Wikijunior:United States Charters of Freedom/Constitution
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. When nine states of the then thirteen states ratified the document it marked the creation of a union of sovereign states, and a federal government to operate that union. It replaced the weaker, less well-defined union that existed under the Articles of Confederation and took effect on March 4, 1789. The handwritten copy signed by the delegates to the Congress is on display in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It is the second of the three Charters of Freedom along with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
During the Revolutionary War, the thirteen states first formed a weak central government—with the Congress being its only component—under the Articles of Confederation/. Congress lacked any power to impose taxes, and, because there was no national executive or judiciary, it relied on state authorities, who were often uncooperative, to enforce all its acts. It also had no authority to override tax laws and tariffs between states. The Articles required unanimous consent from all the states before they could be amended and states took the central government so lightly that their representatives were often absent. For lack of a quorum, Congress was frequently blocked from making even moderate changes.
The Confederation Congress endorsed the plan to revise the Articles of Confederation on February 21, 1787. Twelve states, Rhode Island being the only exception, accepted this invitation and sent delegates to convene in May 1787. The decision was made to draft a new fundamental government design which eventually stipulated that only 9 of the 13 states would have to ratify for the new government to go into effect. These actions were criticized by some as exceeding the convention's mandate and existing law. However, Congress, noting dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation government, unanimously agreed to submit the proposal to the states despite what some perceived as the exceeded terms of reference. On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was completed in Philadelphia, followed by a speech given by Benjamin Franklin. In it he talked about how he wasn't completely satisfied with it but that perfection would never fully be achieved. He accepted the document as it was and he wanted all those against the ratification of it to do the same. The new government it prescribed came into existence on March 4, 1789, after fierce fights over ratification in many of the states.
Text of the Constitution
The text of the Constitution can be divided into nine sections: the preamble, 7 articles, and the conclusion. (Note that the preamble and conclusion headings are not part of the text of the document) (though the articles have headings labeled Article I-Article VII).
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.
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five and Georgia three.
When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.
The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.
No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.
The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of choosing Senators.
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.
Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.
The Congress shall have power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;
To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.
No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.
No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.
No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.
No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.
No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.
No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.
No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two-thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice-President.
The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
The President shall have power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.
In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.
Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.
The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.
The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.
Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names.
- Virginia: George Washington
- Delaware: George Read, Gunning Bedford, Jr., John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, Jacob Broom
- Maryland: James McHenry, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, Daniel Carroll
- Virginia: John Blair, James Madison Jr.
- North Carolina: William Blount, Richard Dobbs Spaight, Hugh Williamson
- South Carolia: John Rutledge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, Pierce Butler
- Georgia: William Few, Abraham Baldwin
- New Hampshire: John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman
- Massachusetts: Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King
- Connecticut: William Samuel Johnson, Roger Sherman
- New York: Alexander Hamilton
- New Jersey: William Livingston, David Brearly, William Paterson, Jonathan Dayton
- Pennsylvania: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Mifflin, Robert Morris, George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimons, Jared Ingersoll, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris
Analysis of the text
This section describes each section of the Constitution.
Analysis of the Preamble
The Preamble neither grants any powers nor inhibits any actions; it only explains the rationale behind the Constitution. The Preamble, especially the first three words ("We the people"), is one of the most quoted and referenced sections of the Constitution.
Analysis of Article I
Article I establishes the legislative branch of government, U.S. Congress, which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Article establishes the manner of election and qualifications of members of each House. In addition, it provides for free debate in congress and limits self-serving behavior of congressmen, outlines legislative procedure and indicates the powers of the legislative branch. Finally, it establishes limits on federal and state legislative power.
Analysis of Article II
Article II describes the presidency (the executive branch): procedures for the selection of the president, qualifications for office, the oath to be affirmed and the powers and duties of the office. It also provides for the office of Vice President of the United States, and specifies that the Vice President succeeds to the presidency if the President is incapacitated, dies, or resigns, although whether this succession was on an acting or permanent basis was unclear until the passage of the 25th Amendment.
