United States Constitution

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The Constitution explicitly forbids the requiring of any religious test as a qualification for holding office. To impose such a test by popular vote is as bad as to impose it by law. To vote either for or against a man because of his creed is to impose upon him a religious test and is a clear violation of the spirit of the Constitution. ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color. I have taken my oath to support that Constitution. It is the source of your rights and my rights. I propose to regard it, and administer it, as the source of the rights of all the people, whatever their belief or race. ~ Calvin Coolidge
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 of the U.S. Constitution
The constitution does not provide for first and second class citizens. ~ Wendell Willkie
In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American. ~ Antonin Scalia

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.

See also[edit]

Quotes[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The Bill of Rights (1791)[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.

Further amendments[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be abridged... on account of sex.

About the United States Constitution[edit]

Founding Fathers[edit]

  • 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.
    • Benjamin Franklin, speech in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (September 17, 1787); reported in James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott (1893), p. 741.
  • 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.
    • Benjamin Franklin, speech in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (September 17, 1787); reported in James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott (1893), p. 742.
  • 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).
  • Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading; and this they would say themselves were they to rise from the dead.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval) (12 July 1816).
  • I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval) (12 July 1816).
  • And lastly, let us provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval (12 July 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.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison (July 31, 1788); reported in Memoir, correspondence, and miscellanies from the papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volumes 1-2 (1829), p. 343.
  • 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.
  • 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".

Judicial interpretations[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • This case involves a cancer in our body politic. It is a measure of the disease which afflicts us. Army surveillance, like Army regimentation, is at war with the principles of the First Amendment. Those who already walk submissively will say there is no cause for alarm. But submissiveness is not our heritage. The First Amendment was designed to allow rebellion to remain as our heritage. The Constitution was designed to keep government off the backs of the people. The Bill of Rights was added to keep the precincts of belief and expression, of the press, of political and social activities free from surveillance. The Bill of Rights was designed to keep agents of government and official eavesdroppers away from assemblies of people. The aim was to allow men to be free and independent and to assert their rights against government. There can be no influence more paralyzing of that objective than Army surveillance. When an intelligence officer looks over every nonconformist's shoulder in the library, or walks invisibly by his side in a picket line, or infiltrates his club, the America once extolled as the voice of liberty heard around the world no longer is cast in the image which Jefferson and Madison designed, but more in the Russian image.
  • The Constitution deals with substance, not shadows.
  • 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).
  • That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.
  • 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.
  • 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 laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law.
  • 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).
  • Individuals who have been wronged by unlawful racial discrimination should be made whole; but under our Constitution there can be no such thing as either a creditor or a debtor race. That concept is alien to the Constitution's focus upon the individual. ...To pursue the concept of racial entitlement - even for the most admirable and benign of purposes - is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred. In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.
    • Antonin Scalia, Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Mineta, 534 U.S. 103 (1995).
  • 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).

Others[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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 (12 November 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.
  • To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.
    • Calvin Coolidge, Message to the National Security League in honor of Constitution Day, quoted in New York Times (17 September 1923) "Ceremonies Mark Constitution Day", at the White House, 12 December 1924. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Numbered among our population are some 12,000,000 colored people. Under our Constitution their rights are just as sacred as those of any other citizen. It is both a public and a private duty to protect those rights.
  • 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. Address accepting nomination as Republican candidate for president, Washington, D.C. (4 August 1924); published as Address of Acceptance (1924), p. 15.
  • Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color. I have taken my oath to support that Constitution. It is the source of your rights and my rights. I propose to regard it, and administer it, as the source of the rights of all the people, whatever their belief or race.
  • 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).
  • The will of the nation, speaking with the voice of battle and through the amended Constitution, has fulfilled the great promise of 1776 by proclaiming 'liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.' The elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787. NO thoughtful man can fail to appreciate its beneficent effect upon our institutions and people. It has freed us from the perpetual danger of war and dissolution. It has added immensely to the moral and industrial forces of our people. It has liberated the master as well as the slave from a relation which wronged and enfeebled both. It has surrendered to their own guardianship the manhood of more than 5,000,000 people, and has opened to each one of them a career of freedom and usefulness.
  • 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.
  • It is easy to demonstrate that 'our Fathers, who framed this government under which we live', looked on slavery as wrong, and so framed it and everything about it as to square with the idea that it was wrong, so far as the necessities arising from its existence permitted. In forming the Constitution they found the slave trade existing; capital invested in it; fields depending upon it for labor, and the whole system resting upon the importation of slave-labor. They therefore did not prohibit the slave trade at once, but they gave the power to prohibit it after twenty years. Why was this? What other foreign trade did they treat in that way? Would they have done this if they had not thought slavery wrong? Another thing was done by some of the same men who framed the Constitution, and afterwards adopted as their own act by the first Congress held under that Constitution, of which many of the framers were members; they prohibited the spread of Slavery into Territories. Thus the same men, the framers of the Constitution, cut off the supply and prohibited the spread of Slavery, and both acts show conclusively that they considered that the thing was wrong. If additional proof is wanting it can be found in the phraseology of the Constitution. When men are framing a supreme law and chart of government, to secure blessings and prosperity to untold generations yet to come, they use language as short and direct and plain as can be found, to express their meaning. In all matters but this of slavery the framers of the Constitution used the very clearest, shortest, and most direct language. But the Constitution alludes to slavery three times without mentioning it once! The language used becomes ambiguous, roundabout, and mystical. They speak of the 'immigration of persons', and mean the importation of slaves, but do not say so. In establishing a basis of representation they say 'all other persons', when they mean to say slaves — why did they not use the shortest phrase? In providing for the return of fugitives they say 'persons held to service or labor'. If they had said slaves it would have been plainer, and less liable to misconstruction. Why didn't they do it. We cannot doubt that it was done on purpose. Only one reason is possible, and that is supplied us by one of the framers of the Constitution — and it is not possible for man to conceive of any other — they expected and desired that the system would come to an end, and meant that when it did, the Constitution should not show that there ever had been a slave in this good free country of ours!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Constitution explicitly forbids the requiring of any religious test as a qualification for holding office. To impose such a test by popular vote is as bad as to impose it by law. To vote either for or against a man because of his creed is to impose upon him a religious test and is a clear violation of the spirit of the Constitution.
  • 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.

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