States Rights Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mark Boster
As Americans, we have lots of rights! We have the right to freedom of speech, religion, to protest, to own guns, and to vote if we are 18, among others. But did you know that individual states have rights too? That's what this lesson is about.

You're Not the Boss!

Stan and Steven were out in their backyard. Stan kept telling Steven what to do - 'go get the ball', 'pick up the toys' - and just being bossy to Steven. Finally, Steven said, 'I follow mom's rules, not yours! If she didn't tell me to do it, I don't have to.'

Well, that's sort of the way the United States runs. We have one main set of rules we follow, and if it's not in there, the United States Government can't do it.

House Rules

Let's pretend here for a minute. Your parents have certain rules for the house.

  1. They can make you eat what's on your plate.
  2. They can make you do your chores.
  3. They can sell your dog if you don't walk it.

But your parents also said that what you do in your room is up to you. Do you think you can go there when you don't want to do chores? Nope, chores are a house rule.

How about a rule that says, 'no sisters allowed in my room'? Can you have a rule like that? Yep, you can have that rule, that's not on the list of things your parents can stop you from doing.

The Constitution of the United States of America

The Constitution is the main law for the United States.
USA constitution

The Constitution is the main source of rule and law of the United States. It says what the federal government (the government that runs the country) may do. Let's look at the federal government as kind of like your house. The federal government can only do those things listed in the Constitution.

What About the States?

States also can make rules. Pretend your room is a state. You can make any rules you want as long as the house rules don't talk about that issue.

The federal government can only do what the Constitution says. Every other rule is left up to the states.

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution

One of the rules the federal government has to follow is the 10th amendment. This rule is called States' Rights. That means if the Constitution doesn't say the federal government can do something, then it can't. It is up to each state to decide what to do about it.


The biggest conflict regarding states rights resulted in the Civil War. You see, some states wanted to have slaves, and some states didn't. These states fought against each other in the Civil War.

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