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The first president: George Washington

George Washington became the first U.S. president in 1789. His ride from quiet Mount Vernon to the nation's temporary capital of New York City was one big party: Bells rang, bands played, and the roads were strewn with flowers. Washington took the oath of office on a balcony overlooking Wall Street — something that some people have seen as a bad omen, foreshadowing the control of government by big money. Washington appointed the first Cabinet: Thomas Jefferson (State), Alexander Hamilton (Treasury), and Henry Knox (War).

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights (1791), the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was approved by all the states to guarantee that the new Constitution would mandate basic rights for all citizens. Spelling out these rights put critics of the new Constitution at ease by mandating freedom of speech, religion, and other liberties.

Tip

Although the AP exam probably won't trick you with individual amendment numbers, the Bill of Rights makes excellent essay material and can come in handy on multiple-choice questions. Here's the short version:

- First Amendment: Freedom of religion, speech, and press

- Second Amendment: Right to keep and bear arms

- Third Amendment: Protection from mandatory quartering of troops in private citizens' homes

- Fourth Amendment: Protection from unreasonable search and seizure

- Fifth Amendment: Due process under the law

- Sixth Amendment: Right to criminal trial by jury and other rights for the accused

- Seventh Amendment: Right to civil trial by jury

- Eighth Amendment: No excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment

- Ninth Amendment: Establishes that amendments don't limit rights and that more rights can be conferred

- Tenth Amendment: Establishes that powers not listed in Constitution belong to the states and the people

 
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