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US Constitutional Amendment Mnemonics (Part I)

Published on Sunday, October 04, 2009 in , , ,

Mdgilkison's We The People graphicOne of the toughest things to remember, whether you were born in the US, or came here as an immigrant, is the 27 Amendments to the US Constitution. In this and the next 2 posts, I'm going to teach you a series of mnemonics that will help you remember all of them.

Let's start with a quick refresher on the basics of the US Constitution with some help from Schoolhouse Rock:



What I'm about to teach isn't the only way to learn the US Constitution. The movie Born Yesterday (the 1993 version) features a song that teaches the amendments.

The first amendment to the US Constitution is the only one where there are 6 different rights spelled out, so you can remember these rights with the nonsense word RAPPOS. RAPPOS is an acronym for the freedoms of Religion, Assembly, Petition, Press, Opinion and Speech. Most people are familiar enough with the first amendment that there's no need to link the number 1 to these rights.

When you're trying to remember what's in the 2nd amendment, just think of someone calling out, “2 Arms! 2 Arms!” Yep, the 2nd amendment is the right to bear arms.

Amendment 3 is remembered with 3 words: No housing troops. The 3rd amendment is the right to freedom from being required to house troops during peacetime. This was considered important, as the British had often forced the American colonists to house the redcoats.

The 4th amendment, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, is easily remembered with by asking the question: What are you searching 4?

The 5th amendment is another famous one, as you so often see movies and TV shows where someone is pleading their 5th amendment rights. This is always is court, because they are asserting their right to not be forced to testify against themselves.

Public speedy trials, a phrase that contains only 6-letter words, is the mnemonic for the 6th amendment. This is also the amendment that says someone accused in court has the right to confront his accusers, and the right to a defense counsel. The 5th and 6th can be thought of together as the Miranda warning rights.

How can you remember the 7th amendment? 7 is supposed to be good luck, and in civil cases, having a trial by jury can bring good luck towards reaching a favorable decision.

The mnemonic for the 8th amendment will probably be the most vivid of the mnemonics in this first section. Imagine that you've been convicted of a crime in a village of cannibals, and as punishment, they ate you! This seems like cruel and unusual punishment, doesn't it? The 8th amendment, fortunately, protects you from cruel and unusual punishments like this.

Users of the Major/Peg system already associate 9 with the letter P, as the letter P looks like a 9 facing the other way. That helps with remember the 9th amendment, where P stands for Power and People. The 9th amendment makes it clear that individuals do have rights that aren't explicity mentioned in the Constitution.

If you can remember these, you'll be able to recall not only a full third of the constitutional amendments, but 90% of the Bill of Rights, as well! Practice these, and on Thursday, I'll teach you mnemonics for amendments 10 to 18 (and maybe even sneak an extra one in).

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9 Response to US Constitutional Amendment Mnemonics (Part I)

8:08 AM

In America, do you all have to study the amendments at school? I mean 'have to'?

And is there much time spent looking at the people who signed the constitution? There's loads of signatories.

5:15 PM

Unfortunately, Mike, no, studying the constitutional amendments and the people who signed the constitution are not required study.

Usually, public school studies are limited to the basics of the constitution, and special attention is only paid to signers who became important figures in other repspects, such as Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton.

11:11 AM

In the UK, staying silent seems to be an indication of guilt. It is this "What has he got to hide?" point of view.
In the US, pleading the 5th amendment [it is 5th right?], a jury needs to behave as if the person has not prejudiced himself.
It's a strange one.

Another strange one is, what if someone has narrowly got off conviction for a really bad crime - several times. Those several times are perhaps an indicator that this person is a bit dodgey. It used to be that past close convictions could not be mentioned at an 'unrelated' trial but I am not so sure that this is so nowadays in the UK.

It might be argued that, when we give someone a right, we are removing or dimming down the right of someone else. [a bloke named Dworkin wrote about something like that]

10:19 AM

Mike,

In the US, presumption of innocence is a very important principle. When someone pleads the fifth in the US, the judge reminds the jury that this is specifically NOT to be taken as an admission of guilt.

True rights don't infringe on anyone else's rights.

One of the classic tests of a true right is what is know as the "deserted island" test. If someone claims something is a right, ask yourself whether you could exercise that right if you were on a deserted island.

Is freedom of speech a right? I can go on a deserted island and say anything about anything, so it passes the test.

Is, say, healthcare a right? Try exercising that right on a deserted island, and you'll quickly see that fails the test.

(This last example is to make a point about the test. I'm not trying to get into a debate about current political issues, and will not approve any comments along those lines.)

There's an excellent, yet brief, article on the nature of true rights here. It's meant to accompany this tour, so you might want to watch the tour first.

1:21 PM

Absolutely about this place being about memory - not politics.
It was interesting that you used the historical context of British colonialism as a backdrop to a law about the US not having to harbour foreign armies.
I think that context is a nice way to augment learning.
"Why is that amendment?" helps "What is that amendment?"

11:17 PM

It sure does.

As a matter of fact, each of the amendment links after the 10th one, has more detailed notes for anyone who wants to pursue those links further.

For example, how many people realize that the 27th Amendment was first proposed on Sep. 25, 1789, but wasn't ratified until May 5, 1992? That's more than 202 years later!

Tee
7:24 AM

Also, for amendment 9 you could do
"number 9 makes rights mine" and 3
"number 3 you can't make me"
i dnt know, but thats how i remember those

Rayna
7:05 PM

Haha, Tee, I like the nine one! Yeah...I have a test tomorrow on all 27 of these...They're shortened, though. But it's still hard for me, because my memory can only contain certain things, for some reason. Most of these things come from vide games...I guess that means that I have a sad life, no?

Anonymous
10:12 AM

This is amazing! Thanks so much for all of these!