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Declaration of Independence vs US Constitution vs Bill of Rights

People seem to to have trouble understanding each of these three vital documents in American History. I'm going to explain each one and hopefully eradicate some confusion.

The United States Declaration of Independence- it was written from June-July 1776. It was ratified "made official" on July 4, 1776.


  • The Colonies and Great Britain had already been at war for over a year. The Declaration of Independence was not the cause of the war.

  • The name pretty much says it- it was a declaration of independence from the King.

  • This was a letter from the colonies to the King telling him that they were no longer going to consider themselves his subjects and were forming their own country.

  • Basic parts of the text:

  • The Preamble ( not the "We the People" one)- "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to one another..."

  • The second part is often known as the "right of revolution". They set out the rights that they believe are universal and that the King has been violating.  "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

  • The third part is basically a list of everything they are charging the King with doing. All the reasons they are revolting.

  • The final section is more or less a summary. They explain that there are circumstances that give people the right to change their government and how they feel these circumstances have come to pass.

  • The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 delegates, known as the Continental Congress. Including the famous "John Hancock" signature.

  • Signing this document was not to be taken lightly, these men were committing treason which was punishable by hanging.


  • The United States Constitution- was written September 7, 1787. Ratified June 21, 1788.


  • The American Revolution ended in 1783. It was time to sit down and outline a set up for the government. Which they did with the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union but they felt they needed to make a few adjustments to the Articles which lead to the drafting of a new Constitution. (That's the quick, watered down version.)

  • The Constitution consists of the Preamble; "We the People...", seven original articles and 27 amendments.

  • The seven articles are:

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  • Legislative Power

  • Executive Power

  • Judicial Power

  • States' powers and limitations

  • Amendments

  • Federal Power

  • Ratification

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  • Our entire system of government is laid out in the Constitution.


  • The Bill of Rights- The Bill of Rights are actually just the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. They were written in 1789 and ratified on Dec 15, 1791.


  • There were originally supposed to be 12 but two didn't pass.

  • Written by James Madison because in order for the Constitution to be ratified many in Congress felt that it needed to protect the basic principals of human liberty. It was agreed that a Bill of Rights would be drafted and added as amendments. 

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  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. 

  • No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law. 

  • The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. 

  • No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

  • In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

  • In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

  • Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

  • The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

  • The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

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  • While there are 27 amendments to the US Constitution today only the first 10 are called the "Bill of Rights".

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