Mericam in Action

, ^^ Throughout his remarkable career, Patrick Henry stood out as a supporter of the colonists and their rights. At the First Continental Congress in 1774, he energetically spoke for measures that assumed the unity of the colonies. At the same time, he was against a strong central government. Though selected to be a delegate, he refused to attend sessions in 17S7 and 17SS, while the Constitution was being drafted. Henry was perhaps the most famous Anti-Federalist to speak against ratification of the Constitution. With the addition of the Bill of Rights, however, Henry embraced the Constitution. As a Federalist, Patrick Henry

Henry won a seat in the Virginia legislature. He died before he could assume his post, though.

The Preamble

The opening see don of the Constitution* the Preamble) reib why the Constitution was written. It consists of a single, concise sentence that begins and ends as follows:

We the People of the United States ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. S 9

• "To provide for the common defense"— to be ready militarily to protect the country and its citizens from outside attacks

• "To promote the general Welfare"— to help people live healthy, happy, and prosperous lives

• "To secure the Pressings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"—to guarantee the freedom and basic rights of all Americans * including future generations (posterity)

These carefully chosen words make clear that che power of government comes from the people. The government depends on the people for its power and exists to serve them.

The middle part of the Preamble states six purposes of the government:

■ "To form a more perfect Union"—-to unite the states more effectively so they can operate as a single nation, for the good of all

* "To establish Justice"—to create a system of fair laws and courts and make certain that all citizens are treated equally

* "To insure domestic Tranquility"—to maintain peace and order, keeping citizens and their property safe from harm

The Articles

'llic seven articles that follow the Preamble explain how the government is to work. The first three articles describe the powers and responsibilities of each branch of government in turn. The remaining articles address more general matters.

Article 1: The Legislative Branch It is 110 accident that the first article deals with the legislative branch. The Framcrs of the Constitution intended die legislature to take the leading role in government.

Article I says that a Congress made of two houses—the Senate and the House of Representatives will have all lawmaking

Chapter 3 The Constitution 83

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Chapter 3 The Constitution 83

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The Oath of Office Every American president takes an oath to "preserve., protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." George Washington and George W. Bush were sworn in as the first and forty third presidents. What is the president really pledging to protect?

Comparing Governments tl



Senate, with states represented equally» and House of Representatives, apportioned according to population, have power to:

Pass laws by majority vote fy: Declare war

Q) Coin and borrow money r-k : Approve treaties fw- Amend Constitution by 2/3 vote In both houses and approval by 3/4 of states

Regulate commerce Q) Confirm presidential appointments n

President chosen by electors has power to:

Enforce laws


Congress of one house with equal representation of 13 states has power to:

© Pass laws by vote of 9 states

Declare war

Coin and borrow money

■ ip) Amend Articles If all 13 states agree


President chosen by electors has power to:

Enforce laws

Q; Make treaties

Command armed forces

No executive branch

Coin and borrow money

No executive branch


Evaluating Charts

Supreme Court and lower federal courts have power to:

Interpret laws

Settle disputes between states

No judicial branch r k.

The Constitution replaced a weak central government with a strong one. Which branches of government did the Constitution add?

authority. The article then describes how members of each house will be chosen and what rules they must follow in making laws. For example, a majority of both senators and representatives muse vote for a bill before it can become a law.

Articlc I also lists specific powers that Congress does and does not have. For example, Congress may colicct taxes.* regulate foreign and interstate trade, coin moneys and declare war. It may not tax exports., however, or favor one state over another. You will learn more about Congress in Chapter 6.

84 Chapter 3 The Constitution

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Article IIj The Executive Branch Arciclc II provides for an executive, or law-enforcing, branch of government headed by a president and vice president. Articlc II explains how these leaders are to be elected and how they can be removed from office. The article also describes some of the president's powers and duties. As you will learn in Chapter 7, these include commanding the armed forces, dealing with the leaders of other countries, and appointing certain government officials.

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Article £11: The Judicial Branch llic judicial branch is the part of government that interprets the laws and sees that they are fairly applied. Article IH calls for "one Supreme Court" and such lower courts as Congress deems appropriate.

Article TIT then lists the powers of the federal courts and dcscribcs the kinds of cases they may hear. These include cases involving the Constitution, federal laws and treaties, and disputes between states. Read about our federal judiciary in Chapter 8.

Articles IV-VU In Article IV of the Constitution, the Framers shifted their focus to the states. The article says that all states must respect each other's laws, court decisions, and records. Article TV also explains the process for creating new states, and it promises that the federal government will protcct and defend the states.

Article V reveals the foresight of the Framers, 'ITicy realized that in a changing world, the Constitution might need modification over time. Thus they specified how amendments are to be made.

Article VI contains a key statement declaring the Constitution the "supreme of the I .and." It adds that if state lawTs or court decisions conflict with federal law, the federal law shall prevail.

In Articlc VII, the Framers dealt with practical matters. The Constitution would take effect, they wrote, when nine states had ratified it.

Describing What is the main purpose of the U.S. Constitution?

Amending the Constitution

Since the Constitution was signed in 1787, it has been amended 27 times. (Any change in the Constitution is called an amendment.) The first 10 amendments, known as the "11 of Rights, were added in

1791. Chapter 4 discusses the Bill of Rights, along with other amendments that safeguard individual rights and liberties.

