The Importance of Having a Constitution
* In its most general sense, a constitution is the fundamental, underlying framework of government for a nation or state. Most countries have a constitution. The United States has a constitution and is a constitutional government because it requires everyone regardless of position or office to abide by higher law. The United States Constitution establishes both the government’s power and the fundamental rights belonging to all people who reside within the borders
* While most of the world’s constitutions are written, they need not be. For instance, Great Britain has an unwritten constitution. When the British refer to the term constitution, they are referring to their collective legal traditions, including: the Magna Carta of 1215, the English Bill of Rights of 1687, Acts of Parliament, and the collective decisions of the British Courts (known as the common law).
* When people in the United States refer to the Constitution, they are often referring to the written document that lays out the structure and function of the federal government and that contains the Bill of Rights. People also may refer to their own state Constitutions.
The Provisions of the U.S. Constitution
* Written in 1787 and ratified in 1789, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest national Constitution still in use.
* The U.S. Constitution contains seven Articles. o Article I established the Legislative Branch of government.
o Article II established the Executive Branch of government
o Article III established the Judicial Branch of government.
o Article IV regulated the relations of individual states with each other.
o Article V established a means for amending the Constitution.
o Article VI established the Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land.
o Article VIII established a procedure for ratifying the Constitution.
* There are 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution of which only 25 are active.
o The first Ten Amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. They list specific rights of the people which the government may not infringe upon. They were added immediately after the Constitution was ratified. (e.g., freedom of religion).
o The Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the sale or transportation of alcohol and the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth.
o The remaining amendments either alter portions of the Constitution or expand individual rights.
The Importance and Strength of the U.S. Constitution
* One of the primary roles of any Constitution is to limit the powers of a government by informing all of the citizenry of those powers a government may legitimately possess.
* No Constitutions: Historically, many rulers did not write constitutions in an attempt to keep all power to themselves. For instance, King Louis XIV of France (who did not have a constitution) is famous for saying “I am the State”-meaning that the law was whatever he said it was. A constitution exists to prohibit such unchecked concentrations of power.
* The British Constitution and the Revolution: Although they saw many benefits of the unwritten British Constitution, the Founders argued that, without reducing basic principles of government to writing, they were too easy for rulers to manipulate. Indeed, the Founders justified the Revolution by arguing that the British King and Parliament routinely violated the British Constitution. Thus, they established a written Constitution for America.
* “Empty Constitutions”: Even if constitutions are written, they are empty if the government is free to ignore their provisions at will. For instance, the former Soviet Union had a Constitution, which it often disregarded.
* The U.S. Constitution: The ultimate strength of the U.S. Constitution is that it not only establishes a government, but it establishes a government which, to use Thomas Jefferson’s words, can “govern itself.” In other words, the document not only lets all people know the limits of the government’s power, but, the system of checks and balances that it has created ensures that these limits will be obeyed.