What is the United States Constitution?
The United States Constitution is the governing document of our nation, and it builds upon the Declaration of Independence. It replaces the Articles of Confederation that produced powerful states and very weak federal government.
It defines the structure of the U.S., and methods to operate the structure. It is meant to control the government, just like laws are meant to control the people.
It establishes checks and balances so no branch of government becomes too powerful over the other branches.
CONGRESS: The founders thought the Congress should have the most power because it most closely represented the people.
THE COURTS: They also thought the Judiciary branch (the Supreme Court especially) should have the least power because the judges were appointed for life, and it was the least branch to be supervised. The Executive branch was sort of in the middle between the two.
The United States Constitution
and Constitutional Law
A personal note by Roger:
In law school, I did not have to study the Constitution itself much. What I had to study was Constitutional Law — what the Courts said about the Constitution and how they interpreted it. In fact, the title of my textbook was ‘Constitutional Law’ — not ‘The Constitution.’ I don’t know if all law schools are this way in that I haven’t attended all of them.
Constitutional Law can interpret the Constitution out of existence.
A lawyer’s focus (and politicians and everyone else too) should be the Constitution itself — at least as much or more than just what modern, liberal, westernized minds think about it. I didn’t think this was right when I was in law school, but the whole implication of this didn’t really hit me until over 10 years later.
Psychology had been my undergraduate major, and I’d done a lot of thinking about how people think, and about abnormal or at least narcissistic perspectives. I knew the thinking of the court could, and probably would change at least every generation, or as often as the judges changed, and whether they were conservative (focused on preserving the original Constitution), or liberal (focused on making it fit our times and human perspectives and preferences).
My purpose here is not to try to relate everything the Constitution says and does. My goal is not education but rather edification, which means to uplift or benefit a person spiritually, morally, or in some other way — not to just give facts. Hopefully, what I have to say here will lift you higher in living in the Constitution of one of the greatest nations on earth. In other words, this is just intended to be in summary, or outline form. It is not meant to be a detailed treatise.
The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence preceded the United States Constitution. The basic purpose of the Declaration was to declare ourselves to be an independent nation and to break ties with Great Britain that declared to rule us. It lists some of the grievances against Great Britain.
The United States Constitution
NOTE: This is a very brief look at the Constitution,
but it does give a good, bird-eye overview of it.
to the United States Constitution
These 52 words are the purpose for which this nation is established. They are powerful and they are important. Don’t neglect them:
“We the people of the United States.” These beginning words are important showing this is the action of the people, not of elected officials. The Constitution had to be ratified by the people of the states, and it is the people who give their approval to be governed.
“In Order to form a more perfect Union.” By perfect union is meant states that are in agreement, harmony, unity and oneness with each other. This doesn’t mean they agree on everything, but on the big picture for which we are formed as a single body.
(1) “Establish Justice.” This means we are all created and treated equally under the law. Justice is uniform administered, not prejudiced.
(2) “Insure domestic Tranquility.” This means to live in peace inside our nation, with no fear of unfair action by our government.
(3) “Provide for the common defense.” This is our protection from nations on the outside of us who might attack us or harass us.
(4) “Promote the general Welfare.” This is not talking about all the welfare programs we see being passed today, including those for illegal immigrants. This is talking about the ‘general’ welfare of all who reside in the United States, where we are all treated equally, and have the same opportunities and freedom as everyone else.
(5) “Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” This means that we are included, and so is everyone who lives after we do, forever.
(6) “Do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This simply means that, because it has now been ordained (ratified) by the necessary number of states, it is now established as the supreme, highest law in this nation.
There are 7 Articles in the United States Constitution
(Remember this is only a summary)
Here is the Constitution’s whole text in the National Archives:
Article 1. The Congress
This is the longest article in the Constitution. It has a lot of factual information. Much of it can be read on a ‘need to know’ basis, and my purpose here is to give you a very basic understanding of what it says.
Simply stated, what this article describes are the two parts of the Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. They are responsible for making the laws, on a national level, that we must live by. Of course there are other levels of law makers from state to communities.
This Article has a lot of facts about the Congress. These are things like the age to serve, how members are elected, and how long they serve. It defines a quorum, and how members are disciplined, and how records are kept. It describes their pay, and how bills must be presented if they are to become law, and how a bill is vetoed. It describes the ability of the Congress to declare war, establish courts, regulate interstate commerce, print money and tax. There are other things Congress can and cannot do that take pages to describe.
What is important to know is what the Congress does as I’ve just very briefly outlined. If you need to know something specific, read the whole Article, or the section that is appropriate to the subject you are inquiring about.
Article 2. The Executive Branch
This branch is like the ‘CEO’ of a corporation. It is responsible for running the day by day operations of our nation, under the laws passed by Congress. This is of course the President, the Vice President, and those officials appointed under them.
The President and Vice President are elected for four years, with a maximum of two terms (as described by a later amendment). This article describes their age, their nationality, their salary, and other things.
The President is the commander and chief of the armed forces. He has a cabinet under him, and he can pick judges and other members of the national government. He can make treaties with other nations, with approval of the Senate, meets with dignitaries of other nations, and he can pardon criminals.
The President must give at least an annual speech to the nation, and can make requests of Congress, and insures the laws of the United States are enforced. It also describes how the President can be impeached (forced to leave office).
Article 3. The Judicial Branch
The judicial branch means the courts that interpret the laws made by Congress, and enforced by the President. It includes the Supreme Court, and lower courts created by Congress, whose judges are appointed by the President.
In deciding if a law is valid, the foundational decision is whether it complies with the Constitution of the United States. Thus the courts interpret the Constitution, which is what I mentioned earlier about ‘Constitutional Law.’ If a court is what is called ‘conservative,’ it tries to follow the Constitution verbatim, like the founding fathers meant. If a court is what is called ‘liberal,’ it tries to interpret the Constitution in line with what it thinks modern society would prefer today: in line with their expectancies and preferences. The former is sometimes called an historical approach, and the second a modern approach.
The article says the judges are appointed to serve for their lifetime unless they decide to retire. It talks about the type of cases the Supreme Court must decide, and it guarantees a trial by jury in criminal cases. It describes what treason is.
Article 4. The States
This article describes states’ rights and responsibilities in functioning with the federal government. “Full faith and credit” means that each state honors the laws of all other states. The citizens of any state must be treated in the same fairness as those citizens of any other state. It also talks about extradition: where a state must return an accused criminal to a state accusing them.
This section describes how a new state can be formed, and the control of federal lands. It ensures a peoples’ government, where it’s a government ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’ — at least in theory. It also speaks of states being protected from invasion by the federal government.
Article 5. Amending the Constitution
This article says the only way the Constitution can be changed is by passing an amendment. This is defined as meaning 2/3rds of the House of Representatives and also the Senate (the Congress described in Article 1). In addition, 3/4ths of the states must also approve any amendment.
Article 6. The Supremacy of the Constitution
This article says the Constitution is the highest law in our nation, and all of the states, officers and judges must uphold the Constitution, together with all laws and treaties passed in the appropriate manner. It also requires any officer of the United States, when taking office, to take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution.
Article 7. Ratification of the Constitution
This describes how the states must ratify the Constitution, which has already been done. This said the people (by means of conventions) in 9 of the 13 states were required to pass the Constitution. This goes back to ‘We the People’ clause of the Preamble.