America's Founding Documents
The Constitution: What Does it Say?
The Constitution of the United States contains a preamble and seven articles that describe the way the government is structured and how it operates. The first three articles establish the three branches of government and their powers: Legislative (Congress), Executive (office of the President,) and Judicial (Federal court system). A system of checks and balances prevents any one of these separate powers from becoming dominant. Articles four through seven describe the relationship of the states to the Federal Government, establish the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and define the amendment and ratification processes.
Article I assigns the responsibility for making laws to the Legislative Branch (Congress). Congress is divided into two parts, or “Houses,” the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bicameral Congress was a compromise between the large states, which wanted representation based on population, and the small ones, which wanted the states to have equal representation.
Article II details the Executive Branch and the offices of the President and Vice President. It lays down rules for electing the President (through the Electoral College), eligibility (must be a natural-born citizen at least 35 years old), and term length. The 12th and 25th Amendments modified some of these rules.
Article III establishes the Judicial Branch with the U.S. Supreme Court as the federal court system’s highest court. It specifies that Federal judges be appointed for life unless they commit a serious crime. This article is shorter than Articles I and II. The Federal Convention left much of the work of planning the court system to the First Congress. The 1789 Judiciary Act created the three-tiered court system in place today.
Article IV outlines states’ powers in relationship to each other. States have the authority to create and enforce their own laws but must respect and help enforce the laws of other states. Congress may pass Federal laws regarding how states honor other states’ laws and records.
Article V explains the amendment process, which is different and more difficult than the process for making laws. When two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives vote to change the Constitution, an amendment goes to the state legislatures for a vote. Alternatively, two-thirds of the state legislatures can submit an application to Congress, and then Congress calls a national convention at which states propose amendments. Three-fourths of the state legislatures or state conventions must vote in favor of an amendment to ratify it.
Article VI states that Federal law is supreme, or higher than, state and local laws. This means that if a state law conflicts with a Federal law, Federal law takes precedence.
Article VII describes the ratification process for the Constitution. It called for special state ratifying conventions. Nine states were required to enact the Constitution. Rhode Island became the 13th state to ratify the Constitution in 1790.
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The first amendment, the articles.
The seven articles make up the structural constitution, signed on September 17, 1787, and ratified on June 21, 1788.
Executive branch, judicial branch, states, citizenship, new states, amendment process, debts, supremacy, oaths, religious tests, ratification, modal title.
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Primary tabs, the constitution of the united states of america (see explanation ).
- Preamble ["We the people"] (see explanation )
- Section 1. [Legislative Power Vested] (see explanation )
- Section 2. [House of Representatives] (see explanation )
- Section 3. [Senate] (see explanation )
- Section 4. [Elections of Senators and Representatives] (see explanation )
- Section 5. [Rules of House and Senate] (see explanation )
- Section 6. [Compensation and Privileges of Members] (see explanation )
- Section 7. [Passage of Bills] (see explanation )
- Section 8. [Scope of Legislative Power] (see explanation )
- Section 9. [Limits on Legislative Power] (see explanation )
- Section 10. [Limits on States] (see explanation )
- Section 1. [Election, Installation, Removal] (see explanation )
- Section 2. [Presidential Power] (see explanation )
- Section 3. [State of the Union, Receive Ambassadors, Laws Faithfully Executed, Commission Officers] (see explanation )
- Section 4. [Impeachment] (see explanation )
- Section 1. [Judicial Power Vested] (see explanation )
- Section 2. [Scope of Judicial Power] (see explanation )
- Section 3. [Treason] (see explanation )
- Section 1. [Full Faith and Credit] (see explanation )
- Section 2. [Privileges and Immunities, Extradiction, Fugitive Slaves] (see explanation )
- Section 3. [Admission of States] (see explanation )
- Section 4. [Guarantees to States] (see explanation )
- Article V [The Amendment Process] (see explanation )
- Article VI [Legal Status of the Constitution] (see explanation )
- Article VII [Ratification] (see explanation )
