The Constitution is often hailed as a marvel of brevity and of clarity. It was, however, written in the 18th century, and many of the ideas, concepts, words, phrases, and euphemisms seem odd to us today, if not down right foreign. Some of the more obscure words are defined in Constitution Vocabulary List.
But what of the Constitution itself? What does it mean? What does each article, each section, say?
This page is like a synopsis or summary of the Constitution, article by article. This should not be taken as a substitute for the Constitution, but more like a study guide.to the Constitution has no force in law; instead, it establishes the "Why" of the Constitution. Why is this document in existence? It reflects the desires of the Framers to create a new nation which would be just, would protect its citizens, and would be of benefit to the people, rather than to its detriment. And, perhaps as importantly, it intended to do so for the future generations of Americans.Article 1establishes the first of the three branches of the government, the LegislatureArticle 2
Section 1establishes the name of the Legislature to be The Congress, a bicameral, or two-part, body.Section 2defines the House of Representatives, known as the lower house of Congress. It establishes a few minimum requirements, like a 25-year-old age limit, and establishes that the people themselves will elect the members for two years each. The members of the House are divided among the states proportionally, or according to size, giving more populous states more representatives in the House. The leader of the House is the Speaker of the House, chosen by the members.Section 3defines the upper house of Congress, the Senate. Again, it establishes some minimum requirements, such as a 30-year-old age limit. Senators were originally appointed by the legislatures of the individual states, though this later changed. They serve for six years each. Each state has equal suffrage in the Senate, meaning that each state has the exact same number of Senators, two each, regardless of the population. This Section introduces the Vice-President, who is the leader of the Senate (called the President of the Senate); the Vice-President does not vote unless there is a tie.Section 4says that each state may establish its own methods for electing members of the Congress, and mandates, or requires, that Congress must meet at least once per year.Section 5says that Congress must have a minimum number of members present (quorum) in order to meet, and that it may set fines for members who do not show up. It says that members may be expelled, that each house must keep a journal to record proceedings and votes, and that neither house can adjourn without the permission of the other.Section 6establishes that members of Congress will be paid, that they cannot be detained while traveling to and from Congress, that they cannot hold any other office in the government while in the Congress.Section 7details how bills become law (SEE CHEAT SHEET - click here). First, any bill for raising money (such as by taxes or fees) must start out in the House. All bills must pass both houses of Congress in the exact same form. Bills that pass both houses are sent to the President. He can either sign the bill, in which case it becomes law, or he can veto it. In the case of a veto, the bill is sent back to Congress, and if both houses pass it by a two-thirds majority, the bill becomes law over the President's veto. This is known as overriding a veto.Section 8
There are a couple more options for the President - if he does not veto a bill, nor sign it, for ten days after it has been sent to him, it becomes law anyway. The last option, known as a pocket veto, occurs if Congress sends the bill to the President and they then adjourn. If the President does not sign the bill within 10 days, it does not become law.lists specific powers (designated powers) of Congress, including the power to establish and maintain an army and navy, to establish post offices, to create courts, to regulate commerce between the states, to declare war, and to raise money. It also includes a clause known as the Elastic Clause which allows it to pass any law necessary for the carrying out of the previously listed powers.Section 9places certain limits on Congress. Certain legal items, such as suspension of habeas corpus, bills of attainder, and ex post facto laws are prohibited. No law can give preference to one state over another; no money can be taken from the treasury except by duly passed law, and no title of nobility, such as Prince or Marquis, will ever be established by the government.Section 10,finally, prohibits the states from several things. They cannot make their own money, or declare war, or do most of the other things prohibited Congress in Section 9. They cannot tax goods from other states, nor can they have navies.establishes the second of the three branches of government, the Executive.
Section 1establishes the office of the President and the Vice-President, and sets their terms to be four years. Presidents are elected by the Electoral College, whereby each state has one vote for each member of Congress. Originally, the President was the person with the most votes and the Vice-President was the person with the second most, though this is later changed. Certain minimum requirements(qualifications) are established again, such as a 35-year minimum age. Presidents must also be a natural-born citizen of the United States. The President is to be paid a salary, which cannot change, up or down, as long as he in is office.Section 2gives the President some important powers. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and of the militia (National Guard) of all the states; he has a Cabinet to aid him, and can pardon criminals. He makes treaties with other nations, and picks many of the judges and other members of the government (all with the approval of the Senate).Section 3establishes the duties of the President: to give a state of the union address, to make suggestions to Congress, to act as head of state by receiving ambassadors and other heads of state, and to be sure the laws of the United States are carried out.Section 4
briefly discusses the removal of the President, called impeachment.
Article 3 -establishes the last of the three branches of government, the Judiciary.Article 4 concerns the states.
Section 1establishes the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States. It also sets the terms of judges, of both the Supreme Court and lower courts, to be for life, and that judges shall be paid.Section 2sets the kinds of cases that may be heard by the federal judiciary, which cases the Supreme Court may hear first (called original jurisdiction), and that all other cases heard by the Supreme Court are by appeal. It also guarantees trial by jury in criminal court.Section 3defines, without any question, what the crime of treason is.Section 1Article 5mandates that all states will honor the laws of all other states; this ensures, for example, that a couple married in Florida is also considered married by Arizona, or that someone convicted of a crime in Virginia is considered guilty by Wyoming.Section 2guarantees that citizens of one state be treated equally and fairly like all citizens of another. It also says that if a person accused of a crime in one state flees to another will be returned to the state that person fled from. This section also has a clause dealing with fugitive slaves that no longer applies.Section 3concerns the admittance of new states and the control of federal lands.Section 4ensures a republican form of government (one where the state derives its power from the people) and guarantees that the federal government will protect the states against invasion and insurrection.details the method of amending, or changing, the Constitution. Please see The Amendments Page for more information.Article 6concerns the United States itself. First, it guarantees that the United States under the Constitution would assume all debts and contracts entered into by the United States under the Articles of Confederation. It sets the Constitution and all laws and treaties of the United States to be the supreme law of the country. Finally, it requires all officers of the United States and of the states to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States and the Constitution when taking office.Article 7detailed the method for ratification, or acceptance, of the Constitution: of the original 13 states in the United States, nine had to accept the Constitution before it would officially go into effect.