It’s no secret that there is a current emphasis on the Constitution in these days. For many are claiming one thing or another that the Constitution says and guarantees. So, it is vitally important to know the document itself, it’s pieces, principles, and powers. Our purpose in this 4-part review is to look at those pieces, principles and powers so that you can be refreshed in your understanding of our great document and equipped to support and defend it.
There are only 3 pieces to the Constitution.
The 1st piece is the Preamble. This is like an opening or introductary paragraph.
The 2nd piece is the Articles. There are 7 articles and each of them explicitly lays out the details of how our government is structured, who makes up each part, what their responsibilities are, and their qualifications. Additionally, these articles deal with how the nation does business and deals with other nations, and how the federal government and each state government work together.
The 3rd piece is the Amendments. These are the now 27 amendments, or changes that have been made to the Constitution since it was ratified.
As far as guiding principles found in the Constitution, we would have to mention these:
Self-givernment – the framers were firm in their resolve that America NOT be like their former homeland with a Monarch and where the people had little voice. Therefore, they chose to create a government in which the people’s voice directed the shape and direction of the leaders in government and the nation.
Liberty – Giving the people as much individual freedom as possible was a priority of the framers. That is why, in the ratification process, there were states that refused to ratify the Constitution unless and until a Bill of Rights was added that would ennumerate the freedoms provided by and protected by this new government.
Federalism – This gives certain, clearly defined and limited powers to a strong, central government but also specifically reserves the other powers to the states.
Separation of Powers – Not wanting any one person or branch to have too much power, our framers set out a structure of government that keeps three branches separate but equal. Included here comes the responsibility of those separate powers to check on the other two branches.
Let’s look now more closely at The Preamble.
“WE THE PEOPLE” is the best known phrase from the Constitution and is the first three words of the Preamble. Listed in this brief, introductory paragraph are the 6 purposes of the entire document. Perhaps you had a History or Social Studies teacher who taught you the Schoolhouse Rock song? (I was that teacher… ha ha)
The 6 purposes are:
- to form a more perfect union – we’re making what we had even better
- establish justice – justice for all
- insure domestic tranquility – insure peace and protections for the inhabitants of the nation
- provide for the common defense – defend all states and the nation
- promote the general welfare – tend to the welfare of its citizens
- secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity – make the nation strong not just for us, but for the generations to come
How would you say we are doing living up to this remarkable Preamble?
In our last section for today, we will look at the first three Articles.
Article I- Congress/Legislature is the longest article & tells us about the legislative branch called Congress, and it shall consist of the Senate, elected every six years, and the House of Representatives, elected every two years. The Senate shall have 2 elected representatives from every state and representation in The House is based on each state’s population. Totaling 435 members of Congress.
It’s important to note here, that “The Great Compromise” that was reached when settling this Two House government came with huge debate. The larger states and the smaller states wanted equal representation in Congress and via this compromise they got both, equal representation (in the Senate) and propotional representation (in the House).
Each of the 10 sections in Article 1 clearly spell out qualifications, how they are elected, duties, responsibilities, how a bill becomea a law, how Congress is run, and limits on Congressional powers. There are actually 18 listed powers that the Congress has. (see Article 1, section 8) Funding, declarations of war, and states importing and exporting with Congressional approval are some highlighted responsibilities.
Article II – The Executive/President The chief executive of the U.S. is the President, who is elected every four years, along with the Vice President. How he/she is elected, their qualifications, duties and responsibilities are listed. Additionally, how she/he shall be removed from office, what happens when the office is vacated, and how he/she is sworn in , is clearly articulated in this second article.
Article III – Judicial power of the U.S. is invested in one Supreme Court, and many inferior Courts. Particulars regarding trials, cases, juries, and crimes are innumerated in the 3 sections of this article. Treason is spoken of in this article, what it is and how it should be judged.
A very signifigant point to make regarding The Supreme Court involves the issue of “Judicial Review”. This, a main responsibility of The High Court is when a law is presented to them in a case, and their task is to determine if, in fact, that law is “Constitutional”. They must determine if that state or federal law violates the constitution. If it does, (as determined by a majority vote of the 9 Judges) then it is deemed unconstitutional and reversed.
Many believe that these Judges have “legislated from the bench” (thorugh the years), thereby changing laws and resulting in a changed national outcome from what elected representatives have passed. The phrases to watch for are :
- Strict Constitutionalist – one who believes the text of the constitution is not open for or to interpretation, it’s words are literal.
- Judicial Activist – one who believes the Constitution is a living document and should be interpreted based on present situation.
These three Articles define what we often refer to as the Three Branches of Government, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial; and they clearly tell us who they are, what they do, and what is allowed in our government.
This document, our Constitution is the supreme law of our land. All persons and politicians are bound by it and no one is above it. Therefore, we best know it. Not know of it, not believe everything we hear about it, but know it. Know the document itself.
You can easily find it online at https://constitution.congress.gov
Paperback copies of the Constitution can be purchased as well. If you visit Washington D.C. or your Senator’s local office, they often give them away as well.
Please, if you are a citizen of the United States, of if you care deeply about America, do your due diligence and be familiar with this document. It is our responsibility as citizens to vote, and uphold the laws of the land, so we should know them as outlined in the Constitution.
https://momsforamerica.us has posted a short little constitution quiz which may be fun for you to take.
Whatever you do, I hope you’ll check back next week, for part 2 of our Constitution Review.
God Bless America,
US Constitution for dummies, Dr. Michale Arnheim
The Constitution of the United States of America