Here is the Constitution of the United States, which establishes and enforces the final law of the land.
The Constitution consists of a preamble, seven articles and 27 amendments (last addition in 1992).
The first three articles of the Constitution established a federal system dividing power between three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The Fourth and Tenth Amendments guarantee states’ rights and separate the federal and state governments.
Federal powers listed in the Constitution include the right to tax, declare war, and regulate commerce. The federal government has implied powers for the government to respond to the changing needs of the nation.
Reserved powers, as mandated by the Tenth Amendment, belong to the states or the people. The powers of the state include the right to make laws regarding divorce, marriage and education. The right to own property and the right to be tried by a jury are powers reserved for the people.
In some cases, there are concurrent powers where the federal and state governments can act. The federal government has jurisdiction in the event of a dispute.
The ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution rests with the Supreme Court. He can invalidate any law that conflicts with any part of the Constitution.
Original copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights are on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
May 25, 1787 – The Constitutional Convention meets in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they decide to write the Constitution of the United States, and hold secret meetings with guards stationed outside the gates.
Twelve of the 13 states send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Rhode Island sends no representatives because it does not want a national government to interfere in its affairs.
George Washington is the president of the convention. Other representatives include: Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Dickinson, Gouverneur Morris, Edmund Randolph, Roger Sherman, James Wilson and George Wythe.
Franklin, Pennsylvania, is the oldest representative at 81, and the youngest is Jonathon Dayton, 26, from New Jersey.
September 17, 1787 – 39 of the 55 delegates sign the United States Constitution. Each state has a Constitutional Convention and when nine states ratify the Constitution, a new government can begin.
June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire is the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, so it has put it into effect. However, New York and Virginia had not yet ratified the Constitution and the approval of these states was necessary for the Constitution to work.
June 25, 1788 – Virginia ratifies the Constitution.
July 26, 1788 – New York ratifies the Constitution.
The promise of a Bill of Rights helped ratify the Constitution in several important states.
The Bill of Rights Amendments were written to protect individual liberties against potentially unjust rule by the national government.
Madison proposed 15 amendments; Congress approved 12 to present to the states. Ten states ratified them and added them to the Constitution as Bills of Rights.
December 15, 1791 – The Bill of Rights goes into effect.
An amendment may be proposed by two-thirds of the House of Congress or by a national convention called by Congress in response to requests made by two-thirds of the state legislatures.
It becomes part of the Constitution after ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states or by conventions of three-fourths of the states.
Congress decides which method of ratification should be used and how much time states have to consider each amendment.
The process of amending the Constitution was designed to be difficult.
Amendment 1 – Freedom of religion, expression and press; rights to assemble and petition – proposal of September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
Amendment 2 – The right to bear arms – proposal approved on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
Amendment 3 – Housing for soldiers – proposal approved on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
Amendment 4 – Warrants of search and arrest – proposal approved on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
Amendment 5 – Rights in criminal cases – proposed on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
Amendment 6 – Fair trial rights – proposal adopted on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
Amendment 7 – Rights in civil cases – proposal approved on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
Amendment 8 – Bail, fines and penalties – proposal approved on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
9th amendment – Rights retained by the people – proposal approved on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
10th Amendment – Powers retained by states and peoples – proposal approved on September 25, 1789; Confirmed December 15, 1791
11th Amendment – Lawsuits against the states – proposal passed March 4, 1794; Confirmed February 7, 1795
12th Amendment – Election of the President and Vice-President – proposal approved on December 9, 1803; Confirmed June 15, 1804
13th Amendment – Abolition of slavery – proposal approved on January 31, 1865; Confirmed December 6, 1865
14th Amendment – Civil rights – proposal approved on June 13, 1866; Confirmed July 9, 1868
15th Amendment – Black suffrage – proposal approved on February 26, 1869; Confirmed February 3, 1870
Amendment 16 – Income taxes – proposal approved July 2, 1909; Confirmed February 3, 1913
17th Amendment – Direct election of senators – proposal approved on May 13, 1912; Confirmed April 8, 1913
18th Amendment – Prohibition of liquors – proposal approved on December 18, 1917; Confirmed January 16, 1919
19th Amendment – Women’s suffrage – proposal approved on June 4, 1919; Confirmed August 18, 1920
20th Amendment – Terms of the President and Congress – Proposal adopted March 2, 1932; Confirmed January 23, 1933
21st Amendment – Abolition of Prohibition – proposal approved on February 20, 1933; Ratified on December 5, 1933
22nd Amendment – Limit of Presidents to two terms – proposal of March 21, 1947; Ratified February 27, 1951
23rd Amendment – Suffrage in the District of Columbia – Proposition passed June 16, 1960; Ratified March 29, 1961
24th amendment – Poll Taxes – Proposal passed August 27, 1962; Confirmed January 23, 1964
Amendment 25 – Incapacity and succession of the President – proposal approved on July 6, 1965; Ratified February 10, 1967
Amendment 26 – Suffrage for 18-year-olds – proposal approved on March 23, 1971; Ratified July 1, 1971
Amendment 27 – Salaries of Congress – proposal passed September 25, 1789; Confirmed May 7, 1992