|United States Constitution|
Page one of the original copy of the Constitution
|Created||September 17, 1787|
|Ratified||June 21, 1788|
|Authors||Delegates of the Philadelphia Convention|
|Signers||39 of the 55 Philadelpha Convention delegates|
|Purpose||National constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation|
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. It was adopted in its original form on September 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and later ratified by the people in conventions in each state in the name of "We the People." The Constitution has a central place in American law and political culture.
The U.S. Constitution is the oldest written national constitution except possibly for San Marino's Statutes of 1600, whose status as a true constitution is disputed by scholars. The significance of the U. S. Constitution to the creation of democracy is hard to overstate. It is one of the most emulated political documents in modern history, and its famous preamble lays out the marker for new era in which the people themselves figure in the decisions of government, creating a new level of accountability. The constitution represents a grand bargain, a social contract between the government and its citizenry that creates the basis to balance public and private interests.
On September 1786, commissioners from five states met in the Annapolis Convention to discuss adjustments to the Articles of Confederation that would improve commerce. They invited state representatives to convene in Philadelphia to discuss improvements to the federal government. After debate, 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 resolution calling the Convention specified its purpose was to propose amendments to the Articles, but the Convention decided to propose a rewritten Constitution. The Philadelphia Convention voted to keep deliberations secret and decided 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 (for the participating states).
The Virginia Plan was the unofficial agenda for the Convention, it was drafted chiefly by James Madison. It was weighted toward the interests of the larger states and proposed among other points:
An alternative proposal, the New Jersey Plan, gave states equal weights and was supported by the smaller states.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut brokered The Great Compromise whereby the House would represent population, the Senate would represent states, and a powerful president would be elected by elite electors. Slavery was not explicitly mentioned but 3/5 of the number of slaves would be counted toward the population used to apportion the House, and runaway slaves would have to be returned.
|Ratification of the Constitution|
|1||December 7, 1787||Delaware||30||0|
|2||December 12, 1787||Pennsylvania||46||23|
|3||December 18, 1787||New Jersey||38||0|
|4||January 2, 1788||Georgia||26||0|
|5||January 9, 1788||Connecticut||128||40|
|6||February 6, 1788||Massachusetts||187||168|
|7||April 28, 1788||Maryland||63||11|
|8||May 23, 1788||South Carolina||149||73|
|9||June 21, 1788||New Hampshire||57||47|
|10||June 25, 1788||Virginia||89||79|
|11||July 26, 1788||New York||30||27|
|12||November 21, 1789||North Carolina||194||77|
|13||May 29, 1790||Rhode Island||34||32|
Contrary to the process for "alteration" spelled out in Article 13 of the Articles of Confederation, Congress submitted the proposal to the states and set the terms for representation.
On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was completed in Philadelphia at the Federal Convention, followed by a speech given by Benjamin Franklin who urged unanimity, although they decided they only needed nine states to ratify the constitution for it to go into effect. The Convention submitted the Constitution to the Congress of the Confederation, where it received approval according to Article 13 of the Articles of Confederation, but the resolution of the Congress submitting the Constitution to the states for ratification and agreeing with its provision for implementation upon ratification by nine states is contrary to Article 13, though eventually all thirteen states did ratify the Constitution, albeit after it took effect.
After fierce fights over ratification in many of the states, 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.
Several of the ideas in the Constitution were new, and a large number of ideas were drawn from the literature of Republicanism in the United States, from the experiences of the 13 states, and from the British experience with mixed government. The most important influence from the European continent was from Montesquieu, who emphasized the need to have balanced forces pushing against each other to prevent tyranny. (This in itself reflects the influence of Polybius' second century B.C.E. treatise on the checks and balances of the constitution of the Roman Republic.) John Locke is known to have been a major influence, and the due process clause of the United States Constitution was partly based on common law stretching back to the Magna Carta of 1215.
