Senator Kerry looks at copy of Bill of Rights

Our Nation’s Foundations – Lesson Three: Limited Government and Bill of Rights

by Oletta Branstiter

Now that we have laid a solid foundation of Unalienable Rights and Rule of Law, we can start building our government with more detail.

But we need to agree on the most important ideas and priorities. These will be ideals or principles that never change.

Unchanging Principles

Immediately following the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a citizen named Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin,

“Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

Without hesitating, Franklin responded, 

“A republic, if you can keep it.”

Laws and policies and methods will change frequently, but if we establish the principles that support our government, there is less of a risk of losing our Republic.

Think of your family. Without even stating them aloud or writing them down on a list, your family has established priorities that help to keep it together in spite of all the changes you go through. These principles might include obedience to parents, respect for one another, a helpful attitude, unconditional love, etc. These expectations don’t change, even when circumstances in your family are changing.

Our Founders agreed on several strong Principles. Historians will differ on exactly how many there are, but I’ve consolidated them into five basic ideals as the basis for our government. I imagine them as pillars.

First Pillar: Limited Government

Cut out a tall pillar to set on top of the brick foundation of your graphic. Let students add key words summarizing the lesson. (There will be a total of 5 pillars, so I place the first pillar in the middle.)

The Founders and Framers of our Constitution wanted something different. They wanted a new system of government in which We the People rule, giving limited power to representatives, whose job is to protect our unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and Property.

Many of the Founders were philosophers. They studied human nature throughout history and they came to some conclusions. They realized power is addictive. People with power tend to want more. Then these representatives stop working for We the People and start working for themselves. By limiting their power, the Founders and Framers hoped to keep the power in the right hands – the People’s hands.

Thomas Jefferson said,

“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take everything you have.”

The Constitution specifically states that the federal government should do. It’s not much. Then, just to make it abundantly clear to those who would represent us, the 9th and 10th Amendments warned politicians that most of the power to govern remains the responsibility of states and individuals.

Many of the Framers did not want the Bill of Rights included in the Constitution. They argued that these 10 Amendments just restated what was already written – that most of the governing power remained with individuals (to govern themselves) than with the States (to make laws for their citizens), and finally, just a little power to the federal government (to protect our unalienable rights and keep our country safe).

But a few of the Framers, understanding the faults of human nature, insisted on the Bill of Rights to remind our politicians that We the People have all the rights and most of the power in our nation – unlike other governments throughout history.

Bill of Rights

Amendment I

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.

Amendment II

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.

Amendment III

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.

Amendment IV

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.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a 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.

Amendment VI

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 wherein 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.

Amendment VII

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 reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

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

Amendment IX

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

Amendment X

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.


If you’d like to start at the beginning of this series, Our Nation’s Foundations Lesson One and Lesson Two are available by clicking the respective hyperlinks.



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