The Declaration of Independence. The Constitution of the United States. The Bill of Rights. These charters of freedom defined the United States and served as models for democracies all over the world.

This page has quotations copied directly from Archives.gov ("The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent Federal agency that preserves our nation's history and defines us as a people by overseeing the management of all Federal records.").

Declaration of Independence [archives.gov/national_archives_experience/declaration.html]

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

"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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."

etc.

Signed 1776-07-04.

Constitution of the United States [archives.gov/national_archives_experience/constitution.html]

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Followed by 7 Articles:

  1. The Senate and House of Representatives.
  2. The President of the United States of America.
  3. The judicial Power of the United States.
  4. The States.
  5. Amendments.
  6. The Constitution.
  7. The Ratification of the Constitution.

Signed 1987-09-17.

Bill of Rights [archives.gov/national_archives_experience/bill_of_rights.html]

Amendments 1-10 were added to the Constitution as of 1789-09-25.

  1. "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."
  2. "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."
  3. "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."
  4. "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."
  5. "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 offence 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."
  6. "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 defence."
  7. "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."
  8. "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
  9. "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
  10. "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."

Amendments 11 and above were ratified in 1795 and beyond.

  1. The Judicial power of the United States. 1795
  2. Electors for the President and Vice-President. 1804.
  3. Slavery. 1865.
  4. Citizenship, counting citizens, disqualifications of office for traitors, US debt. 1868.
  5. Rights not limited by race or color. 1870.
  6. Income tax. 1913.
  7. Senators. 1913.
  8. Prohibition. 1919.
  9. Rights not limited by sex. 1920.
  10. Terms of office, congressional meeting schedule, deaths in office. 1933.
  11. Prohibition repealed. 1933.
  12. Presidency limited to 2 terms. 1951.
  13. Electors for the President and Vice-President. 1961.
  14. Right to vote not limited by taxes. 1964.
  15. Deaths in office. 1967.
  16. Voting age is 18. 1971.
  17. Congressional wages. 1992.

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