- Amendment I [Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, Petition (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment II [Right to Bear Arms (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment III [Quartering of Troops (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment IV [Search and Seizure (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment V [Grand Jury, Double Jeopardy, Self-Incrimination, Due Process (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment VI [Criminal Prosecutions - Jury Trial, Right to Confront and to Counsel (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment VII [Common Law Suits - Jury Trial (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment VIII [Excess Bail or Fines, Cruel and Unusual Punishment (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment IX [Non-Enumerated Rights (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment X [Rights Reserved to States or People (1791)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XI [Suits Against a State (1795)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XII [Election of President and Vice-President (1804)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XIII [Abolition of Slavery (1865)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XIV [Privileges and Immunities, Due Process, Equal Protection, Apportionment of Representatives, Civil War Disqualification and Debt (1868)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XV [Rights Not to Be Denied on Account of Race (1870)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XVI [Income Tax (1913)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XVII [Election of Senators (1913)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XVIII [Prohibition (1919)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XIX [Women's Right to Vote (1920)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XX [Presidential Term and Succession (1933)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XXI [Repeal of Prohibition (1933)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XXII [Two Term Limit on President (1951)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XXIII [Presidential Vote in D.C. (1961)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XXIV [Poll Tax (1964)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XXV [Presidential Succession (1967)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XXVI [Right to Vote at Age 18 (1971)] (see explanation )
- Amendment XXVII [Compensation of Members of Congress (1992)] (see explanation )
- Article III
- Article VII
- Bill of Rights
- First Amendment
- Second Amendment
- Third Amendment
- Fourth Amendment
- Fifth Amendment
- Sixth Amendment
- forum selection clause
- Seventh Amendment
- Eighth Amendment
- Ninth Amendment
- Tenth Amendment
- 11th Amendment
- 12th Amendment
- 13th Amendment
- 14th Amendment
- 15th Amendment
- 16th Amendment
- 17th Amendment
- 18th Amendment
- 19th Amendment
- 20th Amendment
- 21st Amendment
- 22nd Amendment
- 23rd Amendment
- 24th Amendment
- 25th Amendment
- 26th Amendment
- 27th Amendment
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- Summary of the Constitution
- Creation of the Constitution
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- Key Concepts in the Constitution
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- The Two Houses of Congress
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- The Vice President and Presidential Succession
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The Constitution was a spare document, providing few details about how the U.S. government would run itself. It explained the rough organization of the three branches, how they would interact with the states, and how the document could be amended. Filling in the details was left to future leaders.
The longest article in the Constitution vests legislative power in the Senate and the House of Representatives. It describes the organization of Congress and lists its specific powers, known as enumerated or delegated powers. Through the necessary and proper clause (also called the elastic clause ), Congress can make laws needed to carry out its enumerated powers. Article I also lists the powers denied to Congress and the states.
This article deals with the executive branch and describes the election of the president (and vice president), the qualifications for holding the office, and the procedures if a president can no longer serve. The powers of the president include serving as commander in chief of the army and navy, making treaties, and, with the "advice and consent of the Senate," appointing ambassadors, officials, and Supreme Court justices. The president is required to periodically report to Congress on the state of the union, can propose legislation, and can call Congress into special session.
This article established the Supreme Court and authorizes Congress to establish lower federal courts. The types of cases the courts have jurisdiction over are given, and a provision is made for the right to trial by jury. While not specifically stated, the power of the courts to declare a law unconstitutional is implied.
The full faith and credit clause requires that the legislative and judicial actions of one state be honored by the other states. Additionally, a citizen of any state has the same privileges as citizens of all the other states. Article IV also provides for adding new states to the union, guarantees each state a republican form of government, and ensures protection against invasion or domestic violence.
The process for amending the Constitution is described. The states are responsible for ratifying amendments.
The Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties entered into by the United States are the supreme law of the land. This is known as the supremacy clause.
Approval by conventions of nine of the states was required to ratify the Constitution.
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Next The Debate over Ratification
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United states constitution.
