Constitution of the United States, Part II: Articles of the Constitution
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
[Note: This is the second of three articles on the Constitution of the United States. It provides the text of the Articles of the Constitution, with commentary. The entry Constitution of the United States covers the Genesis of the Constitution and its Framework.]
The Constitution of the United States
(The text of the Constitution appears below, retaining the original spelling and capitalization. Comments by Harold W. Chase on its provisions are preceded and followed by double asterisks.)
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.
**Comment: These stated objectives make clear the framers' commitment to the proposition that government should serve to enhance the value and dignity of the individual, as opposed to the proposition to which authoritarian governments have traditionally adhered, that the individual's highest duty is to serve the state.**
Section 1.All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
Section 2. The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.
When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.
The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Section 3. The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.
No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.
The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath of Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of Honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
Section 4. The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.
Section 5. Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
Section 6. The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time: and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.
Section 7. All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.
**Comment: Sections 1 to 7 of Article I define the composition of the Congress, the qualifications of its members, and the manner in which it will conduct its business.
No absolute limit was placed on the number of members of the House, but in 1913, Congress limited the membership to 435. The clause requiring that senators be chosen by their respective state legislatures was superseded by the 17th Amendment (1913), which requires the popular election of senators.
The Senate is entrusted with the power of trying all impeachments; specific directions are given as to how the trial shall be conducted and as to the impact of its judgment. The House alone has the power to impeach, however.
Significantly, there have been few impeachments, giving some credence to Thomas Jefferson's view that "experience has already shown that the impeachment the Constitution has provided is not even a scarecrow. It is a cumbersome, archaic process. ..." Both presidential impeachments (Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998-99) were highly partisan efforts, and both ended in acquittal.
Although each house is to be the judge of the elections and qualifications of its members, the Supreme Court has held, in a case involving the seating of Adam Clayton Powell in 1969, that "the Constitution leaves the House without authority to exclude any person, duly elected by his constituents, who meets all the requirements for membership expressly prescribed" in the Constitution.
The privileges and immunities of members of Congress detailed in Section 6 have come under close judicial scrutiny in recent years. The Supreme Court has supported a broad view of congressional immunity, particularly with respect to the speech or debate clause:The speech, or debate, clause was designed to assure a coequal branch of the government wide freedom of speech, debate and deliberation without intimidation or threats from the executive branch. It thus protects members against prosecutions that directly impinge upon or threaten the legislative process.The provision of Section 7, paragraph 3, that every resolution be presented to the president before it takes effect, has permitted the growth of a special use of the "concurrent resolution." It is now commonly accepted that the constitutional provision requires the president's approval only to give a resolution the force of law. Consequently, the concurrent resolution has been employed as a means of controlling or recovering power delegated by Congress to the president. For example, Congress has delegated power to the president to reorganize executive agencies on the condition that the president's orders may be vetoed within a prescribed time by a concurrent resolution.**Section 8.The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;To establish Post Offices and post Roads;To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;To provide and maintain a Navy;To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; - AndTo make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.**Comment: The framers of the Constitution undoubtedly believed that the legislative power of Congress was originally limited to the 17 specific areas listed in Article I, Section 8, plus whatever was necessary and proper for carrying them out. As John Marshall wrote for the Supreme Court in 1819, This government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers. The principle, that it can exercise only the power granted to it, would seem too apparent to have required to be enforced by all those arguments, which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge. That principle is now universally admitted.Marshall, however, added two important corollaries to constitutional doctrine, both of which have markedly influenced constitutional interpretation. The first corollary is that "the government of the Union, though limited to its powers, is supreme within its sphere of action." In other words, where Congress has the power to act, its actions take precedence over state actions. The second corollary is that the "necessary and proper" clause in paragraph 18 should be broadly construed to provide Congress "some choice of means of legislation, not strained and compressed within the narrow limits for which gentlemen contend." In practice, these corollaries have given Congress clear advantages in the continuing struggle for power between the national and state governments.Experience has shown that the enumerated powers of Section 8 do not include all matters in which congressional action might be needed. Congress has been granted other specific powers in several amendments. For example, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments assure citizens of several basic rights, and all three provide that "Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."For the most part, however, the power of the national government has been expanded not by breaching the doctrine of enumerated powers as it pertains to Congress but rather by broad interpretation of those specific powers, notably the power to regulate commerce, and by a liberal interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause.A common misconception about the U.S. political system is that Congress has the constitutional power to legislate virtually anything it deems to be for the general welfare. It is true that the Constitution gives Congress "the Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States," but this is different from giving Congress the power to legislate freely for the general welfare. Indeed, if Congress did have such a power, there would be no need to grant other enumerated powers. Congress's power to provide for the general welfare is limited to taxing and spending. Whereas these powers are considerable, clearly a great difference exists between the power to compel and the power to entice by the offer of money. Congress may try to entice the states to do something in, for example, the field of education by means of subsidies or grants, but it cannot compel them to accept the enticements.One of the great controversies about the exercise of congressional power has been over the extent to which Congress may delegate its powers to the president and others. In the days of the New Deal, in the 1930s, the Supreme Court put some checks on Congress's growing proclivity to delegate power. It held that Congress could only delegate power if it circumscribed the delegation "within prescribed limits and the determination of facts to which the policy as declared by the legislature is to apply." The question is no longer hotly discussed on the national level, partly because Congress is now careful to set standards when it delegates power, and partly because the Court has grown more permissive. On the state and municipal levels, however, delegation remains a lively issue, probably because judges feel uneasy about delegating power to government officials of less than national stature.The question of Congress's power to investigate has also aroused considerable controversy. The Supreme Court has held that this power is inherent in Congress's power to legislate and to oversee the executive branch. From time to time the Court has limited the power, when it determined that the congressional investigation served no legitimate legislative purpose, or encroached on 1st Amendment rights of witnesses, or was tantamount to punishment without judicial trial.**Section 9. The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear or pay Duties in another.No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.Section 10. No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.**Comment: Besides enumerating the powers granted to Congress, the framers wanted to make clear what Congress was expressly forbidden to do. The prohibitions they selected reflect the high value they placed on civil liberty and private property. It is no exaggeration to say that the writ of habeas corpus is the most important single safeguard of personal liberty known to Anglo-American law; here, the Constitution explicitly permits its suspension only in "Cases of Rebellion or Invasion [when] the public Safety may require it."Although the ex post facto law prohibition was later interpreted to apply only to criminal law, it was once seen as a means of protecting property holders from arbitrary government seizure of their property. Similarly, the prohibition against bills of attainder and the requirement that capitation and direct taxes be apportioned were seen as protections of property rights.Limiting Congress to enumerated powers entailed the corollary that "the powers not delegated to the United States... are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people," in the words of the 10th Amendment. Consequently, if in the interest of maintaining a viable federal system it was necessary to forbid the states to exercise certain powers, these had to be spelled out; Section 10 does so.It is noteworthy that the prohibition against bills of attainder and ex post facto laws is extended to the states. The prohibition of laws "impairing the Obligation of Contracts" is even more significant. By extending the meaning of the word contract to include public grants of land, exemptions from taxation, and charters of corporations, the Supreme Court once provided property owners with a barrier against the power of states to protect public health, safety, and morals. Later, the Court decided that a state had no right to bargain away this power. Consequently, the contract clause may no longer be used to protect vested interests.**