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Text and Commentaries

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Constitution Day

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Historical Texts

The Federalist (1788), and various other historical documents such as Magna Carta (1215), are sometimes credited with having influenced the content of the Constitution of the United States or its initial Amendments (the Bill or Rights), or, in the case of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, with having been influenced by the U.S. Constitution although it radically attempted to change its effect. 

Articles of Confederation (1781) (external link) (The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy) 

Century of Lawmaking (Library of Congress, National Digital Law Library Program) includes: Journals of the Continental Congress; Eliot's The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of  the Federal Constitution; and Farrand's The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787

Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention (Library of Congress. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

Declaration of Independence, including Jefferson's draft  (Library of Congress) Provides the text of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 along with a scanned images of the original document as well as of the four pages of a Thomas Jefferson's draft of the document.

Declaration of Independence in text and images images (National Archives and Records Administration) Includes the text and scanned images of the original and the initial stone engraving of the documents as well as useful commentaries. See also Declaration of Independence: Right to Institute New Government (Library of Congress) 

Documents of the Confederate States of America (1861) (external link)  (The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy) Includes the Constitution of Confederate States of America, and other Confederate legal documents.

THOMAS: Federalist Papers via Primary Documents in American History: The Federalist Papers (Library of Congress) The Federalist (also known as "The Federalist Papers") issued as a series of highly influential essays in support of the proposed United States Constitution, most of which appeared initially in New York newspapers under the pen name "Publius" during 1787 and 1788. The actual authors were Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. See also copies via University of Oklahoma Law Center's The Federalist Papers (external link) and Yale's Avalon Project (external link)

Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 (National Archives and Records Administration) The immensely influential Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, was adopted by the colonial convention June 12, 1776. The opening of the Declaration of Independence (adopted a few weeks) borrowed from this document, and the U.S. Bill of Rights was adopted directly from this version of the natural rights of man as previously proclaimed in the English Bill of Rights of 1689 (see below) and philosophers such as John Locke. See also the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 (external link) (Avalon Project)

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Influences

FRANCE: Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1789 (external link) in English (The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy) French counterpart to the American "Bill of Rights" drafted by Lafayette with the assistance of  Thomas Jefferson, and approved by the National Assembly of France August 26, 1789.  See also Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen de 1789 (Assemblée Nationale) - in French

ENGLAND: English Bill of Rights of 1689: An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown (external link) (The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy) Provided specific inspiration for American "Bill of Rights" made into law almost a century later. 

ENGLAND: Exhibit: Magna Carta  (National Archives and Records Administration) The "Great Charter" version of 1297, which despite its original limited application has long been regarded as a foundation for the development of English liberties and political rights. Although King John of England was pressured into signing the first version, in 1215, (see below), and he violated its terms almost immediately, later kings repeatedly were compelled to confirm the limits Magna Carta set on royal powers, and the document proved immensely important hundreds of years after it was initially ignored. Portions are even reflected closely in the U.S. Bill of Rights. A translation of the text of the version of 1297, used to confirm its continuing effect at the coronation of Edward I, is offered at this site along with images of this original document, and commentaries. 

ENGLAND: Magna Carta, 1215 (external link) (The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy) Translated from Latin to English of what is believed to be the first version (from 1215) of the "Great Charter." Includes glossary.

GREECE: Athenian Constitution by Aristotle (external link) (The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy) in English; Sir Frederic G. Kenyon's translation of Aristotle on the political structure (or constitution) of the ancient city-state of Athens, which is usually considered a prime inspiration for the form of government chosen for the United States.

IROQUOIS: Iroquois Constitution / The Great Binding Law Gayanshagowa (external link) (Indigenous Peoples Literature) The English version of the historic Great Binding Law ("Gayanshagowa") of the Iroqouis' Five Nations Confederacy, which is as much a social document as a legal document.

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Judicial Decisions

RECENT DECISIONS: Supreme Court Syllabi Search (external link) (Cornell LII, Supreme Court Collection) Elsewhere, topics are listed by amendment topic and number; i.e. First Amendment; see Decisions by Topic, 1990 to Present (external link)

SUPREME COURT DECISIONS: Guide to Law Online: U.S. Federal Courts and Decisions (Law Library of Congress) Includes other links to Supreme Court cases.

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Legal Guides

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Last Updated: 02/28/2014