Guide to the Constitution



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Examining the Preamble

The following is an excerpt from Linda Monk’s Book The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution.



Excerpt

Vocabulary

The first three words of the Constitution are the most important. They clearly state that the people—not the king, not the legislature, not the courts—are the true rulers in American government. This principle is known as popular sovereignty.

But who are “We the People”? This question troubled the nation for centuries. As Lucy Stone, one of America’s first advocates for women’s rights, asked in 1853, “‘We the People’? Which ‘We the People’? The women were not included.” Neither were white males who did not own property, American Indians, or African Americans—slave or free. Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the Supreme Court, described the limitation:

for a sense of the evolving nature of the constitution, we need look no further than the first three words of the document’s preamble: ‘we the people.’ when the founding fathers used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in mind the majority of America’s citizens . . . the men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 could not... have imagined, nor would they have accepted, that the document they were drafting would one day be construed by a Supreme Court to which had been appointed a woman and the descendant of an African slave.

Through the Amendment process, more and more Americans were eventually included in the Constitution’s definition of “We the People.” After the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment gave African Americans citizenship, and the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the vote. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote nationwide, and in 1971, the Twenty-sixth Amendment extended suffrage to eighteen-year-olds.




Legislature(n): Elected body that creates laws

Construed (v): interpreted

Amendment (n): formal change to a legal contract

Citizenship (n):membership in a state or nation with rights, privileges, and duties


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Guided Reading Questions

Directions: Use the text to answer the following questions.

  1. According to the text, what is popular sovereignty? ___________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________

  1. According to the text what “isn’t” popular sovereignty? ________________________________

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  1. Why does the author claim that popular sovereignty is the form of government we have in the United States? _______________________________________________________________

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  1. Why does the author say “Which ‘We the People’” is a question that has “troubled the nation?” _______________________________________________________________________

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  1. Is Lucy Stone confused when she asks “Which “We the People’?” ________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



  1. Why does Justice Thurgood Marshall think that the founding fathers could not have imagined a female or black Supreme Court Justice? ___________________________________

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  1. Look over Thurgood Marshall’s quote and paraphrase it in the space provided. Carefully consider your sentence structure as you do this task.



Marshall’s Quote

Your Paraphrased Version

for a sense of the evolving nature of the constitution, we need look no further than the first three words of the document’s preamble: ‘we the people.’ when the founding fathers used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in mind the majority of America’s citizens . . . the men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 could not... have imagined, nor would they have accepted, that the document they were drafting would one day be construed by a Supreme Court to which had been appointed a woman and the descendant of an African slave.

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  1. What evidence is there in the text to support Marshall’s claim about the “evolving nature” of the Constitution (3 examples)?



Text Evidence (actual quote or accurate paraphrase)

Inference (Briefly explain how the evidence illustrates the evolving nature of the Constitution)



















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Reader Response:

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Directions: Write a one paragraph respond to ONE of the following questions. Provide evidence from the text in your response to justify your answer.

  • Explain how the meaning of “We the People” has evolved over time in America. OR

  • How does Thurgood Marshall’s presence on the Supreme Court illustrate the evolution of the Constitution?

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Exemplary

Proficient

Progressing

Beginning



  • Insightful, well organized, and fluent

  • Deep understanding of text is demonstrated

  • Specific references to text are used to support ideas

  • Text references are well interpreted and clearly connected to response






  • Thoughtful, organized, and fluent

  • Clear understanding of the text is demonstrated

  • Relevant references to text are used to support ideas

  • Text references are explained and connected to response






  • Organized and somewhat fluent

  • Basic understanding of text is displayed

  • At least one relevant example from text is used to support ideas

  • Text references are somewhat connected to response






  • Disorganized or confusing

  • Limited or no understanding of text is displayed

  • Limited or no examples from text are used to support ideas

  • Text reference seems irrelevant to response





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