The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States governmentand for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.
The first three Articles of the Constitution establish the three branches of the national government: a legislature, the bicameral Congress; an executive branch led by thePresident; and a judicial branch headed by the Supreme Court. They also specify the powers and duties of each branch. All unenumerated powers are reserved to the respective states and the people, thereby establishing the federal system of government.
The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified by conventions in each U.S. state in the name of “The People”. It has been amended twenty-seven times; the first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.
The United States Constitution is the second oldest written constitution still in use by any nation in the world after the 1600 Statutes of San Marino. It holds a central place in United States law and political culture. The handwritten original document penned by Jacob Shallus is on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.
The Constitution consists of a preamble, seven original articles, twenty-seven amendments, and a paragraph certifying its enactment by the constitutional convention.
Authority and purpose
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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.
—United States Constitution, Preamble
Article One: Legislature
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Article One describes the Congress, thelegislative branch of the federal government. The United States Congress is abicameral body consisting of two co-equal houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The article establishes the manner of election and the qualifications of members of each body. Representatives must be at least 25 years old, be a citizen of the United States for seven years, and live in the state they represent. Senators must be at least 30 years old, be a citizen for nine years, and live in the state they represent.
Article I, Section 1, reads, “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.” This provision gives Congress more than simply the responsibility to establish the rules governing its proceedings and for the punishment of its members; it places the power of the government primarily in Congress.
Article I Section 8 enumerates the legislative powers. The powers listed and all other powers are made the exclusive responsibility of the legislative branch:
The Congress shall have power… 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 United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause and theNecessary and Proper Clause in Article One to allow Congress to enact legislation that is neither expressly listed in the enumerated power nor expressly denied in the limitations on Congress. In McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the United States Supreme Court fell back on the strict construction of the necessary and proper clause to read that Congress had “[t]he foregoing powers and all other powers…”
Article Two: Executive
Main article: Article Two of the United States Constitution
Section analysis Section 1 creates the presidency. The section states that the executive power is vested in a President. The presidential term is four years and the Vice President serves the identical term. This section originally set the method of electing the President and Vice President, but this method has been superseded by the Twelfth Amendment.
· Qualifications. The President must be a natural born citizen of the United States, at least 35 years old and a resident of the United States for at least 14 years. An obsolete part of this clause provides that instead of being a natural born citizen, a person may be a citizen at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. The reason for this clause was to extend eligibility to Citizens of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, regardless of their place of birth, who were born under the allegiance of a foreign sovereign before the founding of the United States. Without this clause, no one would have been eligible to be president until thirty-five years after the founding of the United States.
· Succession. Section 1 specifies that the Vice President succeeds to the presidency if the President is removed, unable to discharge the powers and duties of office, dies while in office, or resigns. The original text (“the same shall devolve”) left it unclear whether this succession was intended to be on an acting basis (merely taking on the powers of the office) or permanent (assuming the Presidency itself). After the death of William Henry Harrison,John Tyler set the precedent that the succession was permanent; this practice was followed when later presidents died in office. Today the 25th Amendment states that the Vice President becomes President upon the death or disability of the President.
· Pay. The President receives “Compensation” for being the president, and this compensation may not be increased or decreased during the president’s term in office. The president may not receive other compensation from either the United States or any of the individual states.
· Oath of office. The final clause creates the presidential oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.
Section 2 grants substantive powers to the president:
· The president is the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces, and of the state militias when these are called into federal service.
· The president may require opinions of the principal officers of the federal government.
· The president may grant reprieves and pardons, except in cases of impeachment (i.e., the president cannot pardon himself or herself to escape impeachment by Congress).
Section 2 grants and limits the president’s appointment powers:
· The president may make treaties, with the advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the senators who are present agree.
· With the advice and consent of the Senate, the President may appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not otherwise described in the Constitution.
· Congress may give the power to appoint lower officers to the President alone, to the courts, or to the heads of departments.
· The president may make any of these appointments during a congressional recess. Such a “recess appointment” expires at the end of the next session of Congress.
Section 3 opens by describing the president’s relations with Congress:
· The president reports on the state of the union.
· The president may convene either house, or both houses, of Congress.
· When the two houses of Congress cannot agree on the time of adjournment, the president may adjourn them to some future date.
Section 3 adds:
· The president receives ambassadors.
· The president sees that the laws are faithfully executed.
· The president commissions all the offices of the federal government.
Section 4 provides for removal of the president and other federal officers. The president is removed on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Article Three: Judiciary
Main article: Article Three of the United States Constitution
See also: wikisource:Constitution of the United States of America#Article IIIArticle Three describes the court system (the judicial branch), including theSupreme 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 creates the right to trial by jury in all criminal cases, defines the crime of treason, and charges Congress with providing for a punishment for it. This Article also sets the kinds of cases that may be heard by the federal judiciary, which cases the Supreme Court may hear first (called original jurisdiction), and that all other cases heard by the Supreme Court are by appeal under such regulations as the Congress shall make.
Article Four: The States
Article Four outlines the relation between the states and the relation between the federal government. In addition, it provides for such matters as admitting new states as well as border changes between 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” clauseprohibits state governments from discriminating against citizens of other states in favor of resident citizens (e.g., having tougher penalties for residents of Ohioconvicted of crimes within Michigan).
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 Four 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 Four requires the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government, and to protect the states from invasion and violence.
Article Five: Amendments
Main article: Article Five of the United States Constitution
An amendment may be ratified in three ways:
- The new amendment may be approved by two-thirds of both houses of Congress, then sent to the states for approval.
- Two-thirds of the state legislatures may apply to Congress for a constitutional convention to consider amendments, which are then sent to the states for approval.
- Congress may require ratification by special convention. The convention method has been used only once, to approve the 21st Amendment (repealing prohibition, 1933).
Regardless of the method of proposing an amendment, final ratification requires approval by three-fourths of the states.
Today Article Five places only one limit on the amending power: no amendment may deprive a state of equal representation in the Senate without that state’s consent. The original Article V included other limits on the amending power regarding slavery and taxation; however, these limits expired in 1808.
Article Six: Central government
Article Six establishes the Constitution, and the laws and treaties of the United States made according to it, to be the supreme law of the land, and that “the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the laws or constitutions of any state notwithstanding.” It also validates national debt created under the Articles of Confederation and requires that all federal and state legislators, officers, and judges take oaths or affirmations to support the Constitution. This means that the states’ constitutions and laws should not conflict with the laws of the federal constitution and that in case of a conflict, state judges are legally bound to honor the federal laws and constitution over those of any state.
Article Six also states “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Article Seven: Ratification
Main article: Article Seven of the United States Constitution
Article Seven 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, and it would only apply to those states that ratified it. (See above Drafting and ratification requirements.)