The United States Bill of Rights were the ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791, as the supporters had promised opponents during the debates of 1788. The English Bill of Rights (1689) was an inspiration for the American Bill of Rights. For example, both require jury trials, contain a right to bear arms, and prohibit excessive bail as well as "cruel and unusual punishments." Many liberties protected by state constitutions and the Virginia Declaration of Rights were incorporated into the United States Bill of Rights.
The Constitution consists of a preamble, seven original articles, twenty-seven amendments, and a paragraph certifying its enactment by the constitutional convention.
The Preamble 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 defense, 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 following interpretation makes arguments that deprecate the preamble. The statement "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense" are assertive statements.
The Preamble neither grants any powers nor inhibits any actions; it only explains the rationale behind the Constitution. The preamble is a basic statement of purpose that precedes the constitution. The Preamble, especially the first three words ("We the people"), is one of the most quoted and referenced sections of the Constitution. Indeed, they are the three most important words in the Constitution as they denote the Constitution did not come from a king or an emperor, but from the people themselves.
The language "We, the People of the United States," is of singular importance in that it provides that the power and authority of the federal government of the United States of America does not come from the several states, or even the people of the several states, but from an entity identified as the People of the United States of America, with the Constitution serving as a compact or contract between the People of the United State of America, the several States, and a newly created entity: the federal government of United States of America. The importance of this language lies in that it places the federal government of the United States of America as not derivative of its power solely from the several States. This would become a greater issue of contention during the Nullification Crisis (testing the ability of a sovereign state to nullify a federal law based upon the premise that the federal government drew its power from the several states and thus a sovereign state was free to ignore a federal law inconsistent with its own) and during the Civil War (testing the ability of a sovereign state, through its people, to secede from the Union or withdraw from the compact). This, of course, made more sense when the federal government of the United States was still one of limited enumerated powers as the Founders intended (sovereign in the enumerated areas and powerless in the others), and when both the People and the several States were represented in federal legislature (the People in the House of Representatives and the several States in the Senate before the 17th Amendment, when the state legislatures still elected a state's Senators). This language thus represented the Founders' desire for outside 'checks and balances' or divided sovereignty (the People of the United States vs. the Federal Government of the United State of America vs. the Several States) as well as inside 'checks and balances' or divided sovereignty (the legislature vs. the executive vs. the judiciary).
Article One establishes the legislative branch of government, U.S. Congress, which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. The legislative branch makes the laws. 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. There is a debate as to whether the powers listed in Article 1 Section 8 are a list of enumerated powers. These powers may also be interpreted as a list of powers formerly either executive or judicial in nature, that have been explicitly granted to the U.S. Congress. This interpretation may be further supported by a broad definition of both the commerce clause, and the necessary and proper clause of the Constitution. The argument for enumerated powers can be traced back to 1819 McCulloch v. Maryland United States Supreme Court ruling. Finally, it establishes limits on federal and state legislative power.
Article Two 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 left unclear. In practice, this has always been treated as succession, and the 25th Amendment provides explicitly for succession. Article Two also provides for the impeachment and removal from office of civil officers (the President, Vice President, judges, and others).
Article Three 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.
Article Four describes the relationship between the states and the Federal government, and among the states. 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 Michigan). It also establishes extradition between the states, as well as laying down a legal basis for freedom of movement and travel among 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 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 (2/3) 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. As of 2007, only the first method (proposal by Congress) has been used.
Once proposed—whether submitted by Congress or by a national convention—amendments must then be ratified by three-fourths (3/4) of the states to take effect. Article Five 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 Five 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.
Article Six 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, 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 legislators, federal 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 that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
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. (See above Drafting and ratification requirements.)
The authors of the Constitution were clearly aware that changes would be necessary from time to time if the Constitution was to endure and cope with the effects of the anticipated growth of the nation. However, they were also conscious that such change should not be easy, lest it permit ill-conceived and hastily passed amendments. Balancing this, they also wanted to ensure that an overly rigid requirement of unanimity 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.
Unlike most constitutions, amendments to the U.S. constitution are appended to the existing body of the text, rather than making revisions to or insertions in 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, making this extremely unlikely.
