The U.S. Constitution

Index to the US Constitution

Members of the US military guard the original US Constitution
Historical U.S. Documents on Display. Alex Wong / Getty Images

In just four hand-written pages, the Constitution gives us no less than the owners' manual to the greatest form of government the world has ever known.

Preamble

While the Preamble has no legal standing, it explains the purpose of the Constitution and reflects the goals of the Founders for the new government they were creating.The Preamble explains in just a few words what the people could expect their new government to provide them -- the defense of their liberty.

Article I - The Legislative Branch

Article I, Section 1
Establishes the legislature -- Congress -- as the first of the three branches of government
Article I, Section 2
Defines the House of Representatives
Article I, Section 3
Defines the Senate
Article I, Section 4
Defines how members of Congress are to be elected, and how often Congress must meet
Article I, Section 5
Establishes procedural rules of Congress
Article I, Section 6
Establishes that members of Congress will be paid for their service, that members cannot be detained while traveling to and from meetings of Congress, and that members can hold no other elected or appointed federal government office while serving in Congress.
Article I, Section 7
Defines the legislative process -- how bills become laws
Article I, Section 8
Defines the powers of Congress
Article I, Section 9
Defines the legal limitations on Congress' powers
Article I, Section 10
Defines specific powers denied to the states

Article II, Section 1

Establishes the offices of the President and Vice President, establishes the Electoral College
Article II, Section 2
Defines the powers of the President and establishes the President's Cabinet
Article II, Section 3
Defines miscellaneous duties of the President
Article II, Section 4
Addresses the removal from office of the President by impeachment

Article III -- The Judicial Branch

Article III, Section 1

Establishes the Supreme Court and defines the terms of service of all U.S. federal judges
Article III, Section 2
Defines the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, and guarantees trial by jury in criminal courts
Article III, Section 3
Defines the crime of treason

Article IV -- Concerning the States

Article IV, Section 1

Requires that each state must respect the laws of all other states
Article IV, Section 2
Ensures that citizens of each state will be treated fairly and equally in all states, and requires the interstate extradition of criminals
Article IV, Section 3
Defines how new states may be incorporated as part of the United States, and defines the control of federally-owned lands
Article IV, Section 4
Ensures each state a "Republican form of Government" (functioning as a representative democracy), and protection against invasion

Article V - Amendment Process

Defines the method of amending the Constitution

Article VI - Legal Status of the Constitution

Defines the Constitution as the supreme law of the United States

Article VII - Signatures

Amendments

The first 10 amendments comprise the Bill of Rights.

1st Amendment
Ensures the five basic freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and freedom to petition the government to remedy ("redress") grievances
2nd Amendment
Ensures the right to own firearms (defined by the Supreme Court as an individual right)
3rd Amendment
Ensures private citizens that they cannot be forced to house U.S.soldiers during peace
4th Amendment
Protects against police searches or seizures with out a warrant issued by a court and based on probable cause
5th Amendment
Establishes the rights of citizens accused of crimes
6th Amendment
Establishes the rights of citizens in regard to trials and juries
7th Amendment
Guarantees the right to trial by jury in federal civil court cases
8th Amendment
Protects against "cruel and unusual" criminal punishments and extraordinarily large fines
9th Amendment
States that just because a right is not specifically listed in the Constitution, does not mean that right should not be respected
10th Amendment
States that powers not granted to the federal government are granted either to the states or the people (the basis of federalism)
11th Amendment
Clarifies the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
12th Amendment
Redefines how the Electoral College chooses the President and Vice President
13th Amendment
Abolishes slavery in all states
14th Amendment
Guarantees citizens of all states rights on both the state and federal level
15th Amendment
Prohibits the use of race as a qualification to vote
16th Amendment
Authorizes the collection of income taxes
17th Amendment
Specifies that U.S. Senators will be elected by the people, rather than the state legislatures
18th Amendment
Prohibited the sale or manufacture of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. (Prohibition)
19th Amendment
Prohibited the use of gender as a qualification to vote (Women's Suffrage)
20th Amendment
Creates new starting dates for sessions of Congress, addresses the death of Presidents before they are sworn in
21st Amendment
Repealed the 18th Amendment
22nd Amendment
Limits to two the number of 4-year terms a President can serve.<br/>23rd Amendment
Grants the District of Columbia three electors in the Electoral College
24th Amendment
Prohibits the charging of a tax (Poll Tax) in order to vote in federal elections
25th Amendment
Further clarifies the process of presidential succession
26th Amendment
Grants 18-year olds the right to vote
27th Amendment
Establishes that laws raising the pay of members of Congress cannot take effect until after an election