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The United States Constitution
A learner's guide to
discovering the United States
was drawn up in Philadelphia,
capital of the States, in May 1787, and was ratified by the parliaments
of the 13 states between 1787 and 1790.
The most important historic
of the US Constitution was the English "Magna Carta",
the document drawn up by the English barons in 1215, and which set
clear limits on the exercise of power by the ruler (in this case the
monarch, King John), formalised the principles of government by
consensus (parliamentary government), and established the fundamental
rights of the individual.
The principal articles the United States Constitution
The Five principal articles of the Constitution specify:
Article 1. The constitution
and powers of Congress
Article 2. The powers of the
United States, and their limits (executive power)
Article 3. The power of the
Article 4. Relations between
, and the possibility of admitting new states.
Article 5. Methods of amending
it quickly became clear that the original Constitution was not
sufficient, and since 1791 a number of Amendments have been added. The
first of these, Amendments 1 to X, were voted in 1791: defining the
status of people in the United States, these first 10 Amendments are
collectively known as the Bill of
after the English Bill of Rights of 1689.
The Bill of Rights
Key elements of the US Constitution are defined in the Bill of Rights.
The "First Amendment"
This is no doubt the most famous of all the items in the American
Constitution. It states, quite briefly, that:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibition of the free exercise thereof; of abridging the freedom of
speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances."
Thus "first amendment rights" have been invoked by Americans ever since
in defense of their rights to freedom of belief, freedom of behaviour
(within the scope of legality), and freedom of all kinds of
idiosyncratic ideas. However, they are also invoked by those who wish
to practice or disseminate all kinds of bizarre or extreme ideas and
the Mormon preachings of Joseph Smith in the
century, to the dissemination of neo-Nazi propaganda over the Internet
in the 21st.
The Second Amendment
demonstrators claiming that the Second Amendment allows anyone to carry
arms - of any kind.
This states that : "A
well regulated Militia, being necessary to the
security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear
arms, shall not be infringed."
most controversial of the Amendments in modern times, is the cause of
intense attention by the two opposing camps in modern American society,
those in favor of firearms legislation as a means to combat America's
terrible record in homicides and armed crime (the homicide and armed
crime rate in the USA is far far higher than those in other Western
countries where the possession of arms is closely regulated, if not
largely forbidden), and those who maintain that it is the
"constitutional" right of any American to be allowed to carry arms even
for personal use (nothing to do with a Militia for the purpose of State
The Fourth Amendment
Places limits on the rights of
to enter or conduct seizures on private property.
The 5th to 8th Amendments
These establish the civil rights of defendants in courts of law,
including the rights to trial by jury, the rights to summon witnesses,
and the limits on the power of the State or state prosecutors to set
"unreasonable" levels of bail.
The 10th Amendment.
the fact that only certain powers in the United States are delegated to
the federal government, and that all other power resides in the
individual states and
Later amendments to the US Constitution
Other major Amendments to the Constitution
Twelfth Amendment (ratified
in 1804) determines the manner in which the
President and Vice President of the USA are elected by "electors"
nominated by the different states. The implications of this were
illustrated in 2000 in the Bush / Gore election, and again in 2016 when
Hillary Clinton won two million more popular votes than her rival
Donald Trump who was elected as President by the electoral college.
The President of the USA is NOT directly elected by universal suffrage,
contrary to an often held popular belief.
Amendment (1865) banned slavery in the United States. It is a
historic curiosity that in spite of the Jeffersonian precept
"all men are born equal", slavery was banned in the USA long after it
was outlawed in most countries of Europe and their dependencies.
Amendment, ratified in 1868, defines US citizenship
the manner in which states elect their Representatives to Congress.
However, it only applied to men, and it was not until the passing of
amendment, in 1920, that women got the vote in
Amendment, passed in 1951, limited the
number of terms of office that a president could serve, to two terms of
four years each. Thus F.D.Roosevelt's record of getting elected to the
US Presidency four times will never be beaten - unless the Constitution
is changed again to allow this.
In God we Trust
The US Constitution makes no mention of God.
the other hand the national motto of the USA is "In God we trust", a
motto that first appeared on US coins in 1864. It should be noted,
however, that the motto does not define the word "God".
Although religious practice,
to this day, remains strong in the United States,
and the USA is still essentially a Protestant nation - indeed a
Non-Conformist and even puritanical nation - there is no established
religion, no state religion in the USA, and the "God" in whom Americans
trust can be any form of God, including God the Father in the Christian
sense, Jehovah, Allah, Hindu deities, or even personal Gods or the Gods
of the American Indians. No American can be barred from representative
office because of his religious views, or the absence of them.
By contrast to the US Constitution, "God" is referred to in the State
Constitutions of all but four of States. Six states still have
articles in their State Constitutions that prohibit people who do not
believe in God from holding public office; however these restrictions
are not applied, and it is generally accepted that they are
unconstitutional, according to the US Constitution.
For more background to the USA.....
Book / ebook
Background to modern America
people, places and
that have played a significant role in the shaping of modern
America. A C1-level Advanced English reader for speakers of other
languages, and anyone wanting to learn some of the background
today's USA. Twenty-two texts, with vocabulary guides and
For California, discover About-California.com
, a short