Founding Documents

This exercise is designed to acquaint students with the two fundamental documents associated with the founding of the United States. The Declaration of Independence was a carefully crafted document ostensibly setting out the founding father’s view of government and the justification for severing political ties with Great Britain. Since its publication, the Declaration has taken on new meaning, but much contained in the document is ignored as if locked in a strange historical vacuum. Yet, there is much to be learned about the leaders of the independence movement and the movement itself that can be inferred from this document. While the Declaration served to explain actions, the Constitution was written to further different goals. These goals are explained in the Preamble to the document. The Constitution when presented to the American people for ratification sparked an intense scrutiny. Revealing that all Americans did not completely agree with the creation of a new central government, the leading Federalists, who supported the Constitution, participated in a debate over its meaning and content that extends to our own times. One of the most important results of this debate was the recognition that the Constitution lacked any guarantees of rights long recognized in the British Colonies of North America. This was rectified with the passage of the first ten amendments to the constitution that has since become known as the Bill of Rights. Taken together these two documents represent one of the greatest legacies of the Revolutionary generation.


For the preliminary analysis of the documents do the following:

  1. Read both the Declaration and the Preamble and first three articles of the Constitution.
  2. Select the article of the Constitution you want to focus on and locate the materials in the Federalist Papers relating to the powers granted by that article.
  3. Describe the contents of the documents within the context established by the questions.

For the final analysis do the following:

  1. Based on your preliminary analysis discuss in your web module group report what the documents reveal about their authors.
  2. Taken together what do the documents reveal about the author’s views on government.
  3. Taken together are the two documents compatible?

The Declaration of Independence  (1776)

Go to

Exercise and Questions

  1. Read the Declaration of Independence.
  2. What is the philosophical basis for declaring independence?
  3. What are the political principles that the document establishes?
  4. How would you characterize the specific grievances attributed to the King of England?
  5. If the role of government is to establish order and the peaceful transference of power, would the principles established in this document support those goals?
  6. Who was the intended audience of this document?

The Constitution of the United States (1788)

Go to

Exercise and Questions

  1. Read the main body of the Constitution (not the amendments).
  2. Select one of first three Articles and analyze it?
  3. What specific powers are granted to the branch of government whose enabling article you have selected?
  4. Are the powers granted each branch of government completely separate?
  5. Go to the Federalist Papers at the same web-site and, using the search engine, search for the written justification for these powers.
  6. Why do the authors of the Federalist Papers believe these powers should be granted?  Are their arguments pragmatic or historical? 

Extra Credit

Loyalist Songs

Go to


  1. Review the songs.
  2. What do you think they reveal about the loyalist side in the American War for Independence?