Completed on September 12, 1787, and later ratified by the legislatures of the original thirteen American colonies, the Constitution represents the supreme law of the United States. It created a more unified government in place of what was then a group of independent states operating under the Articles of Confederation.
- The /Preamble is a single sentence that introduces the document and its purpose:
- 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.
- /Article One describes Congress (the legislative branch) and outlines its powers and limits.
- /Article Two describes the presidency (the executive branch).
- /Article Three describes the court system (the judicial branch), including the Supreme Court.
- /Article Four describes the relationship between the states and the federal government.
- /Article Five describes the process of amendment.
- /Article Six establishes the Constitution (and treaties made in accordance with it) as the supreme law of the land.
- /Article Seven describes the method of ratification.
Bill of Rights
The presence of a "bill of rights", a list of exactly what rights are guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution, was a point of contention in the original debates. While both sides of the debate supported the protection of citizen's rights, one side worried that by enumerating particular rights, it would be assumed that citizens had no rights outside the particular ones enumerated. As a compromise, the delegates passed the Constitution, and agreed that they would later pass such as bill as a collection of amendments. Twelve such amendments were proposed; ten passed on December 15, 1791 to become what is now known as the Bill of Rights. One of the two amendments not passed was ratified over 200 years later to become Amendment Twenty-seven. The other, the original twelfth amendment, was never ratified. It is theoretically still pending, but unlikely to ever pass; it deals with setting the size of Congress, and proposes a formula that wouldn't work for today's population.
- /Amendment One Freedom of speech, religion, assembly.
- /Amendment Two Right to keep and bear arms.
- /Amendment Three Protection from quartering of troops.
- /Amendment Four Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
- /Amendment Five Due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, takings.
- /Amendment Six Trial by jury and other rights of the accused.
- /Amendment Seven Civil trial by jury.
- /Amendment Eight Prohibition of excessive bail, cruel punishment.
- /Amendment Nine Declares that other rights not listed may be protected.
- /Amendment Ten Grants residual power to the states and to the people.
- /Amendment Eleven (1795) Clarifies judicial power over foreign nationals, and limits ability of citizens to sue states.
- /Amendment Twelve (1804) Changes the method of presidential elections.
- /Amendment Thirteen (1865) Abolishes slavery.
- /Amendment Fourteen (1868) "Equal protection", congressional elections. Extends consititutional protections to non-citizens ("any persons") and is why States must comply with the Bill of Rights.
- /Amendment Fifteen (1870) Ensures right to vote for former slaves.
- /Amendment Sixteen (1913) Creates the income tax.
- /Amendment Seventeen (1913) Method for choosing Senators.
- /Amendment Eighteen (1919) Prohibition of alcohol.
- /Amendment Nineteen (1920) Women's right to vote.
- /Amendment Twenty (1933) Details of presidential succession.
- /Amendment Twenty-one (1933) Repeals prohibition of alcohol.
- /Amendment Twenty-two (1951) Limits president to two terms.
- /Amendment Twenty-three (1961) Grants electors to District of Columbia
- /Amendment Twenty-four (1964) Limits poll tax.
- /Amendment Twenty-five (1967) More presidential succession rules.
- /Amendment Twenty-six (1971) Right to vote for eighteen-year-olds.
- /Amendment Twenty-seven (1992) Limits congressional pay raises.
See also the general discussion at Constitution