complete the Venn diagram using key words to record the positions of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
  2. Go over the Venn diagrams as a class, and answer any questions.
  3. As a class, discuss whether students think they would have sided with the Federalists or the Anti-Federalists in the debate over the Bill of Rights.

Wrap-up 5-10 min.

Ask students about a time when they either experienced their own rights being abridged, or witnessed this happen to someone else. What was, or what should be, the reaction of other individuals to the abridgment of rights? What was, or should be, the government’s role in protecting everyone’s rights?

Homework

  1. Split the class into two groups, “Federalists” and “Anti-Federalists”. Have the students write a few short paragraphs (homework) or have small-group debates (in-class) answering the following questions according to whether they are Federalist or Anti-Federalist:
    1. What is the ideal form of government?
    2. Should a bill of rights be added to the Constitution?
  2. Have students choose one of the rights protected by the Bill of Rights and find 2-3 recent news articles relating to that right. Have students summarize the articles and answer the following questions:
    1. Is this a natural right?
    2. Why did the Founders include this right in the Bill of Rights?
    3. How has the way we understand this right changed over time?
  3. Have students choose one of the rights protected by the Bill of Rights and ask their parents, friends, or family what that right means to them. Have students summarize these interviews and then answer the following questions:
    1. Is this a natural right?
    2. Why did the Founders include this right in the Bill of Rights?
    3. Would the Founders agree with the way we interpret this right today? Why or why not?

Give Feedback

Send us your comments or questions using the form below.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Close