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Constitution of the United States

Contents Of The Constitution

The Constitution is divided into seven articles, or divisions, each addressing a different topic. Each article is divided into sections. The Constitution begins with a preamble that states the purpose of the document and the source of its power:

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. The Preamble is not strictly considered a part of the Constitution and is not legally binding on issues relating to either government power or private right (Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 25 S. Ct. 358, 49 L. Ed. 643 [1905]).

Article I Article I of the Constitution deals with the legislative branch of government. It establishes the bicameral Congress, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives, and it delineates the means by which Congressional members shall be elected, the length of their terms, and the requirements for membership, including age. It also sets forth guidelines for legislative procedure, including a requirement that bills of revenue, or taxation, must originate in the House; requirements for the process by which bills pass from Congress to the president; and the procedures in case of presidential VETO, or refusal to sign a bill into law.

Article I, Section 2, prescribes for the means of APPORTIONMENT, or the method by which representatives are allocated to the states. Because political power would inevitably flow to the states with the most congressional representatives, this topic was controversial at the time of the framing of the Constitution. Whereas each state receives two votes in the Senate, the number of representatives each state receives in the House is determined by an enumeration, or census, to be conducted every ten years.

According to this same section, a state's population is to "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." Thus, an indentured servant was counted as a whole person, and an African American slave was counted as only three-fifths of a person. This last provision arose out of differences between slave and nonslave states. Counting slaves as equal persons would have given southern states a greater number of representatives and more power in Congress. Northern states vigorously opposed such a scheme, and the resulting compromise was called the Three-fifths Compromise.

Article I, Section 8, gives Congress some of its delegated powers, many of them crucial powers that had been denied to the Congress of the Confederation. These include the powers to "lay and collect Taxes," "borrow Money," "coin Money," "establish Post Offices," "declare War," "raise and support Armies," "provide and maintain a Navy," and "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution" all the other powers. This last clause is called the NECESSARY AND PROPER CLAUSE and has been used to justify later expansion of congressional activity not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. The clause has also been called the elastic clause or implied powers clause.

A depiction of George Washington presiding over the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787.

Article I, Section 8, also gives Congress the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." This is called the COMMERCE CLAUSE. And Article I, Section 8, gives Congress power over a district to "become the Seat of the Government of the United States," later established as the District of Columbia, or Washington, D.C.

Article I, Section 9, limits congressional powers, forbidding the passage of laws prohibiting the "Migration or Importation" of persons before the year 1808. This provision was designed as a concession to slaveholding states, ensuring that the practice of SLAVERY would not be challenged for at least 20 years. Section 9 also prohibits Congress from passing any EX POST FACTO, or retroactive, laws, and from granting any "Title of Nobility."

Article I, Section 10, limits the powers of the states, prohibiting, for example, the states to enter into foreign treaties and coin money.

Article II Article II concerns the EXECUTIVE BRANCH, or the presidency. Section 1 establishes the ELECTORAL COLLEGE as the means of electing the president, identifies the requirements for holding presidential office, and outlines the procedure in case a president is removed from office or dies. It also contains the oath that the president must take before entering the office, which explicitly requires that the president support the Constitution: "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."

Article II, Section 2, names the president as commander in chief of the armed forces. It also gives the president the power to grant pardons or reprieves; make treaties with foreign powers, subject to approval by the Senate; and appoint ambassadors and Supreme Court justices.

Article II, Section 4, allows for removal and IMPEACHMENT of the president and "all civil Officers of the United States" in cases of conviction for "Treason, BRIBERY, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Article III Article III establishes the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES as the highest judicial power. Section 2 defines the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary. Section 3 defines and limits prosecution for TREASON. The power of JUDICIAL REVIEW, whereby the Supreme Court may declare laws and regulations of government to be unconstitutional, is not explicitly declared in the Constitution and was not established by the Supreme Court until the case of MARBURY V. MADISON, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803).

Article IV Article IV defines the relations between the states. It requires each state to give "full Faith and Credit" to the laws of the other states; establishes that citizens are entitled to the same "Privileges and Immunities," or liberties and rights, as citizens in every other state; provides for EXTRADITION between states of persons charged with crimes; provides for and limits the admission of new states; gives Congress full power over U.S. territories that are not yet states; and guarantees each state "a Republican Form of Government" and protection against invasion or "domestic Violence."

Article V Article V sets forth a two-step procedure for amending the Constitution: proposal of amendments, followed by ratification. Amendments may be proposed in two ways: by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a special convention called by two-thirds of the state legislatures. Amendments are ratified by one of two methods, determined by Congress: approval of three-fourths of the state legislatures or approval of three-fourths of special state conventions.

Article VI Article VI declares the Constitution and the laws and treaties made by the U.S. government under its authority to be "the supreme Law of the Land." This provision is called the SUPREMACY CLAUSE. Article VI also requires that all judges in every state be subject to the provisions of the Constitution, that all state and federal officeholders swear an oath supporting the Constitution, and that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office" of the United States.

Amendments The Constitution has been amended 26 times. The first ten amendments were ratified in 1791 and are called the BILL OF RIGHTS.

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