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Our Constitution: A Timeline of Events
12/16/1773 – Boston Tea Party With cries of "No taxation without representation," outraged colonists dumped chests of tea, imported by the East India Company, into the harbor to protest the Tea Act. It was the first major act of defiance against the British.
09/05/1774 – 10/26/1774 - First Continental Congress The First Continental Congress convened to express the grievances the colonies had with Parliament and the King in England. All the colonies, with the exception of Georgia, sent delegates to the First Continental Congress.
04/19/1775 - American Revolution Begins The first major hostilities between American colonists and the British took place in the towns of Lexington and Concord. The British had sent soldiers to restore order in the colonies and ran into well-organized and armed colonists in both towns. The famous "shot heard 'round the world" that started the Revolutionary War happened at Lexington and to this day, it is unclear who actually fired that shot.
05/10/1775 – 12/12/1776 - Second Continental Congress The Second Continental Congress delegates were angry about Lexington and Concord and prioritized initiatives that would encourage the American Revolution. Delegates urged colonies to set up organized local governments, established an armed force commanded by George Washington, established trade regulations, and authorized the issuance of money. At one point, they tried to reconcile with Britain, but clearly, independence was the only solution. The most important result of the Second Continental Congress was the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
07/21/1775 - Ben Franklin Presents a Plan for Confederation Benjamin Franklin had supported self-governance for some time and had proposed a plan of uniting the colonies in 1754. However, with the convening of the Second Continental Congress and the events of Lexington and Concord, Franklin formally presented a plan to Congress almost a year before the Declaration of Independence. Franklin's proposal was discussed at length, but tabled after the issue was unresolved. His proposal was not forgotten and several of Franklin's original articles made it into the official Articles of Confederation years later.
07/04/1776 - Declaration of Independence Adopted Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and the Second Continental Congress signed it, dissolving the ties between the now-former colonies and England.
12/20/1776 - Third Continental Congress Convenes The Third Continental Congress convened 8 days after the Second Continental Congress adjourned. The purpose was different than the previous Congresses. Having signed the Declaration of Independence, the delegates needed to create a government and deal with the conflict with Britain. The Articles of Confederation were modified and finalized.
03/01/1781 - Articles of Confederation Ratified The first "United States" was actually a confederation. The Articles of Confederation loosely joined the states, but each state was independent from one another. The Articles had several major flaws that the Framers would resolve when creating the Constitution.
01/14/1784 – Ratification of the Treaty of Paris Ends Revolutionary War The Treaty of Paris between Great Britain and the United States ended the Revolutionary War. The document was signed by American representatives as well as representatives from Great Britain in September of 1783, but it was not ratified by Congress until January 14, 1784. The treaty recognized the United States as a free nation and established boundaries for the United States to be recognized by Great Britain.
08/1786 - Shays' Rebellion Begins Upset farmers who hadn't been paid for their service during the Revolutionary War waged a series of violent battles in Massachusettes. They were upset over the debts they had amassed during the war, and more importantly, had no real way to pay the debts back. Their farms were being foreclosed on and they were paying even higher taxes than they had under the British.
09/14/1786 - Annapolis Convention Adjourns Following Shays' Rebellion, a Convention in Annapolis discussed the state of commerce in the United States. However, the national government didn't have any power to regulate commerce between and among states, and it was decided that amendments to the Articles of Confederation were sorely needed. Thus it was recommended that another Constitutional Convention take place to fix the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation.
05/25/1787 - Constitutional Convention Opens It's important to note the famous "Father of the Constitution," James Madison, arrived two weeks before the start of the convention to lay out his "Virginia Plan" with other Virginia delegates. He wanted to flesh out exactly what should be accomplished by the Convention. When the Convention opened, it would spend its first few weeks discussing and making revisions to the Virginia Plan.
09/17/1787 – Constitution Is Signed by Convention Attendees The final draft of the Constitutional Convention was signed on September 17th, 1787 and marked the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention. It's important to note that only 39 of the 55 delegates that attended the convention actually signed. However, this was enough to send the document on to the Congress for ratification.
9/28/1787 – Congress Approves the Constitution & Sends to the States for Ratification After the delegates at the Constitutional Convention completed and signed the Constitution, the next step was getting approval from the established Congress under the Articles of Confederation to agree. This happened very soon after the Constitutional Convention adjourned, and the ratification process began. Two-thirds of the states had to ratify the Constitution before it could go into effect.
06/21/1788 - Constitution Ratified On this day, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, officially making it the new governmental framework for the United States. However, a plan was needed to move from the Articles of Confederation to the new Constitution. Elections were scheduled to run from December 15, 1788 to January 10, 1789, with the new government taking over the following March. The dates were set by the Congress under the Articles of Confederation, which would ultimately be giving up power to the newly elected government.
03/04/1789 - The New Constitutional Government Began The newly established government under the Constitution began.
12/15/1791 - Amendments 1-10: The Bill of Rights The first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, were not originally included in the Constitution. The lack of a "Bill of Rights" led to several delegates refusing to sign the Constitution until it was included. The disagreement centered on the fear that people would think that the listed rights were their only rights. James Madison introduced the bill into the House of Representatives, which approved 17 articles, later reduced to 12 articles by the Senate. These 12 amendments were sent to the states for ratification, where 10 of the 12 (the first two not gaining enough state support) amendments were ratified. The second proposed article would eventually be ratified as the 27th Amendment—over 200 years after originally proposed!
