Whether you're having difficulty with the language of the Constitution or need a quick review, this summary of the United States Constitution will give you a basic grasp on our nation's founding document. The first part focuses on Article 1 of the Constitution.
The Legislative Branch
Section 1 of Article I of the Constitution begins, "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." Article I creates a bicameral legislature, or a legislature with two organizations, the Senate based on equal representation for each state, and the House of Representatives with representation based on population.
Section 2 of Article 1 of the Constitution establishes rules for the House of Representatives:
- Elections for each position will be held every two years.
- Representatives must be at least 25 years old and a citizen of the United States for at least seven years.
- Representation is based on population as determined every ten years.*
- If vacancies occur, the governor of the affected state will call an election to fill the vacancy.
- The House of Representatives will choose its officers and speaker.
- The House of Representatives has full power of impeachment.
*The Constitutional provision known as the 3/5 Compromise was nullified by the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution. The 3/5 Compromise counted slaves as 3/5 of a person for apportionment purposes. Most of the founding fathers were anti-slavery and hoped to end the institution immediately.
They understood, however, that abolishing slavery in the document would prevent its ratification by southern states. Ironically, southern states wanted to count slaves as citizens so they could have greater representation in the House of Representatives. Northerners recognized this double standard and did not want to count slaves as citizens for apportionment purposes because they weren't considered citizens in the South.
The 3/5 Compromise counted slaves as 3/5 of a person for representation purposes. Without it, it's probable the Constitution would never have been ratified.
United States Senate
Section 3 of Article 1 of the Constitution establishes rules for the United States Senate.
- Two senators are elected by each state's legislative body. The election of Senators was changed to popular vote by the 17th amendment to the Constitution.
- Senators serve 6-year terms, with 1/3 of Senate seats being contested every two years.
- Senators must be at least thirty years old and a citizen of the United States for nine years.
- The Vice President presides over the Senate but does not have a vote unless there is a tie.
The Senate chooses its officers and a president pro tempore to fill in for an absent vice president.
- The Senate tries all impeachments. Impeachments jurisdiction only extends to removal from office.
Section 4 establishes the procedures for holding elections and meetings.
Section 5 deals with membership rules. Each congressional house is responsible for tabulating votes, compelling the attendance of absent members, determining its rules, punishing its members, and expelling its members with a 2/3 vote. A majority of members makes up a quorum and is required for conducting business. Each house must keep a journal of its proceedings. Neither house can meet for more than three days without permission from the other, nor can they meet in an unauthorized location.
Section 6 establishes pay and protection for congressmen. Congressmen shall be paid from the United States Treasury (see the 27th amendment for changes made to congressional pay). They cannot be arrested while attending a session of congress or while traveling to and from a congressional meeting (except for treason, felony, and breach of peace). Individuals cannot hold an official position in the executive branch while serving as a senator or representative.
Section 7 explains the bill process. All bills intended to raise revenue must originate from the House of Representatives. All bills must receive a majority of votes before being passed on to the president. The president can sign the bill into law or veto, or reject it. Congress can override the veto with a 2/3 majority in each house. The president has 10 days to sign the bill into law or to veto it. Not signing the bill has the same effect as approving it.
Section 8 enumerates the powers of Congress. Congress can:
- collect taxes
- borrow money
- regulate commerce
- coin money
- establish post offices and roads
- promote science and art
- declare war
- raise an army or navy
Section 9 limits the power of Congress
- The importation of slaves cannot be outlawed before 1808.
- Congress cannot pass a law that allows the arrest of citizens without just cause.
- Congress cannot pass laws punishing citizens for breaking laws that did not exist at the time they were broken.
- Congress cannot tax state exports.
- Congress cannot give preference to one state over another.
- Congress cannot grant titles of nobility.
- Congress cannot withdraw money from the Unites States Treasury without following proper procedures.
Section 10 of Article 1 limits the power of the states. States cannot make a treaty with a foreign power or coin its own money.
The founding fathers wrote the United States Constitution to govern human nature. They understood the natural inclination of rulers to want more power. As the federal government grows larger by the day, it's imperative that citizens of the United States demand their elected officials return to the Constitution for guidance.