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The Constitution
Brief History
1776--Declaration of Independence
Separated the colonies from Great Britain
Language drawn heavily from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government
1777--Articles of Confederation
States retained independence and sovereignty to govern themselves
National power derived from the states
Very weak national government
Brought the states together during the Revolutionary War, fragmented them after
1787--United States Constitution
Corrected many issues within the Articles of Confederation
Brought the states together
Basic Principles of the Constitution
Federal system--a system of government where national and state
governments share power. National power is supreme. Government
power is derived from the citizens. It is a way to check power with power.
What could be or are the downfalls of shared government power? What are
the benefits?
Basic Principles of the Constitution
Separation of powers--Power divided among 3 branches each with their own
constitutional independence.
Legislative--makes laws
Executive--enforces laws
Judicial--interprets laws
An interdependent relationship exists between the 3 branches rather than a pure separation
of power.
Checks and balances--powers of each branch could be used to check those of
the other 2 branches. This was done to minimize the threat of tyranny from
any one branch.
Are the 3 branches equal?
The Constitution
7 Articles
First 3 establish the 3 branches of government
Remaining 4 define the relationship between the states and national government and lay
out methods of ratifying the Constitution.
Article I: The Legislative Branch
Sets up the legislative branch and the powers vested to it.
Longest section of the Constitution (10 articles)
Powers specifically granted or laid out in the Constitution are called
enumerated powers.
Implied powers are derived from the enumerated powers and the
necessary and proper clause of Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution.
Necessary and Proper Clause
Gives Congress the authority to pass all laws “necessary and proper” to
carry out the enumerated (specified) powers in the Constitution; also
called the elastic clause.
This clause has been the source of congressional activity in areas such as
regulation of the environment, welfare programs, education, and
communication. These areas are not enumerated (specified) to Congress
within the Constitution.
Article II: The Executive Branch
Vests authority to execute laws to the president
Section 1: sets term of office to 4 years and explains the Electoral College
Section 2: sets out powers and duties of the president
Section 3: instructs the president to report directly to Congress from “time
to time” in a State of the Union address
Section 4: provides a mechanism of removal of president, vice president, or
other federal officers for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and
Article III: The Judicial Branch
Establishes a Supreme Court and defines its jurisdiction
Provides for state courts and the national court system to exist side by side
with distinct areas of authority.
Federal courts decide cases arising under federal law and the U.S.
Supreme Court authority to settle disputes between states, or between a
state and the national government
Up to the Supreme Court to determine what the provisions of the
Constitution actually mean
Articles IV-VII
Article IV: The States
Full faith and credit clause--mandates states honor the laws and judicial proceedings of
other states (Ex. state driver’s licenses, marriage licenses)
Article V: Amendments
Specifies how amendments can be added to the Constitution.
Articles IV-VII
Article VI:
Asserts the supremacy of the Constitution and national law over state laws and
Supremacy clause--all national and state officers and judges are bound by national law and
take oaths to support the federal Constitution above any state law or constitution.
Any legitimate action exercise of national power supersedes any state laws or actions.
Without supremacy clause the national government would have little actual enforceable
Article VII: Ratification
Concerns the procedures for ratifying the new Constitution.
9 of 13 states would have to agree to, or ratify, the Constitution to make it the supreme law
of the land.
Ratifying the Constitution
Getting the Constitution ratified by all states was not an easy process.
Debates between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists went on from the fall
of 1787 to the summer of 1788.
Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists
Mainly wealthy merchants, lawyers, and
Largely elitist. They saw themselves and
those in their class as most fit to govern
They favored a powerful central
government; a 2 house legislature
They generally distrusted “the people.”
What correlation do you see to today’s political parties?
Mainly small farmers, shopkeepers, and
Believed in the decency of “the common
man”; viewed elites as corrupt;sought
greater protection of individual rights.
Wanted stronger state governments (closer
to the people) at the expense of the
powers of the national government.
Sought smaller electoral districts and a
unicameral legislature to provide for
greater class and occupational
The Federalist Papers
A series of 85 political essays written between Oct. 1787 and May 1788 by
Alexander Hamilton (51), James Madison (29), and John Jay (5) in support of
the ratification of the Constitution. They appeared in New York newspapers
written under the pen name Publius (Latin for “the people”).
Today they are seen as great works but at the time they would’ve been too
theoretical for those who would ultimately vote.
The essays highlighted the new government’s structure and its benefits.
Anti-Federalists responded in their own series of essays under the pen names
Brutus and Cato. They took a line by line critique of the Constitution. Arguing a
strong central government would render the states powerless. They argued
for a bill or rights to protect the liberties of the people.
Bill of Rights
The first order of business for the 1st Congress (1789) was the Bill of Rights.
When Congress convened they immediately sent a set of amendments to
the states for ratification.
These first 10 amendments to the Constitution offer numerous specific
limitations on the national government’s ability to interfere with a wide
variety of personal liberties.
Bill of Rights
1st amendment offers protection for the freedom of expression, speech,
press, religion, and assembly.
Many safeguards for those accused of crimes.
9th amendment: these enumerated, or specified, rights are not the only
rights to be enjoyed by the people.
10th amendment: powers not given to the national government are
reserved by the states or the people.
Amending the Constitution
2 stage process: proposal and ratification
A vote of ⅔ of the members in both chambers of Congress.
A vote of ⅔ of the state legislatures specifically requesting Congress to call a national
convention to propose amendments (never been used).
A favorable vote in ¾ of state legislatures
A favorable vote in specifically called ratifying conventions in ¾ of the states (Only used once
on the 21st amendment to repeal the 18th amendment on the prohibition of alcohol)
Amending the Constitution
The speed at which amendments take place depends on the nature of the
changes proposed.
18th amendment--10 months to ratification
Equal Rights Act introduced in every session of Congress from 1923-1972, when Congress
finally voted favorably for it. By 1982, the congressionally mandated date for ratification,
only 35 states, 3 short of the number required, voted favorably on the amendment. It
continues to be reintroduced in every session.
Informal Methods of Amending
Judicial interpretation, social and cultural change, and technological change
The vagueness of the Constitution has left interpretation of the document
open to a changing society. This has allowed to Constitution to be flexible
and adapt to cultural and societal changes thus increasing its longevity.
Do you think the Framers intended the Constitution to be flexible and open
to interpretation?