The United States Constitution, written in 1787 and ratified in 1789, expresses the country's fundamental principles of government. It is the supreme law of the land, which means that no other law can alter its provisions.
The Constitution first three articles created three co-equal branches of government: the legislative (Congress), executive (headed by the President), and judicial (Supreme Court and lower federal courts). Much of what is today taken for granted as a natural separation of powers was actually left for future generations to sort out. The Constitution merely established the three branches; it did not set forth how powers would be divided beyond basic descriptions of each branch's duties. For example, the notion that the U.S. Supreme Court's role would be to pass constitutional judgment on laws passed by Congress is nowhere found in the Constitution. The practice instead arose primarily through the efforts of John Marshall, the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court.
The Constitution's fourth article imposes some cooperation and coordination among the states. For example, it requires that states give full faith and credit to laws and judicial decisions from other states and establishes that the citizens of each state get the privileges and immunities of citizens of all the states.
The fifth article created the method for amending the Constitution. Amendments can be made in one of two ways, either by a two-thirds vote of both houses or by a constitutional convention, called by two-thirds of the state legislatures, where proposed amendments are later ratified by three-fourths of the states.
There are currently 27 amendments. The first 10 amendments, called the Bill of Rights, contain many of the basic rights cherished by U.S. citizens, such as free speech, freedom of religion, a right to a speedy trial, the right to bear arms, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Although today U.S. citizens take for granted the wisdom of providing the freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights, it was not always so. Many of those rights had to pulled from the original drafts of the Constitution in order to secure its ratification in 1789. Only later were they added back by amendment. Of the final 17 amendments, some of the more significant ones include the abolition of slavery (13th Amendment), the granting of equal protection to all U.S. citizens (14th Amendment), the granting to minorities and women the right to vote (15th Amendment and 19th Amendment, respectively), and the establishment of a federal income tax (16th Amendment).
The Constitution's final two articles provided that debts owed by the government prior to the Constitution would continue to be valid and that ratification required the consent of nine of the 13 states.
The U.S. Constitution is available at:
The Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments), and subsequent Constitutional Amendments are available at:
This IS NOT intended to be legal advice or in any way replace the advice and judgment of a licensed lawyer. Every case and situation is unique and only a licensed lawyer can offer legal advice which is appropriate for your situation