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United States Constitution | Study Guide

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United States Constitution | Article 1, Sections 1–10 | Summary



Article 1, Section 1

The first article establishes the U.S. Congress and separates it into the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Article 1, Section 2

Section 2 covers the House of Representatives. The members of the House of Representatives are chosen every other year and each state has representatives. A representative must be over 25 years old, must have been a citizen for at least 7 years, and must be living in the state they will represent when elected. The number of people in a given state determines how many representatives they will have in the House. If there is a vacancy, the corresponding state's governor institutes a special election to choose someone to fill it. The House has the power to choose who will be Speaker.

Article 1, Section 3

Section 3 establishes the basic outline of the Senate. Each state has two senators who serve six-year terms. Senators are to be chosen by state legislators. There are three groups of senators whose seats come up for election in rotation so that not all the Senate seats are up for election at once. To be elected, a senator must be at least 30 years old, be a citizen for 9 years, and reside in the state they are representing. The Senate tries all impeachments, and this section explains that the only judgment that can be legally passed in an impeachment trial is for the guilty party to be removed from office and barred from ever holding public office again.

Article 1, Section 4

It is within the jurisdiction of individual states to set up congressional elections, although Congress reserves the right to alter the arrangements. Congress must meet a minimum of once per year on a decided-upon date.

Article 1, Section 5

The two houses of Congress have the authority to judge the elections and qualifications of their members and to determine the rules and punishments for their members. A member may be expelled with a two-thirds majority. In order to do business, a quorum—or majority—must be present to vote. Both the House and the Senate must keep journals of their activities. The House and the Senate are not allowed to adjourn for more than three days or move locations without the permission of the other body.

Article 1, Section 6

Senators and House members are paid while they hold their positions. Except in the case of treason or a felony, they may not be arrested when in session or coming to or from a session. They may not hold another public office while serving as senators or representatives.

Article 1, Section 7

Only the House has the power to introduce any bills about taxes. The Senate has the power to amend and approve those bills but cannot introduce them. After a bill passes through the House and the Senate, the president has the power to sign it into law or send it back to Congress. The House must then reconsider the bill, and then the bill can still become law if the House and the Senate vote with a two-thirds majority. The names of the voters and the nature of their votes must be recorded.

Article 1, Section 8

Section 8 gives a list of Congress's duties, including setting and collecting taxes, paying debts, and taking responsibility for defense and welfare. Congress is also in charge of borrowing money, regulating internal and international trade, establishing the parameters of citizenship, creating currency, creating and maintaining a postal service, creating and enforcing copyright laws, setting up a court system below the Supreme Court, and paying and employing an army and a navy. The final clause allows Congress to "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper," giving Congress flexibility to deal with unforeseen issues.

Article 1, Section 9

Congress may not ban the importation of slaves before the year 1808. Citizens have a right, which may not be suspended except in a situation of extreme public danger, to habeas corpus. This means the cause for being detained must be explained to the detainee before a judge. It is also declared illegal to create and enforce laws attacking a particular person or group of people without trial or to create laws making an action illegal after it has already happened. States may not tax exports or imports from other states and may not favor certain ports of sale. Congress is required to keep accounts of all spending. Finally, no titles of nobility are to be given in the United States, and officeholders cannot take gifts from foreign powers.

Article 1, Section 10

Section 10 places limits on states' rights. They cannot join together and make treaties with one another or with other nations. States also may not create money, tax imports or exports, keep their own militia, or enter into war of their own accord.


The first article of the Constitution is the lengthiest and it lays out the basic structure of the government as the framers envisioned it. It establishes the governing body of Congress and details its main powers, restrictions, and systems. The description of the balance of power begins in this article, as it outlines the checks and balances placed between Congress and the president's office.

Some portions of this article were modified or nullified by later amendments. Many of the parts that were later amended were connected with taxes, slavery, or both. These two institutions have changed greatly since the writing of the Constitution, when slavery was legal and when a person of color was not counted as an entire person for the purpose of population census.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this can be found in Section 2. This clause describes how the states' populations determine how taxes should be apportioned among the states. The problem with this policy is that slaveholding states had a high population of enslaved people, and this would affect their tax status and potentially direct more money to slaveholding states. In an extremely backward-seeming result, many slave states wanted enslaved people to be counted as part of the population census, and many lawmakers who opposed slavery did not want to count the slaves in the population. The resulting agreement was called the "Three-Fifths Compromise." The clause in Section 2 that refers to this infamous decision instructs the population to be counted "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."

Section 3 lays out the way senators were originally chosen: by state legislators. However, the 17th Amendment changed this system so that senators are elected by the people. This gave citizens more direct power in electing their representatives.

Some other clear boundaries are drawn to create checks and balances within Congress. For instance, the House may impeach someone in a public office, but it is the Senate's jurisdiction to actually try and convict the impeachment. The process of impeachment has multiple parts and is not just a matter of a majority reaching a vote in one part of Congress.

Not much time is spent yet on states' rights in Article 1, although Section 10 places some restrictions on state government. At this point, the Constitution focuses more on what powers states do not have rather than on what powers they do have. This creates some clear boundaries between the functions of state and federal government. For instance, it's important that the salaries for senators and representatives are paid out of the treasury instead of by the states they represent, as this strengthens the federal government. Very specific duties are given to the federal government only: to mint money, to declare war and raise armies, and to tax imports and exports. When the Confederate states joined together and broke away almost a century later, they violated many of these terms of the Constitution.

Slavery again becomes a topic of the first clause of Section 9. This clause was never amended because it had a time expiration. The clause was a point of much contention, as it kept Congress from banning the importation of slaves until 1808. James Madison, who opposed slavery, seemed to view the addition of this clause as both a negative concession and a way to leave a window open to actually ban slavery in the future. During the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, the importation of slaves was officially made illegal as soon as the constitutional clause expired in 1808. Illegal smuggling was still a major issue, however. The full abolition of slavery didn't happen until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

Finally, also introduced in Section 9 is perhaps one of the most foundational rights granted in the Constitution: habeas corpus. Habeas corpus gives people a right to be seen by a judge and to challenge their accusations in a courtroom. This was instituted as a way for accused parties to prove their innocence and protest wrongful imprisonment. Section 9 lays out these first instrumental rights of those accused of committing a crime, and it begins to set in place some of the basic ideas of the justice system. The clause does leave a narrow loophole, noting habeas corpus may be suspended only "in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion." Habeas corpus has only been suspended a handful of times since the Constitution was instituted. It was suspended by Abraham Lincoln at the start of the Civil War (1861–65). It was suspended again by President Grant (1822–85) to protect the people who had just been freed from slavery from the Ku Klux Klan. Over a century would pass until the next suspension, which occurred after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This act stripped detainees at the Guantánamo Bay internment camp in Cuba of their right to habeas corpus and legal representation.

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