Compare core documents associated with the protection of individual rights, including the Bill of Rights, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Article I of the Massachusetts Constitution.

1966 US postage stamp
1966 US postage stamp

rotating gif.gifFor more, see United States History I.9 and Grade 5.26.

Go here for controversy and debate about the "Under God" Clause of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The image to the right from 1966 commenerates the 175th anniversary of the Bill of Rights,

lessonplan.jpgTo find lesson plans on Individual Rights in the United States, click here


  • The Constitute Project allows you to read and compare constitutions from nations around the world in English or the original language

game_icon.svg.pngTo play games to learn more about Individual Rights and The Constitution, visit this website
Do I Have a Right? game from lets you run your own firm of lawyers who specialize in constitutional law (also available in Spanish!)

Rotating_globe-small.gifA legal analysis about the problem of applying constitutional principles to people of color can be found in the article Trampling Whose Rights? Democratic Majority and Racial Minorities by Taunya Lovell Banks.

external image Red_apple.jpgVotes by Justices in Recent Landmark Supreme Court Decisions, 1989 to Present

The rights set forth in the Bill of Rights, the 14th Amendment, and Article 1 of the Massachusetts Constitution have been shaped and limited by historical pressures brought by government, political groups, and the courts.

James Madison Bill of Rights $5 commemorative gold coin
James Madison Bill of Rights $5 commemorative gold coin

primary_sources.PNGThe Bill of Rights

(U.S. Constitution, 1st—10th Amendments)

Years: proposed in 1789; ratified by states in 1791

Authors: James Madison, and other authors of the U.S. Constitution, such as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton

  • The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution
    • Listed both freedoms and legal protections
      • A lasting legacy of the anti-federalists who sought to strengthen states autonomy in the formation of the United States and reduce federal (central) power
  • Why wasn't the Bill of Rights originally in the US Constitution? from TedEd

  • For a modern lesson plan on immigration and resources for teaching and creating lessons, visit this website
  • For high school lesson plans from the National Archives, visit this website
  • For more concrete lesson plans on the Bill of Rights visit BrainPop Educators


primary_sources.PNGU.S Constitution, 14th Amendment

Representative John A. Bingham of Ohio
Representative John A. Bingham of Ohio

Year: Proposed June 13, 1866 (Andrew Johnson was President)
Ratified by the required ¾ of the states on July 9, 1868
Kentucky was the last state to ratify the amendment, on March 18, 1976

Authors: Congressman John Bingham (Ohio), principal framer of the Fourteenth Amendment
Senator Jacob Howard (Michigan) introduced the amendment

  • To prevent the Civil Rights Act of 1857 from being ruled as unconstitutional, Congress passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
  • The 14th Amendment ensured that
    • former slaves would be citizens of he U.S., and
    • it kept states from violating rights of citizens without due process of law
    • for the first time, due process was required at the state, as well as at the federal level
    • the amendment required states to recognize the full citizenship rights (including voting rights) for all males citizens aged 21 and over (Out of Many… p. 505).

external image 0791093832.jpg
Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 11.31.41 AM.pngClick here to read about 10 Huge Supreme Court Cases involving the 14th Amendment.

  • For a lesson plan on "How History Affects Supreme Court Decision and Supreme Court Decisions Affect History: A Look and the Fourteenth Amendment, visit PBS.

Multimedia.pngTo watch videos on how to teach the 14th Amendment in the classroom, visit the constitution center

masscities.pngMassachusetts Constitution, Article I.

All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. [Annulled by Amendments, Art. CVI.]

Article from WGBH outlining the Massachusetts Constitution's importance and influence on the US version

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 12.56.56 PM.pngWebsite outlining LGBTQ+ rights, their relation to the Constitution, and some defining Supreme Court Cases
NPR article covering Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 9.41.22 AM.pngNative Americans and 14th Amendment

primary_sources.PNGArticle I of Part the First of the Constitution is hereby annulled and the following is adopted:-
All people are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.
A painting of President John Adams
A painting of President John Adams

Year: 1779

Author: John Adams

  • “natural rights” (an idea posed by philosopher John Locke) mean that people have rights by virtue of their humanity, and not by virtue of their wealth, nationality, or other similar factors.
    • Unlike the U.S. constitution, the Massachusetts document was changed to name specific groups which could not be deprived of their rights.

external image Red_apple.jpg John Adams influences on the Massachusetts Constitution

lessonplan.jpgTo access a lesson plan on the Massachusetts State Constitution, click here


The U.S. and Massachusetts constitutions, on first writing, guarantee rights for all men, but later, the 14th Amendment and the altered Massachusetts Constitution address the idea that saying “all men” may not be explicit enough for rights to actually be respected.
  • The 14th Amendment explicitly states who is a citizen – those born or naturalized here.
    • The more recent Massachusetts Constitution’s language not only states that “all people” (as opposed to “all men”) are included in the rights bestowed, but it also explicitly notes groups that may not be excluded from the rights bestowed.
      • It is interesting to note that, while listing groups of people can protect member of those groups from exclusion in the courts and in laws, those lists can also limit rights to the members of those groups only, and not to members of other groups (such as lay people) who might have otherwise been included in the more general language of “all people.”

external image Red_apple.jpgQuestions for Students:

What’s missing from the texts? Massachusetts’s constitution was changed to read “people,” what about the U.S. Constitution?

Does listing groups of people explicitly include more people under the rights “umbrella,” exclude others, or some of both?


Armitage, Susan H.; Mari Jo Buhle; Daniel Czitrom; John Mack Faragher;
Out of Many: A History of the American People; Fourth Edition; Prentice Hall, N.J.; 2003.