- 2 Article I: The Legislative Branch
- 3 Article II: The Executive Branch
- 4 Article III: The Judicial Branch
- 5 Article IV: The States
- 6 Article V: Amendment
- 7 Article VI: Debts, Supremacy, Oaths
- 8 Article VII: Ratification
- 9.1 Bill of Rights
- 9.2 Subsequent amendments
- 10 External links
The United States Constitution is the fundamental law of the United States of America. It was proposed on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was then ratified by conventions in each state. It went into effect in June 1788 when ratified by nine states. Since its passage, there have been 27 amendments; the first 10 are known as the Bill of Rights . The original document is on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. The Constitution contains 4,543 words, including the signatures of 39 of the 55 delegates representing the states.
The preamble to the United States Constitution 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.
Article I: The Legislative Branch
Article I details the form and function of the United States Congress . It details that the United States Congress is to be a bicameral body composed of a Senate and a House of Representatives, whose members are to be elected by the people of each state. It also designates all legislative powers to be held by Congress. It is the longest article of the Constitution and has been amended the most.
Article II: The Executive Branch
Article II establishes the executive branch of government and sets the President of the United States at its head. It also describes the duties of the president and vice-president and names the president as Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
Article III: The Judicial Branch
Article III details the judicial branch of government and designates the Supreme Court as the highest court in the land. It also describes the requirements to be convicted of treason and the potential punishment for it.
Article IV: The States
Article IV describes the states of the union and their interactions with the federal government and with one another.
Article V: Amendment
Article V establishes amendment as a means of altering the Constitution. The amendment process requires 2/3 vote of both houses to call a convention for amendment proposal and further requires ratification by 3/4 of states for a proposed amendment to become law.
Article VI: Debts, Supremacy, Oaths
Article VI describes debts, contracts, and oaths. It declares the Constitution to be the supreme law of the land and requires that all legislative, executive, and judicial officers take an oath to support the Constitution. It also declares that no religious test shall ever be required to hold public office.
Article VII: Ratification
Article VII deals with the ratification of the Constitution. It contains the signatures of the representatives of each state at the convention.
Bill of Rights
The bill of rights consists of the first ten amendments to the constitution. These amendments detail the rights of the individual.
- Amendment I: Freedom of Speech
- Amendment II: Right to Bear Arms
- Amendment III: Quartering of Soliders
- Amendment IV: Search and Seizure
- Amendment V: Trial and Punishment
- Amendment VI: Right to a Speedy Trial and Confrontation of Witnesses
- Amendment VII: Trial by Jury in Civil Cases
- Amendment VIII: Cruel and Unusual Punishment
- Amendment IX: Construction of the Constitution
- Amendment X: Powers of the States and People
- Amendment XI : The 11th Amendment establishes limits on the power of the Judiciary.
- Amendment XII : The 12th Amendment describes the process for choosing the President and Vice-President.
- Amendment XIII : The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
- Amendment XIV : The 14th Amendment details the rights of the citizen.
- Amendment XV : The 15th Amendment forbids using race as a means to deny a citizen to vote.
- Amendment XVI : The 16th Amendment gives Congress the right to establish an income tax.
- Amendment XVII : The 17th Amendment declares that senators shall be elected by a popular vote.
- Amendment XVIII : The 18th Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transport of liquor.
- Amendment XIX : The 19th Amendment extended the right of voting to women.
- Amendment XX : The 20th Amendment describes presidential and congressional terms.
- Amendment XXI : The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th amendment, effectively ending prohibition.
- Amendment XXII : The 22nd Amendment enacted a two-term limit on the President.
- Amendment XXIII : The 23rd Amendment describes the presidential vote for the District of Columbia.
- Amendment XXIV : The 24th Amendment bars the use of a poll tax.
- Amendment XXV : The 25th Amendment sets up the presidential line of succession.
- Amendment XXVI : The 26th Amendment sets the voting age to be 18 years.
- Amendment XXVII : The 27th Amendment delays the effect of changes to congressional pay.
- Transcript of the United States Constitution
- Transcript of the Bill of Rights
- Transcript of Amendments 11-27
- One-off pages, active
- Federalism terms
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