United States Constitution
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. It was completed on September 17, 1787, with its adoption by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, PA, and was later ratified by special conventions in each state. It created a federal union of sovereign states, and a federal government to operate that union.
- We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
- The President, Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
- Article II, sec. 4
- Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on the confession in open court.
- Article III, sec. 3
- This Constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be Supreme Law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
- Article VI, sec. 2
The Bill of Rights (1791)
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
- First Amendment (1791)
- 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.
- Second Amendment (1791)
- The right of the people to be secure... against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.
- Fourth Amendment (1791)
- Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
- Fifth Amendment (1791)
- In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
- Sixth Amendment (1791)
- In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
- Seventh Amendment (1791)
- Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.
- Eighth Amendment (1791)
- Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
- All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall... abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
- Fourteenth Amendment, sec. 1 (1868)
- The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
- Fifteenth Amendment, sec. 1 (1870)
- The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be abridged... on account of sex.
- Nineteenth Amendment, sec. 1 (1920)
About the United States Constitution
- I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.
- In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, — if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.
- Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
- Benjamin Franklin, letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy (13 November 1789); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
- And lastly, let us provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval (July 12, 1816); reported in Paul L. Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1899), volume 10, p. 43.
- The constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.
- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Judge Spencer Roane (September 6, 1819); reported in Andrew A. Lipscomb, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1904) vol. 15, p. 213.
- In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.
- Thomas Jefferson, from the fair copy of the drafts of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798; reported in Paul L. Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1896), volume 7, p. 305.
- I sincerely rejoice at the acceptance of our new Constitution by nine States. It is a good canvas, on which some strokes only want retouching. What these are, I think are sufficiently manifested by the general voice from north to south, which calls for a bill of rights.
- The danger of disturbing the public tranquillity by interesting too strongly the public passions, is a still more serious objection against a frequent reference of constitutional questions to the decision of the whole society.
- Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doctor Franklin, looking towards the President’s chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art, a rising, from a setting, sun. I have, said he, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.
- The American constitutions were to liberty what a grammar is to language: they define its parts of speech, and practically construct them into syntax.
- Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791), p. 44.
- Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions.
- Attributed to Virginia governor Edmund Randolph, by James McHenry in his notes of the Constitutional Convention (May 29, 1787); reported in Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, rev. ed. (1937), volume 1, p. 26.
- If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
- George Washington, farewell address (September 19, 1796); reported in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (1940), volume 35, p. 229.
- It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.
- George Washington, remarks at the first Continental Congress, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (May 14, 1787); reported in Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States (1934), p. 66.
- Should the States reject this excellent Constitution, the probability is, an opportunity will never again offer to cancel another in peace—the next will be drawn in blood.
- Attributed to George Washington in the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser (November 14, 1787), p. 3, column 1. Uncertainty in this attribution is reported in Charles Warren, The Making of the Constitution (1937, originally published 1928), p. 717, who quotes this, with slight variation in wording, but adds in a footnote: "As Madison does not mention this speech, there is some doubt as to the accuracy of the report".
- The Constitution was built for rough as well as smooth roads. In time of war the nation simply changes gears and takes the harder going under the same power.
- Harold Hitz Burton. Duncan v. Kahanamoku, 327 U.S. 304, 342 (1946).
- Time has proven the discernment of our ancestors, for even these provisions, expressed in such plain English words that it would seem the ingenuity of man could not evade them, are now, after the lapse of more than seventy years, sought to be avoided. Those great and good men foresaw that troublous times would arise when rulers and people would become restive under restraint, and seek by sharp and decisive measures to accomplish ends deemed just and proper, and that the principles of constitutional liberty would be in peril unless established by irrepealable law. The history of the world had taught them that what was done in the past might be attempted in the future. The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times and under all circumstances. No doctrine involving more pernicious consequences was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism, but the theory of necessity on which it is based is false, for the government, within the Constitution, has all the powers granted to it which are necessary to preserve its existence, as has been happily proved by the result of the great effort to throw off its just authority.
- David Davis, Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2, 120-21 (1866).
- The Constitution favors no racial group, no political or social group.
- William O. Douglas, Uphaus v. Wyman, 364 U.S. 388, 406 (1960), dissenting.
- The Constitution deals with substance, not shadows.
- Stephen J. Field, Cummings v. State of Missouri, 71 U. S. 277, 325 (1866).
- The ultimate touchstone of constitutionality is the Constitution itself and not what we have said about it.
- Felix Frankfurter, concurring in Graves v. New York ex rel. O'Keefe, 306 U.S. 446 (1939).
- Is that which was deemed to be of so fundamental a nature as to be written into the Constitution to endure for all times to be the sport of shifting winds of doctrine?
- Our Constitution is color-blind.
- The Constitution is not a panacea for every blot upon the public welfare, nor should this Court, ordained as a judicial body, be thought of as a general haven for reform movements.
- That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616; 630 (1919) (dissenting).
- The interpretation of constitutional principles must not be too literal. We must remember that the machinery of government would not work if it were not allowed a little play in its joints.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Bain Peanut Co. v. Pinson, 282 U.S. 499, 501 (1931).
- Our protection against all kinds of fanatics and extremists, none of whom can be trusted with unlimited power over others, lies not in their forbearance but in the limitations of our Constitution.
- Robert H. Jackson, American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 439 (1950).
- The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their own will, and lives only by their will.
- John Marshall, Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheaton (19 U.S.) 264, 389 (1821).
- We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.
- If the provisions of the Constitution be not upheld when they pinch as well as when they comfort, they may as well be abandoned.