Article II also provides for the impeachment and removal from office of civil officers
Analysis of Article III
Article III describes the court system (the judicial branch), including the Supreme Court. The article requires that there be one court called the Supreme Court; Congress, at its discretion, can create lower courts, whose judgments and orders are reviewable by the Supreme Court. Article Three also requires trial by jury in all criminal cases, defines the crime of treason, and charges Congress with providing for a punishment for it, while imposing limits on that punishment.
Analysis of Article IV
Article IV describes the relationship between the states and the Federal government, and amongst the states. For instance, it requires states to give "full faith and credit" to the public acts, records and court proceedings of the other states. Congress is permitted to regulate the manner in which proof of such acts, records or proceedings may be admitted. The "privileges and immunities" clause prohibits state governments from discriminating against citizens of other states in favor of resident citizens (e.g., having tougher penalties for residents of Ohio convicted of crimes within Arizona). It also establishes extradition between the states, as well as laying down a legal basis for freedom of movement and travel amongst the states. Today, this provision is sometimes taken for granted, especially by citizens who live near state borders; but in the days of the Articles of Confederation, crossing state lines was often a much more arduous (and costly) process. Article IV also provides for the creation and admission of new states. The Territorial Clause gives Congress the power to make rules for disposing of Federal property and governing non-state territories of the United States. Finally, the fourth section of Article IV requires the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government, and to protect the states from invasion and violence.
Analysis of Article V
Article V describes the process necessary to amend the Constitution. It establishes two methods of proposing amendments: by Congress or by a national convention requested by the states. Under the first method, Congress can propose an amendment by a two-thirds vote (of a quorum, not necessarily of the entire body) of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. Under the second method, two-thirds of the state legislatures may convene and "apply" to Congress to hold a national convention, whereupon Congress must call such a convention for the purpose of considering amendments. Thus far, only the first method (proposal by Congress) has been used.
Once proposed—whether submitted by a national convention or by Congress—amendments must then be ratified by three-fourths of the states to take effect. Article V gives Congress the option of requiring ratification by state legislatures or by special conventions assembled in the states. The convention method of ratification has been used only once (to approve the 21st Amendment). Article V currently places only one limitation on the amending power—that no amendment can deprive a state of its equal representation in the Senate without that state's consent.
Analysis of Article VI
Article VI establishes the Constitution, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in accordance with it, to be the supreme law of the land. It also validates national debt created under the Articles of Confederation and requires that all legislators, federal officers, and judges take oaths to support the Constitution.
Analysis of Article VII
Article VII sets forth the requirements for ratification of the Constitution. The Constitution would not take effect until at least nine states had ratified the Constitution in state conventions specially convened for that purpose. New Hampshire became that ninth state on June 21, 1788. Once the Congress of the Confederation received word of New Hampshire's ratification, it set a timetable for the start of operations under the Constitution, and, on March 4, 1789, the government under the Constitution began operations.
The Constitution was ratified by the states in the following order:
|1||December 7, 1787||Delaware||30||0||100%|
|2||December 12, 1787||Pennsylvania||46||23||67%|
|3||December 18, 1787||New Jersey||38||0||100%|
|4||January 2, 1788||Georgia||26||0||100%|
|5||January 9, 1788||Connecticut||128||40||76%|
|6||February 6, 1788||Massachusetts||187||168||53%|
|7||April 28, 1788||Maryland||63||11||85%|
|8||May 23, 1788||South Carolina||149||73||67%|
|9||June 21, 1788||New Hampshire||57||47||55%|
|10||June 25, 1788||Virginia||89||79||53%|
|11||July 26, 1788||New York||30||27||53%|
|12||November 21, 1789||North Carolina||194||77||72%|
|13||May 29, 1790||Rhode Island||34||32||52%|
Analysis of the Conclusion
The Conclusion ends the Constitution and is basically a summary of the document's date of completion and contains the delegate's signatures.
Provisions for amendments
The authors of the Constitution were aware that changes would be necessary from time to time if the Constitution was to endure and cope with the effects of the growth of the nation. However, they were also conscious that such a change should not be easy, in case it permits ill-conceived and hastily passed amendments. They also wanted to ensure that an amendment would not block action desired by the vast majority of the population. Their solution was to devise a dual process by which the Constitution could be altered.