A number of amendments address entirely different matters, such as improving the way our government works. For example, the Sixteenth Amendment was passed in 1913 to allow Congress to collcct an income tax a tax on people's earnings. This is now an important source of money for the government, helping it pay for services.

Amending the Constitution


Vote of two-thirds of members of both houses


By nalional convention called at the request of two-thirds of 50 state legislatures


Vote of two-thirds of members of both houses


By nalional convention called at the request of two-thirds of 50 state legislatures

Evaluating Charts

The amendment process allows the Constitution to be revised to adapt to changing times. In what ways can this be done?

The Amendment Process

Would it surprise you to know that thousands of amendments to the Constitution have been considered, over the years? Only 27 have become law because the Framers deliberately made the amendment pro ces s difficult. Alter months of debate and compromise, they knew how delicately balanced che Constitution was. Changing even one small detail could have dramatic effects throughout the government. Therefore, the Framers made sure die Constitution could not he altered without the overwhelming support of the people.

At the same time, the ability to amend the Constitution is ncccssary. Constitutional amendments safeguard many of our freedoms. For example, the abolition of slavery and the right of women to vote were added in amendments. If the Constitution could not have been amended to protect the rights of African Americans, women, and other oppressed groups, it—and our government—might not have survived.

The process for making an amendment to the Constitutions as outlined in Article V, involves two steps: proposal and ratification. An amendment may be proposed in either of two ways. The first method used for all amendments so far—is by congressional action. A vote of two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress is required. The second method is by a national convention requested by two-thirds of the state legislatures.

Once a national amendment has been proposed, three-fourths of the states must ratify it. 'llic states have two ways to do this: by a vote of either the state legislature or a special state convention. Only one amendment, the Twenty-first Amendment, has been ratified by means of state conventions. Congress proposed and the state legislatures ratified ail others.

{Üiülüftiaiiflftj Inferring Why are amendments to the Constitution necessary?

Interpreting the Constitution

Although the Constitution has been amended only 27 times, there have been many other changes to it. These changes have taken place through interpretation. The Framers of the Constitution wrote a general document, so many matters are left open to interpretation.

The Necessary and Proper Clause

Article I lists the powers of Congress. In this article, the Constitution gives Congress the power "to make all Laws which shall be ncccssary and proper' to carry out its duties. This necessary and proper clause allows Congress to cxcrcise powers that are not specifically listed in the Constitution. These powers are known as "implied powers."

Americans, though, do not agree about which laws arc "ncccssary and proper." Some people feel Congress should be allowed to make any laws the Constitution does not specifically forbid. These people believe in a loose interpretation of the Constitution. Others believe in a strict interpretation. They feel Congress should make only the kinds of laws mentioned by the Constitution.

Interpretation Through Court Decisions

The Supreme Court has the final authority on interpreting die Constitution. Over the years, the Supreme Court has interpreted the

Student Web Activity Visit ¿ and click on Student Web Activities-Chapter 3 lu learn more about the U.S. Constitution.

Constitution in different ways—sometimes strictly, sometimes loosely. With each new interpretation, our government changes.

Interpretation Through Congressional and Presidential Actions

Actions taken by Congress and. the president have also caused new interpretations of the Constitution. ITic Constitution allows the House of Representatives to impeach, or accuse, federal officials, while the Senate determines the person's guilt or innocence. Congress has investigated more than 60 people on impeachment charges.

How has the president interpreted the Constitution? In 1841 William Henry Harrison became the first president to die in office. Vice President John Tyler assumed the powers of the president according to the Constitution/lTie Constitution, however, was unclear on this matter. Did Tyler automatically become president, or was he merely acting as president until die next election? Tyler went ahead and took the presidential oath. Not until 1967, when the Twenty-fifth Amendment was ratified, was Tyler's action officially part of the Constitution.

Presidents interpret the Constitution in other ways, too. Not only does the president make agreements with other countries without congressional approval, the president also requests legislation from Congress. The Constitution does not direct the president to take these actions.

Interpretation Through Custom

'J"he interpretation of the Constitution has also changed through customs that have developed. For example, although the Constitution does not mention political parties, they are a very important pan of today's political system. Today, parties help organize the government and conduct elections.

'J"he government under the Constitution today is very different from the government set up by the Constitution in 1787. It will probably go through many more changes, too. However, the basic structure and principles of our government a delicate balance between three branches—will no doubt remain.

j^SBEÖ? Identifying What type of powers does the necessary and proper-clause give to Congress?


Checking for Understanding

1. Key Terms Writo a paragraph abouL the Conslilulion in which you use all of the following terms: Preamble, amendment, Bill of Rights, income tax.

Reviewing Main Ideas

2. Identify What is the purpose: oTlhe Preamble lo Ihe U.S. Constitution?

3. Describe In what two ways con an arnondmont to the U.S. Conslilulion be ratified?" How are the states involved in these processes?

Critical Thinking

4. Evaluating information Which pari of the Conslilulion do you think is the most important? Explain your answer.

5. Summarizing Information In a chart like Ihe one below, describe the features of Articles I, II. and III of the Constitution.

A'ticlc 1

Article II

Article III


7. Organize Read a section of your stale's cons Lilu Li on. Find one similarity and one difference from the U.S. Constitution.

Analyzing Visuals

6. Compare and Contrast Review Ihe chart lhal compares Ihe Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution on page 84. How did Congress differ under both forms of govern m ont?


7. Organize Read a section of your stale's cons Lilu Li on. Find one similarity and one difference from the U.S. Constitution.

Critical Thinking

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