Approving the amendments

Students will examine two primary source documents (Proposed Constitutional Amendments and Jefferson Tallies State Ratifications of “Rights”) to determine the first amendments to the Constitution.

Lesson Objective

Students will examine primary sources to identify the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and verbalize with a peer what they learned.



  1. Ask students to summarize previous learning about the Constitutional Convention. (Delegates from all states, except Rhode Island, debated for four long months in the hot Philadelphia summer to write a new Constitution. The Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation. It provided for a stronger national government that was divided into three branches, the executive, the legislative and the judicial branch. Each branch of government had its own duties and responsibilities. No branch had too much power.)
  2. Ask students to discuss what happened after September 1787 (At least nine of the thirteen states had to ratify, or approve, the Constitution before it could go into effect. Each state held a vote in its legislature for ratification.)
  3. Optional: Inform the students that three delegates at the Constitutional Convention did not sign the Constitution in September 1787. Edmund Randolph and George Mason from Virginia and Mr. Elbridge Gerry from Massachusetts refused to sign the Constitution. Mason did not sign the Constitution because it did not protect the rights of the people and he feared that the national government would misuse its power.
  4. Distribute the first document that students will examine. (Depending on your students’ experience with examining primary source documents you may provide some background information about the first document. You could tell students that in September 1789 the “Proposed Constitutional Amendments” were submitted for states to ratify.)
  5. Also distribute the second document. (Again you can decide how much background information to provide students for the “Jefferson Tallies State Ratifications of “Rights” document. Thomas Jefferson was serving as the Secretary of State, when he tallied the states that ratified the amendments.)
  6. Provide time for students to examine the documents. (You may wish to have students examine the documents in groups of 3 – 4 students.)
  7. Encourage students to close read the documents. Have students identify what the documents say. Students should attempt to understand the meaning of the twelve articles. Also have students notice the details of each document.
  8. Have students contextualize the documents. Ask the students to identify when the documents were created. Have the students identify the purpose of the documents. Have students identify relevant events came before or after these documents were created.
  9. Allow students/groups to share the information they gathered from the two sources. Inform students that document one is a proposal of amendments to the Constitution that was published in September 1789, while document two was Thomas Jefferson’s tallies of the states approving the amendments. Jefferson recorded the states’ approval over a few years (1789 – 1791).
  10. Tell students that in order for an amendment to the Constitution to be ratified three –fourths of the states must approve of the article. Tell students that this process is similar to states ratifying the Constitution – at least 9 states must ratify. Discuss which of the articles were approved. (Teacher note – Articles 3 – 12 were ratified on December 15, 1791 and were/are known as the Bill of Rights.)
  11. You can share with the students that three of the original states in the union—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia—did not vote on the proposed amendments. Also share that the first proposed amendment, dealing with proportional representation was never ratified, and the second, dealing with pay raises for members of Congress, became the twenty-seventh amendment in 1992, more than 200 years after being submitted to the states.


Ask students to verbally summarize their learning for the day with a peer. Randomly call 3 students to share their or their partner’s summary.


“Proposed Constitutional Amendments.” The Library of Congress. (accessed March 9, 2012).

“Jefferson Tallies State Ratifications of “Rights”.” The Library of Congress. (accessed March 9, 2012).

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