The American Constitution

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The basis of all law in the United States is the Constitution. This Constitution is a document written by "outcasts" of England. The Constitution of the United States sets forth the nation's fundamental laws. It establishes the form of the national government and defines the rights and liberties of the American people. It also lists the aims of the government and the methods of achieving them.

The Constitution was written to organize a strong national government for the American states. Previously, the nation's leaders had established a national government under the Articles of Confederation. But the Articles granted independence to each state. They lacked the authority to make the states work together to solve national problems.

After the states won independence in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), they faced the problems of peacetime government. The states had to enforce law and order, collect taxes, pay a large public debt, and regulate trade among themselves. They also had to deal with Indian tribes and negotiate with other governments. Leading statesmen, such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, began to discuss the creation of a strong national government under a new constitution.

The United States is a republic that operates under a federalist system. The national government had specific enumerated powers, and the fifty states retain substantial endowment over their citizens and their residents. Both the national government and the state government are divided into three different branches, executive, legislative, and judicial. Written constitutions, both federal and state, form a system of separated powers.

Amendment, in legislation, is a change in a law, or in a bill before it becomes a law. Bills often have amendments attached before a legislature votes on them.

Amendments to the Constitution of the United States may be proposed in two ways:

(1) If two-thirds of both houses approve, Congress may propose an amendment. The amendment becomes a law when ratified either by legislatures or by conventions in three-fourths of the states.
(2) If the legislatures of two-thirds of the states ask for an amendment, Congress must call a convention to propose it. The amendment becomes a law when ratified either by the legislatures or by conventions in three fourths of the states. This method has never been used.

The Federal Government is comprised of three branches: Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch.

The executive branch includes the President the vice President, the cabinet and all federal departments, and most governmental agencies. All executive power is vested in the President [US Const. Art. II, sec 1, cl. 1], currently Bill Clinton, who serves a four-year term. The President is the commander in Chief of the military [US Const. Art. II, sec 2, cl. 1], and has primary authority over foreign affairs. The President has the power to make treaties, but only with two-thirds of the US senate [US Const. Art. II, sec 2, cl. 2]. The President of the US has the power to nominate all Supreme Court Justices, all other federal juries, ambassadors, and all other officers of the United States. The President had the jurisdiction to veto legislation. The vice President is the President of the Senate. The Vice President serves the same four year term as the President.

The President is the head of the thirteen government departments. These departments are not listed in the constitution and have varied in name and in number over the years. Currently they are the DEPARTMENTS OF STATE, TREASURY, DEFENSE, JUSTICE, INTERIOR, AGRICULTURE, COMMERCE, LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, TRANSPORTATION, ENERGY, and EDUCATION. The heads of each department form the cabinet, which is the highest advisory group to the President. The executive branch also includes dozens of government agencies. There is a difference between departments and agencies. Agencies have a very specific purpose while the departments are more broad. Heads of any governmental agencies are not members of the cabinet.

All federal legislative powers are vested in the Congress of the United States, which contain two chambers, a Senate and a House of Representatives [US Const. Art. I, sec 1,]. There are one hundred Senators, two from each of the fifty states. Senators serve six-year terms [US Const. Art. I, sec 3, cl. 1]. The House of Representatives has 435 members, the population of each state determines this number. Each state is granted minimum of one representative. Each representative serves a two-year term.