Background on the U.S. Constitution
The “founding fathers” memorialized the original 13 colonies’ independence from England in the form of a singular document: the Constitution. Given that it was based to a large extent upon English legal principles, the American Constitution marked a radical departure because the English did not then, and still do not now, have a written constitution.† Rather, the English “constitution” is a somewhat fluid body of principles, which obviously offers greater malleability for modern times, compared to the staid U.S. Constitution, which may only be changed by enacting “Amendments” approved by three-fourths of the states.
Articles of the U.S. Constitution
Article I ▫ Legislative powers (Congress)
Article II ▫ Executive powers (President)
Article III ▫ Judicial powers (Supreme Court)
Article IV ▫ Full Faith and Credit
Article V ▫ Power to Amend
Article VI ▫ Supremacy Clause
Article VII ▫ Ratification
Significant Clauses in the Constitution
Some of the major clauses in the Constitution include: the “Supremacy Clause,” (VI)(2), making federal law supreme over states’ laws; “Full Faith and Credit,” (IV)(1), requiring each state to respect other states’ laws and court decisions; the “Commerce Clause,” (IV)(8)(3), giving the federal government control of commerce with foreign countries, and also between and among states.
Twenty-seven Amendments attach to the Constitution, the first ten of which, known as the “Bill of Rights,” were adopted in 1791. The most recent Amendment—proposed in 1789 and finally ratified in 1992—relates to Congressional pay raises.
1st Amendment ▫ Congress may not establish or prohibit a religion, nor abridge free speech, the press, or the right to peaceful assembly;
2nd Amendment ▫ “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”;
4th Amendment ▫ Forbidding unlawful search and seizure;
5th Amendment ▫ Persons may not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”;
6th Amendment ▫ Speedy trial; right to confront witnesses and to have defense counsel;
10th Amendment ▫ Powers not specifically given to federal government reserved to states;
13th Amendment ▫ Abolishing slavery;
14th Amendment ▫ States may not deprive persons of “life, liberty, or property,” nor deny any person equal protection of the law (as the state would give to any other person or its own citizens;
15th Amendment ▫ Voting rights for non-whites;
16th Amendment ▫ Income taxes;
19th Amendment ▫ Outlawing alcohol;
20th Amendment ▫ Women’s right to vote;
21st Amendment ▫ Repealing 18th;
22nd Amendment ▫ Two-term-limit for Presidents;
24th Amendment ▫ Abolishing “Jim Crow” poll taxes); and
26th Amendment ▫ 18 years old to vote.
† Interestingly, though, pre-1776 English statutes and court opinions largely continued as controlling law in the United States (the particularities varied state-by-state).