Aside from the direct process of amending the Constitution, the practical effect of its provisions may be altered by judicial decision. The United States is a common law country, and courts follow the precedents established in prior cases. However, when a Supreme Court decision clarifies the application of a part of the Constitution to existing law, the effect is to establish the meaning of that part for all practical purposes. Not long after adoption of the Constitution, in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court established the doctrine of judicial review, the power of the Court to examine legislation and other acts of Congress to decide their constitutionality. The doctrine also embraces the power of the Court to explain the meaning of various sections of the Constitution as they apply to particular cases brought before the Court. Since such cases will reflect changing legal, political, economic, and social conditions, this provides a mechanism, in practice, for adjusting the Constitution without needing to amend its text. Over the years, a series of Court decisions, on issues ranging from governmental regulation of radio and television to the rights of the accused in criminal cases, has effected a change in the way many Constitutional clauses are interpreted, without amendment to the actual text of the Constitution.
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, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified simultaneously. The following seventeen were ratified separately.
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 (who was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention). 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.
It is commonly understood that the Bill of Rights was not originally intended to apply to the states, though except where amendments refer specifically to the Federal Government or a branch thereof (as in the first amendment, under which some states in the early years of the nation officially established a religion), there is no such delineation in the text itself. Nevertheless, a general interpretation of inapplicability to the states remained until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, which stated, in part, that:
|“||No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.||”|
The Supreme Court has interpreted this clause to extend most, but not all, parts of the Bill of Rights to the states. Nevertheless, the balance of state and federal power has remained a battle in the Supreme Court.
The amendments that became the Bill of Rights were actually the last ten of the twelve amendments proposed in 1789. The second of the twelve proposed amendments, regarding the compensation of members of Congress, remained unratified until 1992, when the legislatures of enough states finally approved it and, as a result, it became the Twenty-seventh Amendment despite more than two centuries of pendency. The first of the twelve—still technically pending before the state legislatures for ratification—pertains to the apportionment of the United States House of Representatives after each decennial census. The most recent state whose lawmakers are known to have ratified this proposal is Kentucky in 1792 during that commonwealth's first month of statehood.
Amendments to the Constitution subsequent to 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 the 21st amendment supersedes the 18th.
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 Five. In two instances—reapportionment in the 1960s and a balanced federal budget during the 1970s and 1980s—these attempts have come within just two state legislative "applications" of triggering that alternative method.
Of the thirty-three amendments that have been proposed by Congress, six have failed ratification by the required three-quarters of the state legislatures, while four of those six are still technically pending before state lawmakers (see Coleman v. Miller). 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:
In a separate category from the other four constitutional amendments that Congress proposed to the states, but which not enough states have approved, the following two offerings—because of deadlines—are no longer subject to ratification.
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 Desecration Amendment.
All links retrieved January 11, 2016.
|United States Constitution|
|Formation||History • Articles of Confederation • Annapolis Convention • Philadelphia Convention • New Jersey Plan • Virginia Plan • Connecticut Compromise • Signatories • Massachusetts Compromise • Federalist Papers
|Amendments||Bill of Rights • Ratified • Proposed • Unsuccessful • Conventions to propose • State ratifying conventions
|Clauses||Appointments • Case or controversy • Citizenship • Commerce • Confrontation • Contract • Copyright • Due Process • Equal Protection • Establishment • Exceptions • Free Exercise • Full Faith and Credit • Impeachment • Natural–born citizen • Necessary and Proper • No Religious Test • Presentment • Privileges and Immunities (Art. IV) • Privileges or Immunities (14th Amend.) • Speech or Debate • Supremacy • Suspension • Takings Clause • Taxing and Spending • Territorial • War Powers
|Interpretation||Theory • Congressional enforcement • Double jeopardy • Dormant commerce clause • Enumerated powers • Executive privilege • Incorporation of the Bill of Rights • Nondelegation • Preemption • Separation of church and state • Separation of powers|
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia: