I’ll admit, I’m pretty burned out on the Constitutional Amendment posts. But I did promise one more post about the original document itself, so let’s go check that box.
The main body of the Constitution contains a Preamble and seven Articles. Most people would recognize the words of the Preamble:
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 has generally not been used all that much in Supreme Court rulings. That said, it wouldn’t have been written, with the words in which it was, unless someone felt it necessary. We could debate for hours on the meaning of common defense and general welfare, but if you gut the Preamble and just look at the beginning and the end, that’s probably the most powerful aspect of it: “We the People of the United States do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Not Congress, not a Government, but the People. It’s a concise expression of democracy, even if we don’t really live in one.
The first three Articles of the Constitution break it down for the three branches of Government: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.
Article I establishes the House of Representatives and the Senate, and how and when they are elected. It also contains the infamous three fifths compromise, which was thankfully overridden by later Amendments. The latter portions of Article I deal with how bills are generated and the powers of Congress regarding taxation.
Article II establishes the Presidency and the electoral rules surrounding it, including the ridiculous Electoral College. It also names the President as Commander in Chief, and requires the President to “from time to time” give a State of the Union to Congress. Section 4 of Article II has received special attention of late:
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.
While it makes for spirited conversation, it’s unlikely to become anything more than that with our current Government; only the House can impeach, but only the Senate can convict.
Article III establishes the Supreme Court and goes on a bit about treason. Interestingly, it says nothing about how many members the Supreme Court should have. Congress set the initial number at five in 1801, then upped it to seven in 1807 and nine in 1837. In 1863, it actually hit ten before being reduced again.
Article IV goes into the power of the states and their citizens, including how to handle persons charged with crimes moving from one state into another. It also specifies that new states may be admitted into the Union by Congress, but not by extracting from or merging existing states (unless so approved by the respective state legislatures). Finally, it guarantees a Republican (the type of rule, not the party, which didn’t exist yet) form of Government to every state and protection of states against invasion.
Article V establishes the Amendment process, and since it’s relatively short and the basis for the previous year’s worth of posts on this site, here it is:
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.
Article VI is a collection point for other miscellaneous items: debts remaining from the previous Articles of Confederation era; the supremacy of the Constitution; the binding of Government officials to supporting the Constitution; and a note that no religious test can ever be applied as a qualification for public office.
Article VII is the shortest…
The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.
…and its work is done here.
And so is mine. Check.