- George Sutherland, Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell, 290 U.S. 398, 483 (1934).
- If this statement by Judge Cooley is true, and the authority for it is unimpeachable, then the theory that the Constitution is a written document is a legal fiction. The idea that it can be understood by a study of its language and the history of its past development is equally mythical. It is what the Government and the people who count in public affairs recognize and respect as such, what they think it is. More than this. It is not merely what it has been, or what it is today. It is always becoming something else and those who criticize it and the acts done under it, as well as those who praise, help to make it what it will be tomorrow.
- Charles A. Beard and William Beard, The American Leviathan: The Republic in the Machine Age (1931), p. 39.
- The layman's Constitutional view is that what he likes is Constitutional and that which he doesn't like is un-Constitutional. That about measures up the Constitutional acumen of the average person.
- Hugo Black, news conference, Washington, D.C., reported in The New York Times (February 25, 1971), p. 38.
- We have seen that the American Constitution has changed, is changing, and by the law of its existence must continue to change, in its substance and practical working even when its words remain the same.
- James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, new ed. (1924), volume 1, chapter 35, p. 401.
- The great generalities of the constitution have a content and a significance that vary from age to age.
- Benjamin N. Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process (1921), p. 17.
- Most faults are not in our Constitution, but in ourselves.
- Ramsey Clark, remarks at meeting sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, New York City, November 11, 1970, to debate the merits of a new constitution drafted by Rexford Tugwell, as reported by The Washington Post (November 12, 1970), p. A2.
- The Constitution was not made merely for the generation that then existed, but for posterity — unlimited, undefined, endless, perpetual posterity.
- Henry Clay, speech before the U.S. Senate (1850); reported in The American Whig Review (1850), volume 11, page 229.
- The Constitution is the sole source and guaranty of national freedom.
- Calvin Coolidge, address accepting nomination as Republican candidate for president, Washington, D.C. (August 4, 1924); published as Address of Acceptance (1924), p. 15.
- To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.
- Attributed to Calvin Coolidge, at the White House, December 12, 1924. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
- The words of the Constitution ... are so unrestricted by their intrinsic meaning or by their history or by tradition or by prior decisions that they leave the individual Justice free, if indeed they do not compel him, to gather meaning not from reading the Constitution but from reading life.
- Felix Frankfurter, The Supreme Court, vol. 3, no. 1, Parliamentary Affairs (London, Winter 1949).
- As the British Constitution is the most subtile organism which has proceeded from the womb and the long gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.
- William Gladstone, "Kin Beyond Sea", The North American Review (September–October 1878), p. 185.
- We believe, and I think properly, that when the men who met in 1787 to make our Constitution they made the best political document ever made; but, remember, they did so very largely because they were great compromisers.
- Learned Hand, testimony before the United States Congress, Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, hearing on the Establishment of a Commission on Ethics in Government (1951).
- If the Constitution is to be construed to mean what the majority at any given period in history wish the Constitution to mean, why a written Constitution and deliberate process of amendment?
- Frank J. Hogan, Presidential address to the American Bar Association, San Francisco (July 10, 1939); reported in the Texas Bar Journal (1939), volume 2, p. 306.
- We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is, and the judiciary is the safeguard of our liberty and of our property under the Constitution.
- Charles Evans Hughes, speech before the Chamber of Commerce, Elmira, New York (May 3, 1907); reported in Addresses and Papers of Charles Evans Hughes, Governor of New York, 1906–1908 (1908), p. 139.
- While the Declaration was directed against an excess of authority, the Constitution was directed against anarchy.
- Robert H. Jackson, The Struggle for Judicial Supremacy: A Study in Crisis in American Power Politics (1941), p. 8.
- Amendments to the Constitution ought to not be too frequently made; . . . continually tinkered with it would lose all its prestige and dignity, and the old instrument would be lost sight of altogether in a short time.
- Andrew Johnson, speech in front of the White House (February 22, 1866); Andrew Johnson Papers, Library of Congress.
- Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.
- Abraham Lincoln, speech at Kalamazoo, Michigan (August 27, 1856); reported in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), volume 2, p. 366.
- Here we stan' on the Constitution, by thunder!
It's a fact o' wich ther's bushils o' proofs;
Fer how could we trample on 't so, I wonder,
Ef 't worn't thet it's ollers under our hoofs?'
Sez John C. Calhoun, sez he.
- James Russell Lowell, The Bigelow Papers, Series I (1848).
- Your constitution is all sail and no anchor. As I said before, when a society has entered on this downward progress, either civilisation or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand; or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth Century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth;—with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your own institutions.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, letter to Henry Stephens Randall (May 23, 1857); reported in Thomas Pinney, , ed., The Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay (1981), volume 6, p. 96.
- The United States Constitution has proven itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, radio address (March 2, 1930); reported in Public Papers of Governor Roosevelt (1930), p. 710.
- I hope your committee will not permit doubts as to constitutionality, however reasonable, to block the suggested legislation.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, letter to Representative Samuel B. Hill (July 6, 1935); published in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1935 (1938), p. 298.
- However the Court may interpret the provisions of the Constitution, it is still the Constitution which is the law and not the decision of the Court.
- Charles Warren, The Supreme Court in United States History (1932), volume 2, chapter 38, p. 748–49.
- The constitution does not provide for first and second class citizens.
- Wendell Willkie, An American Program (1944), p. 8.
- As apt and applicable as the Declaration of Independence is today, we would do well to honor that other historic document drafted in this hall--the Constitution of the United States. For it stressed not independence but interdependence--not the individual liberty of one but the indivisible liberty of all.