“The power of the Constitution will always be with the people.” George Washington 1787
The Constitution of the United States, which defines the system of government, was written and signed by fifty-five men, after meetings in Philadelphia, summer of 1787.
Definitely plan on a visit to the National Constitution Center on your next family trip to Philadelphia (best with older kids and teens, though little kids will have fun in the Signer’s Hall).
A great place to start is the Sidney Kimmel Theater to watch a 360 degree multimedia production with live actor – how the Constitution created three independent branches to rule the nation: Executive (President), Legislative (Congress) and Judicial (Supreme Court, lower courts).
Leaving the theater, interactive exhibits explain the continuing story of the Constitution, amendments that guarantee basic freedoms, such as the first ten Bill of Rights (freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc.) and later additions, thirteenth amendment that outlaws slavery, and nineteenth amendment that gives women the right to vote.
The Center also has temporary exhibits which change, such as “Powers of the President – Veto, Pardon, Appoint, Remove, Command” and how different presidents have used these powers, or “Alexander Hamilton – The Constitutional Clashes that Shaped a Nation,” his writings created key safeguards for good government.
In the lobby are flags of each 50 states (kids can look for their home state), and a large board game about three branches of government.
One of our favorite exhibits is the Signer’s Hall, with life-size bronze statues of the framers of the Constitution. Statues are organized in groups, that dramatize the intense debate to create a framework for government. Senior statesmen Ben Franklin and George Washington were calm and dignified during the meetings, providing leadership over divided opinions.
Kids can touch Ben Franklin’s bald head (he’s sitting down), behind him is Gouverneur Morris with a peg leg. Stand next to shorty Alexander Hamilton holding a cane, and see George Washington, over 6 ft tall, towering over other delegates.
- What is the Constitution? by Patricia Brennan Demuth.
- Read about the hot summer of 1787, when the delegates met in Philadelphia to write the Constitution. James Madison came up with the first plan, but there was intense disagreement between larger and smaller states about representation in Congress, and at times it seemed the convention would dissolve. Compromise was reached, but it took more than a year for the states to approve the Constitution. (Illustrated chapter book)
- The United States Constitution by Nadja Baer, Nathan Lueth.
- Graphic novel adaptation of the Constitution, which defines the United States government with three separate branches and powers. Kids can find out about founding fathers that created this document in Philadelphia 1787, and read the original text in an entertaining and informative context. (Graphic novel)
- Who Was Alexander Hamilton? by Pam Pollack, Meg Belviso.
- Alexander was an immigrant from the West Indies, who went on to become a lieutenant colonel and hero in the American Revolution, “founding father” who wrote key ideas for three independent branches of government in the Constitution, first secretary of the treasury under George Washington and creator of the federal banking system, and died an untimely death in a duel with Aaron Burr. (Illustrated chapter book)
- Who Was George Washington? by Roberta Edwards.
- Read about George Washington, unanimously elected first president of the United States, leader of the Declaration of Independence and Constitutional conventions, commanding general who won the war against the British, “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.” (Illustrated chapter book)
- Who Was Ben Franklin? by Dennis Brindell Fradin, John O’Brien.
- Illustrated biography of Ben Franklin, inventor, scientist, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, printer, poet, publisher, diplomat, politician, general, cartoonist, postmaster, parent, best-selling author. (Chapter book)