02/07/1795 - Amendment 11 The 11th Amendment prohibits the hearing of certain lawsuits against the states in federal courts. This amendment came from a landmark case, Chisholm v. Georgia. In this case, a citizen of South Carolina attempted to sue the state of Georgia for supplies he provided the state during the American Revolution. The Supreme Court decided to hear the case and after the case was decided, the 11th Amendment was quickly passed. The question of exactly which state lawsuits can be heard in federal courts remains murky to this day.
06/15/1804 - Amendment 12 The 12th Amendment changed the way our Electoral College operated, in response to the election of President Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Originally, the Framers created the Electoral College so that each state's electors voted for two people as president, with the runner-up becoming vice president. However, when the Electoral College was originally created, political parties as we know them didn't exist. But in 1800, political parties were real, and when the majority of state electors voted for the two Republican candidates at the time, there was a tie that required 36 additional votes to ultimately elect Jefferson as president. The 12th Amendment made sure, among other things, that all electors voted for one presidential candidate and one vice presidential candidate to eliminate this problem.
12/20/1860 – 02/01/1861 United States Fractured South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas vote to secede from the Union
The election of Abraham Lincoln in November of 1860 sent shockwaves through the Southern States. Lincoln was seen as a direct threat to the institution of slavery, which was considered the way of life for the Southern States. It would lead to a series of secessions from the Union beginning in December of 1860. Article 1 Section 10 of the Constitution forbade the states to enter into another confederacy, and that was a main issue for the Civil War.
03/11/1861 - Confederate Constitution Created Much of the Constitution of the United States made its way into the Confederate Constitution. However, the Confederate Constitution was far more focused on states' rights and the institution of slavery. Although a government was set out in the Confederate Constitution, some of the institutions of that government, such as the Supreme Court, were never established due to the instability of the rebel government at that time.
04/12/1861 - Civil War Begins with the Battle of Fort Sumter The first engagement of hostility in the Civil War was at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.
04/17/1861 - 11/20/1861 – Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky Vote to Secede from the Union After the war began at Fort Sumter, the rest of the soon-to-be Confederate States seceded from the Union. This would set the stage for the battles to come in the Civil War.
04/09/1865 - Civil War Ends Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate Army, surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The proclamation of an end to the conflict of the war was not made by President Andrew Johnson until August 20th, 1866.
6/12/1865 - Amendment 13 The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. Ratified quickly after the end of the war, it's one of three amendments called "The Reconstruction Amendments."
07/09/1868 - Amendment 14 The 14th Amendment granted U.S. citizenship to the freed slaves. It also guaranteed that the state governments couldn't trample on the rights of the people. (Prior to this, the Constitution only constrained the federal government from violating the people's rights.) The Equal Protection Clause says, "…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
This amendment did away with the 3/5 Clause. It spelled out that Union soldiers would be paid for their war efforts, but Confederate soldiers wouldn't. It also said the U.S. Government wouldn't pay anything for lost or freed slaves.
02/03/1870 - Amendment 15 This amendment granted voting rights to black men.
02/03/1913 - Amendment 16 Probably one of the least liked amendments, the 16th gave Congress the power to impose an unapportioned (didn't have to be equal among the states) income tax. Prior to this, the government was dependent on consumption taxes and tariffs to get its money.
04/08/1913 - Amendment 17 The 17th Amendment standardized how senators were elected, making senators elected by the popular vote of the people. Prior to this, senators of each state were elected by their state legislatures. However, this opened the opportunity for corruption, and some state legislatures would send multiple candidates, leaving Congress to decide which candidate to choose.
01/16/1919 - Amendment 18 Prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol.
08/18/1920 - Amendment 19 The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. (Women's Suffrage)
01/23/1933 - Amendment 20 This outlined presidential and congressional terms, as well as clarified what would happen if an elected president were to die before being sworn in. It also moved the date of an incoming president's swearing-in from March 4th to January 20th.
12/05/1933 - Amendment 21 The 21st Amendment is the first and only time that an amendment was used to repeal another amendment in the Constitution. This amendment was specifically designed to repeal the 18th Amendment's prohibition on alcohol.
02/27/1951 - Amendment 22 Set the term limit for president at two terms. This was the same number of terms George Washington served before declining a third.
03/29/1961 - Amendment 23 The 23rd Amendment gave voting representation for president to the District of Columbia. However it did not make the District a state.
01/23/1964 - Amendment 24 This amendment made poll taxes illegal. No longer could voters be charged to exercise their right to vote.
02/10/1967 - Amendment 25 The 25th Amendment clarifies the line of succession for a president and a vice president.
07/01/1971 - Amendment 26 The 26th Amendment lowered the national voting age to 18 for all State and national elections. The reasoning behind it was, if you were old to be sent to die for your country because of the draft, you should have some say in electing the people who might send you to war.
05/07/1992 - Amendment 27 The 27th Amendment is one of the amendments that were originally proposed as part of the Bill of Rights. It was intended to limit changes in congressional pay. It prevents members of Congress from arbitrarily giving themselves pay raises. This amendment means pay raises voted for by Congress do not take effect until the next Congress is seated.