Constitutional law is the body of law that governs the foundation or basic laws of a country. A country's constitution is usually created upon the independence of that specific country. Sometimes a country will go years without a formal constitution and will begin drafting at any random time. Not all freestanding countries in the world today operate with a constitution. The United States Constitution was ratified by the states on September 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It laid the framework of the country's government by defining the three main branches of government; executive, judicial, and legislative.
The legislative branch includes a bicameral Congress, the executive branch includes the President, and the judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Court. The Constitution also outlines what each branch's powers are and how they are allowed to operate in relation to one another. The Constitution also reserves the rights for each individual state as well as being the shortest and oldest Constitution of any major sovereign state.
After the Constitution was ratified by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, it was also ratified by conventions held in each U.S. state. The Constitution has been amended a total of 27 times with the first 10 amendments being called the Bill of Rights. The first constitution of the United States was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Those were replaced by the Constitution, making the United States a federal government instead of a confederation. By doing this, the United States has the oldest federal constitution. The Constitution is on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.
The United States government operates under the direction of the Constitution and if any one branch performs an unconstitutional activity, they can be taken to court for violating the Constitution. Many lawsuits held in courts across the country today are for violating citizens' constitutional rights.
The supposed ‘Father of the Constitution' was James Madison, who also drafted the Virginia Plan, which was the unofficial agenda for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. At this convention, Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed the Great Compromise. The Great Compromise said that the House would represent population, the Senate would represent states, and the President would be elected by electors. Because the issue of slavery was so hotly debated it was not resolved at this convention but four provisions of the Constitution allowed it to continue for the next 20 years. The failure to resolve the slavery issue helped lead to the United States Civil War.
There were only three unanimous votes by the states to ratify the Constitution. The first state to ratify the Constitution was Delaware, on December 7, 1787. There were 30 yes votes and 0 no votes. The other two states to ratify the Constitution without any negative votes were New Jersey (38-0) and Georgia (26-0). In all, 13 states ratified the Constitution between 1787 and 1790, adopting it as the official law of the land.
The Constitution itself consists of seven main articles following the preamble, which is also known as the statement of purpose. Article I defines legislative power, Article II defines executive power, Article III defines judicial power, Article IV defines states' powers and limits, Article V defines the process of amendments, Article VI defines federal power and Article VII defines ratification. Aside from the Articles of the Constitution, there are the 27 amendments to the Constitution, with the first ten known as the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights is 10 amendments to the United States Constitution involve the rights of the citizens of the country. Such rights are the right to bear arms, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, protection from searches, seizures, and arrests without probable cause or a warrant.
For More Information
- Cornell University Law School: The Constitution of the United States of America
- The U.S. Constitution Online
- United States House of Representatives
- United States Senate
- United States Supreme Court
- The United States Executive Branch
- Constitution for the United States of America
- The United States Constitution