A Brief History of the Constitution

A Brief History of the Constitution

(DailyVantage.com) – The US Constitution is the document that contains our most fundamental legal principles, sets forth our governmental structure and provides for the separation of powers. No law, rule or regulation is legally valid unless it complies with the Constitution. The courts can invalidate any piece of legislation or case ruling they feel is unconstitutional.

Within the body of the Constitution, the Articles describe the separate powers and responsibilities of the three branches of government: The Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches.

History of the Constitution

The Founding Fathers signed the US Constitution into law in Philadelphia in 1787. They designed it to create a stronger federal government that would protect fundamental human rights across the country. Through it, they also built a framework for the separation of powers that exists in America today. This ensured no person or body could exercise too much influence individually.

Article I – The Legislative Branch

Sections 1-10 under Article I describe the powers of the Senate and House of Representatives. Those powers include the ability to tax and collect, to form treaties, to declare war, to regulate commerce or to establish post offices, among others.

Article II – The Executive Branch

This section of the Constitution describes the powers of the Executive branch of the government. It describes the requirements to become president and limits how long the president and vice president may serve. The president may appoint Cabinet members, judges, and department heads subject to confirmation by the Senate. The president may also negotiate treaties, but Congress must ratify them.

Article III – The Judicial Branch

The powers and formation of the Judicial branch are explained in sections 1-3 of Article III. It allows the Supreme Court to have original jurisdiction in specific types of cases and allows for appellate jurisdiction and independent law review in other types of cases. While the current number of justices is set at nine, there have been as many as 10 and as few as 6. The number of justices is set by Congress.

The Process of Change

There are two ways to change the Constitution. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds majority, or two-thirds of state legislatures can form a constitutional convention. To date, only the former method has been used. Once this process has concluded, three-quarters of the states must ratify the proposition either through their legislatures or constitutional conventions.

The president has no role in amending the Constitution. Because such a large number of people must act cooperatively to change them, Constitutional laws are difficult to overturn once they come into existence.


There are 27 constitutional amendments. The first 10 form the Bill of Rights and were part of the Constitution as it was originally signed. These include:

  • The First Amendment: Freedom of speech, religion and assembly
  • The Second Amendment: The right to bear arms
  • The Third Amendment: No quartering of soldiers
  • The Fourth Amendment: Protection against illegal search and seizure of property
  • The Fifth Amendment: Guarantee of due process of law, and the right to a grand jury; protection against self-incrimination and double jeopardy
  • The Sixth Amendment: Right to counsel, a speedy, public trial, and an impartial jury
  • The Seventh Amendment: Right to a trial by jury in common-law cases
  • The Eighth Amendment: Protection against Cruel and Unusual Punishment
  • The Ninth Amendment: Enumeration of the rights in the Constitution won’t be used against The People
  • The 10th Amendment: Powers not specified in the Constitution remain reserved to The States

Since the adoption of the Constitution, several more important amendments have been added, including these:

  • The 13th Amendment: The abolition of slavery
  • The 14th Amendment: Granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to former slaves
  • The 15th Amendment: Gave the vote to African-American men
  • The 18th Amendment: Established prohibition on the production and sale of alcohol
  • The 19th Amendment: Gave the vote to women
  • The 21st Amendment: Repealed prohibition — the only amendment to repeal a preceding amendment
  • The 24th Amendment: Outlawed poll taxes, effectively repealing all Jim Crow laws
  • The 26th Amendment: Gave the vote to citizens 18 years of age and older

At a time when our policymakers and leaders are in staunch disagreement about almost everything, the Constitution is more valuable than ever. As a stable, living document, it acts as our insurance policy against poor leadership and rash decisions. As long as constitutional law remains in place, it guarantees us the fundamental freedoms that make us American.

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