Constitution of the United States(redirected from Principles of the constitution)
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Constitution of the United States
Constitution of the United States, document embodying the fundamental principles upon which the American republic is conducted. Drawn up at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, and ratified by the required number of states (nine) by June 21, 1788. It superseded the original charter of the United States in force since 1781 (see Confederation, Articles of) and established the system of federal government that began to function in 1789. The Constitution is concise, and its very brevity and its general statement of principles have, by accident more than by design, made possible the extension of meaning that has fostered growth. There are seven articles and a preamble; 27 amendments have been adopted (see the table entitled Text of the Constitution of the United States).
The wording of the Constitution is general, necessitating interpretation, and any short summary is only rough and approximate. From its very beginnings, the Constitution has been subject to stormy controversies, not only in interpretation of some of its phrases, but also between the “loose constructionists” and “strict constructionists.” The middle of the 19th cent. saw a tremendous struggle concerning the nature of the Union and the extent of states' rights. The Civil War decided the case in favor of the advocates of strong union, and since that time the general tendency has been toward the centralization and strengthening of federal power.
Article 1 provides for the establishment of the bicameral Congress composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The various powers of the Congress and the respective houses, together with their methods of election, are enumerated in the article. The Seventeenth Amendment, passed in 1916, instituted the direct popular election of Senators and removed the power of their election from the state legislatures as had originally been provided in Article 1.
Section 4 of Article 1 gives the states power over the conduct of federal elections but permits the Congress to alter such regulations at any time. In 1842 the Congress imposed the district system on the United States. In 1962 the Supreme Court dealt with proper apportionment of election districts and in its decision in Baker v. Carr allowed voters to go into a federal court to force equitable representation in a state legislature. This decision was, however, based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Later, the court ruled (1964) that state legislative apportionment must reflect the one-person one-vote principle.
As a legislative body Congress has certain inherent powers. Among these are the power to investigate pursuant to legislative needs. Congressional investigations have led to a great many court decisions concerning the right of a witness before a Congressional committee to refuse to testify even when granted immunity from prosecution.
Section 8 of Article 1 lists the enumerated powers of the Congress. The clause of this section, the “commerce clause,” which grants the Congress the right to “regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States,” was, in the 20th cent., used as a strong argument for the expansion of government power. Since the historic case of Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), the commerce clause has been the battleground over which much of the struggle for and against increased federal regulation of private enterprise has been fought. Until the late 1930s Congress exercised its powers under the clause solely with reference to transportation. But after a series of dramatic reversals by the Supreme Court, Congress began to enter areas that had previously been controlled only by the states. The commerce clause is now the source of important peacetime powers of the national government and an important basis for the judicial review of state actions.
Besides its enumerated and inherent powers, the Congress has implied powers under Article 1 “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” the enumerated or expressed powers. Sections 9 and 10 of Article 1 contain guarantees of the writ of habeas corpus, prohibit bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, and also improve certain limitations on state power.
2: The Executive Branch
3: The Judiciary
4: The States
5: Amending the Constitution
The Bill of Rights
The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of worship, of speech, of the press, of assembly, and of petition to the government for redress of grievances. This amendment has been the center of controversy in recent years in the areas of free speech and religion. The Supreme Court has held that freedom of speech does not include the right to refuse to testify before a Congressional investigating committee and that most organized prayer in the public schools violates the First Amendment.
The right to keep and bear arms—adopted with reference to state militias but interpreted (2008) by the Supreme Court as essentially an individual right—is guaranteed by the Second Amendment, while freedom from quartering soldiers in a house without the owner's consent is guaranteed by the Third Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable search and seizure, a safeguard only more recently extended to the states.
The Fifth Amendment provides that no person shall be held for “a capital or otherwise infamous crime” without indictment, be twice put in “jeopardy of life or limb” for the same offense, be compelled to testify against himself, or “be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The privilege against self-incrimination has been the center of a great deal of controversy as a result of the growth of Congressional investigations. The phrase “due process of law,” which appears in the Fifth Amendment, is also included in the Fourteenth Amendment. As a result there has been much debate as to whether both amendments guarantee the same rights. Those in favor of what is termed fixed due process claim that all the safeguards applied against the federal government should be also applied against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. The supporters of the concept of flexible due process are only willing to impose those guarantees on the states that “are implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of speedy and public trial by an impartial jury in all criminal proceedings, while the Seventh Amendment guarantees the right of trial by jury in almost all common-law suits. Excessive bail, fines and “cruel and unusual” punishment are prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The Ninth Amendment states that “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
By the Tenth Amendment “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Powers reserved to the states are often termed “residual powers.” This amendment, like the commerce clause, has been a battleground in the struggle over states' rights and federal supremacy.
The Other Amendments
See C. A. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913, repr. 1965); E. S. Corwin, The Constitution and What It Means Today (12th rev. ed. 1958); C. D. Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia (1966); R. Tugwell, The Emerging Constitution (1974); F. M. Coleman, Politics, Policy, and the Constitution (1983); R. B. Morris, Witnesses at the Creation (1985); C. and J. L. Collier, Decision in Philadelphia (1986); M. Kammen, ed., The Origins of the American Constitution (1986); L. W. Levy, The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment (1988) and Origins of the Fifth Amendment (1968, repr. 1999); G. S. Wood, The Making of the Constitution (1987); F. McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (1990); L. H. Tribe and M. G. Dorf, On Reading the Constitution (1992); J. T. Noonan, The Lustre of Our Country (1998); K. L. Karst and L. W. Levy, ed., Encyclopedia of the American Constitution (2d ed. 2000); A. R. Amar, America's Constitution (2005); D. O. Stewart, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution (2007); S. Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America (2008); J. N. Rakove, ed., The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence (2009); S. Lipsky, The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide (2009); D. J. Bederman, The Classical Foundations of the American Constitution (2009); P. Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788 (2010).