The first option must begin in Congress which, by a two-thirds of the members vote in each house, may initiate an amendment. Alternatively, the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states may ask Congress to call a national convention to discuss and draft amendments. To date, all amendments have been proposed by Congress. The second option is that two-thirds of the state legislatures may convene and "apply" to Congress to hold a national convention, whereupon Congress must call such a convention for the purpose of considering amendments. Although state legislatures have occasionally requested the calling of a convention, no such request has yet received the concurrence required for such a convention. As of mid-2006, only the first method (proposal by Congress) has been used.
In either case, an amendment must have the approval of the legislatures or of smaller ratifying conventions within three-fourths of the states before becoming a part of the Constitution. All amendments except one have been submitted to the state legislatures for ratification; only the 21st amendment was ratified by individual conventions in the states.
Unlike most constitutions, amendments to the United States Constitution are appended to the existing body of the text, rather than being revisions of or insertions into the main articles. There is no provision for expunging from the text obsolete or rescinded provisions.
Some people feel that demographic changes in the U.S.—specifically the great disparity in population between states—have made the Constitution too difficult to amend, with states representing as little as 4% of the population theoretically able to block an amendment desired by over 90% of Americans; others feel that it is unlikely that such an extreme result would occur. However, any proposals to change this would necessarily involve amending the Constitution itself.
Congressional legislation, passed to implement provisions of the Constitution or to adapt those implementations to changing conditions, also broadens and, in subtle ways, changes the meanings given to the words of the Constitution. Up to a point, the rules and regulations of the many agencies of the federal government have a similar effect. In case of objection, the test in both cases is whether, in the opinion of the courts, such legislation and rules conform with the meanings given to the words of the Constitution.
The Constitution has a total of 27 amendments. The first ten, written in the Bill of Rights, another Charter of Freedom, were ratified simultaneously. The following seventeen were ratified separately.
The Bill of Rights (1-10)
The Bill of Rights comprises the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Those amendments were adopted between 1789 and 1791, and all relate to limiting the power of the federal government. They were added in response to criticisms of the Constitution by the state ratification conventions and by prominent individuals such as Thomas Jefferson. These critics argued that without further restraints, the strong central government would become tyrannical. The amendments were proposed by Congress as part of a block of twelve in September 1789. By December 1791 a sufficient number of states had ratified ten of the twelve proposals, and the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution. One of the failed proposals has yet to be ratified, while the other became the 27th amendment in 1992.
Subsequent amendments (11–27)
The 17 Additional amendments to the United States Constitution ratified after the Bill of Rights cover many subjects. The majority of the seventeen later amendments stem from continued efforts to expand individual civil or political liberties, while a few are concerned with modifying the basic governmental structure drafted in Philadelphia in 1787. Although the United States Constitution has been amended a total of 17 times, only 16 of the amendments are currently used because Amendment XXI supersedes Amendment XVIII.
Over 10,000 Constitutional amendments have been introduced in Congress since 1789; in a typical Congressional year in the last several decades, between 100 and 200 are offered. Most of these concepts never get out of Congressional committee, much less get proposed by the Congress for ratification. Backers of some amendments have attempted the alternative, and thus far never-utilized, method mentioned in Article V.
Amendment XVIII is the only amendment to be directly and specifically repealed by another (Amendment XXI). The episode highlighted the importance of proposing and ratifying only the most important, and least evanescent, of amendments.
Of the thirty-three amendments that have been proposed by Congress, six have failed ratification by the required three-quarters of the state legislatures—and four of those six are still technically pending before state lawmakers. Starting with the 18th amendment, each proposed amendment (except for the 19th Amendment and for the still-pending Child Labor Amendment of 1924) has specified a deadline for passage. The following are the unratified amendments:
- The Congressional Apportionment Amendment proposed by the 1st Congress on September 25, 1789, defined a formula for how many members there would be in the United States House of Representatives after each decennial census. Ratified by eleven states, the last being Kentucky in June 1792 (Kentucky's initial month of statehood), this amendment contains no expiration date for ratification. In principle it may yet be ratified, though as written it became moot when the population of the United States reached ten million.
