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.


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


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.

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