These three documents, known collectively as the Charters of Freedom, have secured the rights of the American people for more than two and a quarter centuries and are considered instrumental to its founding and philosophy of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The Declaration of Independence expresses the ideals on which the United States was founded and the reasons for separation from Great Britain.
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.
–Preamble to the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence states the principles on which our government, and our identity as Americans, are based. Unlike the other founding documents, the Declaration of Independence is not legally binding, but it is powerful. Abraham Lincoln called it “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to tyranny and oppression.” It continues to inspire people around the world to fight for freedom and equality.
The Constitution defines the framework of the Federal Government of the United States.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.
–Preamble to the United States Constitution
The Constitution acted like a colossal merger, uniting a group of states with different interests, laws, and cultures. Under America’s first national government, the Articles of Confederation, the states acted together only for specific purposes. The Constitution united its citizens as members of a whole, vesting the power of the union in the people. Without it, the American Experiment might have ended as quickly as it had begun.
The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. It defines citizens’ and states’ rights in relation to the Government.
The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
–Preamble to the Bill of Rights
The Constitution might never have been ratified if the framers hadn't promised to add a Bill of Rights. The first ten amendments to the Constitution gave citizens more confidence in the new government and contain many of today's Americans most valued freedoms.
Explore America’s Founding Documents, for more information and teaching tools, go to the National Archives website: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs