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United States Constitution | Study Guide

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United States Constitution | Quotes


All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.

Narrator, Article 1, Section 1

The first article of the Constitution effectively establishes Congress as the legislative or lawmaking branch of the U.S. government. The article goes on to define a bicameral, or two-chamber, structure for Congress, which is to comprise a Senate and a House of Representatives. The divided structure of the U.S. government ensures a system of checks and balances so that one branch does not exercise absolute or majority power over the others.


No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation.

Narrator, Article 1, Section 10

The beginning of Section 10 of Article 1 is intended to limit the power of the states, restricting powers such as making treaties with other nations to the federal government. This limitation ensures that no state may act to secure its own advantage without regard for or at the expense of the Union.


The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

Narrator, Article 2, Section 1

The beginning of Article 2 establishes the president as the main power in the executive branch of the U.S. government. The division of the federal government into three branches―the legislative, the executive, and the judicial―provides for a system of checks and balances so that one branch does not become more powerful than the others.


The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.

Narrator, Article 2, Section 2

This clause establishes the president of the United States, a civilian, as the commander of the U.S. military. This distinction provides for a point of view that balances domestic concerns with political concerns to ensure decisions that benefit the longevity of the country.


The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may ... establish.

Narrator, Article 3, Section 1

Like the first clauses of the previous two articles, this clause establishes a branch of the government: here, the judicial branch. It gives the main power of this branch to the Supreme Court. The three branches of the U.S. government create a system of checks and balances so that one branch does not exercise too much power. While Congress makes the laws, the courts review them for accordance with the Constitution.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Narrator, Amendment 1

The first clause of the First Amendment establishes the right of all U.S. citizens to freely practice their religions. It bans Congress from passing any legislation that might infringe on religious freedom. Because many of the founding colonists were motivated to settle in the Americas because of religious persecution in their home countries, this amendment guarantees an important civil right.


The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Narrator, Amendment 2

This amendment gives regular citizens the right to own and take up weapons to defend themselves. Interpretation of this amendment has led to much debate over whether the founding fathers intended the term arms to mean all legally purchased weapons. While some take this broad view of the term, others argue that the founding fathers could not have foreseen technological advances in weaponry and that Congress must define the term for the modern world.


In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.

Narrator, Amendment 6

Anyone accused of a crime has a legal right to a trial, specifically a "speedy" trial. This protects people from being held for years in jail before the trial can take place. They also have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers. This amendment seeks to provide citizens with legal proceedings based on the laws and evidence rather than prejudice. However, mass and instantaneous coverage of crimes by modern media threatens the concept of an impartial jury.


Excessive bail shall not be required ... nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Narrator, Amendment 8

The courts may not set such a high bail that a person cannot afford their temporary release from jail. There are exceptions to this, when the person may pose an extreme threat to others or is a flight risk. Cruel and unusual punishments such as torture are officially outlawed as legal punishments for crimes. However, this concept has been debated with regard to interrogation techniques used in times of war.


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.

Narrator, Amendment 10

This clause ensures the federal government cannot take more power than it should just because there is no specific language about that power in the Constitution. Any powers not specifically listed are by rights left with state governments or citizens themselves. This provision ensures a balance between states' rights and federal rights. States may govern themselves for their own benefit as long as they do not violate federal laws in doing so.


Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States.

Narrator, Amendment 13

This amendment, passed shortly after the Civil War (1861–65), officially makes slavery illegal in the United States. However, the legacy of slavery in the United States that came before the passage of this amendment continues to influence modern race relations.


The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of race.

Narrator, Amendment 15

This clause ensures the right to vote to all male citizens in the United States, regardless of race. Despite the passage of this amendment, some states have worked to circumvent this law through of the use of questionable voter registration laws and practices.


The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of sex.

Narrator, Amendment 19

Women gained the right to vote when this amendment was passed in 1920. Despite the passage of this amendment, women of color in some states have continued to have problems with access to voting due to laws that work to restrict voter registration or access.


No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.

Narrator, Amendment 22

This clause restricts presidents to two four-year terms in office. This had been an unwritten rule since the two-term presidency of George Washington, but Franklin Roosevelt held three terms and was elected for a fourth before this amendment was proposed. The intent behind this amendment is to avoid the effects of a personal dynasty that might come with lengthy rule by one person.


The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied ... on account of age.

Narrator, Amendment 26

This amendment, ratified in 1971, lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Historically, these younger voters have tended to stay away from the polls. However, as social media has become a potent political tool, this trend has shown some tendency toward positive change.

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