The Articles of the US Constitution
The Constitution was well thought out and set up in order to not give power to one entity. The Founders were very conscious of the one ruler law that they escaped from in under King George III of England. They used the history of other nations and examined philosophers with the intent of creating a document written by the people and for the people. Through philosophy they understood the evil of man and that they would one day want more power. The way the Constitution was written was to prevent just that, so they came up with a system of checks and balances for government function.
Many argue that the Constitution should be a living and breathing Constitution. Basically, it means that the interpretation of the Constitution should change with the times and be interpretated differently by judges as they see fit.
This is dangerous because it gives the power to one person, a judge, to change the Constitution. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, George Washington said it best,
“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution, which at any time exists, ‘till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. … If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
This statement allows the Constitution to be changed only by Amendments and by the whole of the people, not one judge, one President nor a single branch of Government. It was created to be a sacred document.
Let us look at a brief summary of the seven Articles of the Constitution. Simply click on the link of each Article to see it written in its entirety.
Article I – The Legislative Branch - All of the powers to make laws is given to the Legislative Branch, also called Congress. The Congress is divided into two parts—the House of Representatives and the Senate. Their job is to create all the laws, and to control the money, write laws to raise taxes, declare war and raise a military. It also has the power to check and balance the other two federal branches.
This Article determines the numbers of Representatives and Senators for each state, age qualifications and length of their terms as well as the role that the Vice President has in the Senate. It discusses the Rules for Impeachment and the roles that Congress, and the Senate play in these proceedings. Guidelines are set for the procedure of voting and what constitutes putting a law into place.
Article II – The Executive Branch - This branch of the government manages the day-to-day operations of government through various federal departments and agencies. At the head of this branch is the nationally elected President of the United States. The President swears an oath to ‘faithfully execute’ the responsibilities as President and to ‘preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States’ and enforce laws passed by Congress. Its’ powers include making treaties with other nations, appointing federal judges, department heads and Ambassadors He is also the Commander in Chief presiding over the United States Armed Forces. This Article also lays out how the Electoral College is selected and who qualifies for those positions.
Article III – The Judicial Branch - The Judicial Branch consists of the Supreme Court and all the lower federal courts. Their job is to decide if the laws and actions of citizens and the government are in harmony with the Constitution. The Constitution set up the Supreme Court and gave Congress the power to determine the size and scope of those courts below it. All judges are appointed for life unless they resign or removed due to bad behavior. Those facing charges are to be tried and judged by a jury of their peers.
Article IV – The States - This article defines the relationship between the states and the federal government. It guarantees a republican form of government in each state that is individually controlled by their own governments. The federal government guarantees to protect the nation as a whole and protect the people from foreign or domestic violence. It also suggests that all the states are equal to each other and should respect each other’s laws and the judicial decisions made by other state court systems. It also states how Congress can determine having new states join the Union.
Article V – Amendment - Future generations can amend the Constitution if the society so requires it. Both the states and Congress have the power to initiate the amendment process. The Framers wanted the eternal principles of freedom to remain intact and immune from being accidentally or intentionally amended away. A two thirds vote of both houses are necessary to propose an Amendment and a three fourths vote of both houses is necessary to ratify an Amendment. They made the process intentionally cumbersome because proposed changes should be heavily scrutinized, and never adopted recklessly.
Article VI – Debts, Supremacy, Oaths - Article VI determines that the US Constitution, and all laws made from it are the ‘Supreme Law of the Land’, and all officials, whether members of the State Legislatures, Congress, Judiciary, or the Executive Branches must swear an oath to the Constitution. The Framers wrote frequently about the need for honesty in all levels of government, and among the people themselves was a necessary ingredient for self-government and lasting freedom.
Article VII – Ratification - This article details all those people who signed the Constitution, representing the original thirteen states. It declares that nine of the thirteen states would be sufficient to ratify the new Constitution.