Constitution of United States of America Summary

Constitutional Convention

Constitution of United States of America

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Constitution of United States of America Summary

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The United States Constitution is a legal document outlining the structure of the American federal government, the division of power between the federal government and the states, and the individual rights and freedoms of American citizens. It was drafted at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, ratified in 1788, and officially came into effect in 1789. The document was created to replace the Articles of Confederation, the original governing document of the United States, which proved to be inadequate in providing the framework for a strong central government. Although the final product was the result of a collaborative effort, James Madison is frequently credited as the “Father of the Constitution” for his contributions.

The Constitution contains seven main articles and twenty-seven amendments. Article I describes the structure of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. This branch consists of two main houses of Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate. The number of representatives that each state receives in the House of Representatives is dependent on the size of the state’s population, with slaves counting as three-fifths of a person. Representatives who serve in the House are elected every two years by the states they represent. The Senate, on the other hand, consists of two senators from each state regardless of the size of the state. Each senator serves a minimum term of six years, and has one vote.

The Article goes on to describe the age, citizenship, and residency qualifications required to be eligible to serve as a Representative or Senator, the procedure for selecting replacements in both houses in the event of a vacancy, and the role of each house in impeaching and removing federal officials, including the U.S. President. After describing the structure of Congress, the Article explains that both houses may set their own rules for proceedings, and that members of Congress are barred from holding any other civil office during their term. The Article also elaborates on the process in which a bill that originates in either house of Congress becomes law, and states that revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives. Finally, the Article enumerates all the exclusive powers of Congress including levying taxes and duties, issuing currency, declaring war against foreign nations, and entering into treaties and alliances.

Articles II and III describe the executive and judiciary branches, respectively, of the federal government. Article II states that the U.S. President serves a term of four years and must be a natural born citizen of the United States. It also describes the electoral process by which Presidents are chosen and the order of succession to replace a sitting President that resigns, is removed, or dies in office. The Article also prohibits the President from earning any emoluments or income other than his salary while in office, and describes some of his main responsibilities and powers, which include vetoing legislation and appointing federal judges. Article III describes the judiciary branch of the federal government, which consists of the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts. The Article describes the Court’s purpose, jurisdiction, and role in impeachment proceedings.

The next four articles further outline the obligations of states and legally bind federal officials, as well as state legislatures, to observe the conditions set out in the Constitution. Article IV elaborates on the power of Congress to admit new states into the Union and on the obligation of states to extradite individuals charged with crimes, as well as runaway slaves and indentured servants, to the states that have jurisdiction over the individuals. Article V describes the process of amending the Constitution; two-thirds of both houses of Congress must vote to propose the amendment, which can then be passed by ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures. Article VI acknowledges the public debt and binds the members of Congress, all executive and judicial officials, and all state legislatures by oath to adhere to the Constitution. Article VII declares that the Constitution will go into effect upon the ratification of nine states, and lists the signatures of the delegates who attended the Constitutional Convention.

In addition to the seven main articles outlining the structure and powers of the federal government, the Constitution also includes twenty-seven amendments elaborating on the rights and civil liberties of private citizens, mandating equal treatment of all citizens, and elaborating on some federal powers and procedures. The first ten amendments of the Constitution are collectively called the Bill of Rights, and focus on the protection of civil liberties. Amendments I through X of the Constitution protect the right to free speech, press, religion, and assembly, protect the right to bear arms, protect against unreasonable search or seizure, protect the right to a speedy jury trial and due process of the law in criminal cases, protect from cruel or unusual punishment, and declares that all rights not explicitly given to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people.

The other seventeen amendments to the Constitution address issues of equal protection under the law, citizenship, civil rights, voting rights, and clarifications in federal procedure. Some notable amendments include the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment, which establishes birthright citizenship and promises equal protection under the law to all citizens; the Fifteenth Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote regardless of race or former servitude; the Sixteenth Amendment, which gives Congress the right to impose a federal income tax; the Nineteenth Amendment, which allows women the right to vote; the Twenty-first Amendment, which limits a President’s time in office to no more than two four-year terms; and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which sets the minimum voting age at eighteen years.

The main ideas expressed in the Constitution are the structure and functioning of federal government, checks and balances between the three branches of government, the division of power between the federal government and the states, and individual rights and liberties. The Constitution is an important document that strengthens the rudimentary framework for governance created under the Articles of Confederation. It accomplishes this by giving more details about the separate branches of government and the relationship between the branches, clarifying the division of power between Congress and state legislatures, and providing an avenue for amending the document in order to better incorporate the needs of an evolving society.