- The so-called missing thirteenth amendment, or "Titles of Nobility Amendment" (TONA), proposed by the 11th Congress on May 1, 1810, would have ended the citizenship of any American accepting "any Title of Nobility or Honour" from any foreign power. Some scholars maintain that the amendment was actually ratified by the legislatures of enough states, and that a conspiracy has suppressed it. Known to have been ratified by lawmakers in twelve states, the last in 1812, this amendment contains no expiration date for ratification. It may yet be ratified.
- The Corwin amendment, proposed by the 36th Congress on March 2, 1861, would have forbidden any attempt to subsequently amend the Constitution to empower the Federal government to "abolish or interfere" with the "domestic institutions" of the states (a delicate way of referring to slavery). It was ratified by only Ohio and Maryland lawmakers before the outbreak of the Cival War. Illinois lawmakers—sitting as a state constitutional convention at the time—likewise approved it, but that action is of questionable validity. The proposed amendment contains no expiration date for ratification and may yet be ratified. However, adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments after the Civil War likely means that the amendment would be ineffective if adopted.
- A child labor amendment proposed by the 68th Congress on June 2, 1924, which stipulates: "The Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age." This amendment is now moot, since subsequent federal child labor laws have uniformly been upheld as a valid exercise of Congress' powers under the commerce clause. This amendment contains no expiration date for ratification. It may yet be ratified.
Properly placed in a separate category from the other four constitutional amendments that Congress proposed to the states, but which not enough states have approved, are the following two offerings which—due to deadlines—are no longer subject to ratification.
- The Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, which reads in pertinent part "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." Proposed by the 92nd Congress on March 22, 1972, it was ratified by the legislatures of 35 states, and expired on either March 22, 1979, or on June 30, 1982, depending upon one's point of view of a controversial ratification deadline three-year extension by the 95th Congress in 1978. Of the 35 states ratifying it, four later rescinded their ratifications prior to the extended ratification period which commenced March 23, 1979 and a fifth—while not going so far as to actually rescind its earlier ratification—adopted a resolution stipulating that its approval would not extend beyond March 22, 1979. There continues to be diversity of opinion as to whether such reversals are valid; no court has ruled on the question, including the Supreme Court. But a precedent against the validity of rescission was first established during the ratification process of the 14th Amendment when Ohio and New Jersey rescinded their earlier approvals, but yet were counted as ratifying states when the 14th Amendment was ultimately proclaimed part of the Constitution in 1868.
- The District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment was proposed by the 95th Congress on August 22, 1978. Had it been ratified, it would have granted to Washington, D.C., two Senators and at least one member of the House of Representatives as though the District of Columbia were a state. Ratified by the legislatures of only 16 states—less than half of the required 38—the proposed amendment expired on August 22, 1985.
Proposals for amendments
There are currently only a few proposals for amendments which have entered mainstream political debate. These include the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, the Balanced Budget Amendment, and the Flag-Burning Amendment.
Here are some questions to answer. If you are stumped, and need the answer, just click and drag your mouse over the space next to the question. The answer will show up. The answers to all the questions are located in this article (except question 12). (Question 12 has no right or wrong answer).
- What document did the Constitution replace? The Articles of Confederation
- Which one of the 13 states did not send a delegate to sign the Constitution? Rhode Island
- How many of the 13 states were needed to ratify this document in order for it to become functional? 9
- Who was nicknamed the "Father of the Constitution"? James Madison
- How many articles are there in the Constitution? 7
- How many delegates signed the Constitution? 39
- Which article describes how to amend the Constitution? Article V
- How many ways are there to amend the Constitution? 2
- How many times has the Constitution been amended? 27
- Which document the first ten amendments to the Constitution written on? The Bill of Rights
- Which document influenced the Constitution? The Magna Carta
- Which article do you think is the most significant and why? Answers may vary