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The Constitution of the United States: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 The Background
  • 1:01 The Constitution…
  • 5:37 The Bill of Rights
  • 7:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

The United States Constitution is one of the most important documents in history. In this lesson, we will summarize its components, including the preamble, articles, and its first ten amendments.

The Background

In 1776, the 13 colonies had declared themselves free from Great Britain and became United States of America. Following this, the new country initially developed the Articles of Confederation as its first constitution. However, the Articles really only focused on states' rights and weakened the federal government. It lasted only a few years, mainly because it led to confusion among the states, lacked executive power, and made trade among other countries difficult.

In 1783, the Revolutionary War was over, and it was clear the United States needed a new constitution. In 1786, Alexander Hamilton requested a Constitutional Convention, and the delegates, many of whom we all now know, worked to draft our country's constitution. After many hours of debates defining the new branches of government, the Constitution was ratified in 1787.

The Constitution of the United States changed history. It is one of the most important documents, not just in the United States' history, but the world's history. In this lesson, we will discuss the main components of the Constitution, and analyze their importance.

The Constitution: Preamble and Articles

The Constitution begins with the Preamble, or the introduction. The purpose of the Preamble is to explain why the forefathers wrote the Constitution. It reads:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Preamble is rather brief, but it does set the tone and reasons behind the Constitution. The forefathers wanted to create a peaceful union that shared the goal of liberty and justice.

The main body of the Constitution consists of seven articles. These articles create the government branches that we know today: Legislative, Judicial, and Executive.

Article One describes the Legislative Branch, the part of the government that creates laws. This branch, which we call Congress, consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although the definition of this branch is very straightforward, the rest of the article introduces several different clauses or rules for this government branch.

Some of these include years of service, the qualifications of members, how many seats would be given to each state, the role of the Vice President, the rules for impeachment, and the rules for session.

In the House, the representatives are elected every two years, must be 25 years old, have been a citizen for seven years, and live in the state that they represent. In addition, the House has sole responsibility for impeachment.

In the Senate, senators are elected every six years, must be 30 years old, have been a citizen for nine years, and live in the state that they represent. The Vice President is the Speaker of the House, but the Vice President does not vote unless there is a tie.

Article Two describes the Executive Branch, the part of the government that implements the laws. This article focuses on the roles of the President and Vice President. First, we are given rules for the President and Vice President, including being a natural born citizen, 35 years old, and lived in the United States for the last 14 years. The President is elected every four years.

Second, the power given to the President is described in this article. This includes being Commander in Chief, granting pardons, making treaties, appointing ambassadors, and creating a State of the Union. Although the President is given many powers, remember that the goal of these articles is to create a balance between the different branches of government. Because of this, many of the President's powers are limited by the support of Congress.

Article Three describes the Judicial Branch, the part of the government responsible for interpreting the law. Article Three puts in place the Supreme Court, although lower courts may also rule under it. Those appointed to the Supreme Court can hold office for life unless they are removed or impeached.

These courts are also assigned civil or criminal cases. This article also describes the appeal process, as well as the process for a trial by jury. Finally, the Act of Treason is defined in this article.

Article Four focuses on the relationship between federal and state governments. It also describes the relationship between states, including extraditing fugitives and allowing citizens to move between states. Article Four also outlines the rules for entering a new state in the union. Finally, this Article promises that the United States would be a Republican Government, where powers are given to the people.

Article Five allows for amendments to be made to the Constitution. The rules for making any changes to the Constitution are outlined in this Article. They include a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. After the proposal is accepted in Congress, three-fourths of the states must also vote for the new amendment.

Article Six states the Constitution is the highest law of the land. All judges are bound by the Constitution. This article requires that all legislators, officers, and judges take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Finally, no state constitution should conflict with the Constitution.

Article Seven focuses on the time frame for ratifying the new Constitution. The writers ask that each state have its own convention to ratify the Constitution. The Article required that nine states ratifiy the Constitution in order for it to go into effect.

The Bill of Rights

When the Constitution was first represented to the states, it was not immediately accepted. Basically, the delegates were split on allowing big government or not. The delegates were still very worried about a large government and wanted to be sure a system of checks and balances was in place.

The first draft of the Constitution really focused on the rights of the government, it did very little to focus on the rights of the people. For this reason, the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, was added to the Constitution before it was ratified.

The Bill of Rights created individual rights that would be protected by the Constitution:

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