United States Constitution | Study Guide

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United States Constitution | Summary

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Summary

Preamble

The Constitution begins with a preamble. This has no legal force. Instead, it explains the principles the Constitution is designed to uphold. The preamble states that the point of the Constitution is to create a strong and just government to protect American liberty for future generations.

Articles

The Constitution itself consists of seven articles (some of which are divided into sections) and 27 amendments. The first three articles deal with the three branches of government. The framers wanted government to be split between three coequal branches, each of which would act as a check on the others. The first article establishes the legislature, delineates its powers, and explains how the legislature is composed. The second article establishes the executive branch. The third outlines the judiciary and its role. The fourth article describes the powers of the states and the relationship states have to one another and to the federal government. This article proclaims that states should honor the laws of other states. It also sets out the rules for admitting new states.

The fifth article provides the rules for amending the Constitution. The framers knew changing circumstances would cause future generations to need to amend the Constitution, and they provided a means by which it could be done. The sixth article establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of the United States. It also guaranteed the United States would assume all the debts and responsibilities it had incurred under the Articles of Confederation. Additionally, the sixth article requires state and federal officeholders to swear an oath of allegiance. The seventh article provides the means by which the Constitution would be ratified.

Amendments

The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. Its inclusion was an important measure in getting the Constitution ratified. The Bill of Rights enumerates specific rights held by U.S. citizens, such as the right to speak and assemble freely. The government is prohibited from interfering with these rights. Other limitations are placed on the government, such as the requirement for a judge to sign off on a warrant before a citizen can be searched or arrested.

Some later amendments helped fulfill the Constitution's promise of equality by extending its rights and protections to different groups of Americans. The 13th amendment abolished slavery. The 19th amendment granted women the right to vote. The Constitution is a living document, and it may have other amendments added or removed in the future.

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