The U.S. Constitution
The Constitution of the United States outlines the supreme laws of the United States of America. It was put into effect in 1789 and has been amended twenty-seven times. The Bill of Rights refers to the first ten amendments in the Constitution.
After declaring their independence from Britain in 1776, the newly formed United States formed their own governing authority known as Congress. Despite their courage and unity in defeating the British, the members of the First Continental Congress were divided in terms of their religions, interests, and opinions. Additionally, Congress did not hold the power to tax its people, regulate commerce, or enforce any of its rulings. The Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, became the first agreement among the 13 founding states establishing the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states. Starting on May 14, 1787, The Federal Convention convened at Independent Hall in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. It became evident that instead of revising the Articles, it became necessary to draft a new Constitution to draft a new government.
First Three articles – Outlines the separation of powers among the three branches of the United States government: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. The Legislative branch is represented by Congress, which is composed of the Senate and House of Representatives. The Executive Branch is headed by the President of the United States. Article Two describes what powers the President should have as well as his responsibilities, including reporting on the state of the Union, or the condition of the nation. The Judicial branch is represented by the federal courts and the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.
Article Four – Tells how the states should relate to one another, and explains the process by which new states are added to the union. This article also explains how U.S. territories that are not official states may be governed.
Article Five – Explains how the Constitution can be amended, or changed. The amendment process is complicated and lengthy, but this is done on purpose. Changing the Constitution is so important that in order for an amendment to be passed it must first be approved by both the Senate and House of Representatives, then ratified and given formal consent by three-fourths of the states.
Article Six – Established the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land. By ratifying the constitution, the new government would assume the national debt of the United States, and anyone wishing to work as a state or federal legislator, judge, or officer must take an oath swearing to uphold the constitution of the United States. Article Six also makes it clear that no state could create a law that conflicted with any of the laws of the U.S. Constitution.
Article Seven – The final Article essentially lists the procedures used by the original thirteen States to ratify the newly formed Constitution. Once 9 of the original 13 states had approved the Constitution, it became the law of the land.
The first 10 Amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They are a collection of laws meant to guarantee personal freedoms to those living in the U.S. These amendments were approved at the same time of the Constitution, they were meant to alleviate the fears of those who felt that the Federal government would have too much power under the proposals made by the Constitution. The amendments guarantee things like free speech, the right to religious liberty, rights to property, as well as a right to own firearms. Subsequent Amendments have been written to clarify voting rights to all people, abolish slavery, establish Presidential term limits, and define what it means to be a U.S. Citizen, among others.
You can see the actual Constitution today at the National Archives Museum in Washington D.C.
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