The start of a new year is the perfect time to review where we’ve come from and also where we’re going. Before digging deeper into the supreme law of our land, let’s review what we’ve covered so far!
We began our study of the Constitution at…the beginning! By looking at the famous words that open this important document, “We the People…”
George Washington said,
“The power of the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their own interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can and undoubtedly will be recalled.”
It’s important to note that we didn’t create the Constitution as one large mass of people, but as states. This goes back to the idea of state sovereignty, which unfortunately, is often overlooked today. Just as “we the people” created the Constitution, it’s OUR duty to preserve it in order to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
To review our post on the Preamble of the Constitution, see here.
Article One- Overview
Article One lists the specific powers of Congress. There are nine sections to Article One and we have currently studied almost all the way through section eight. It’s important that we understand the powers granted to our Legislative Branch, the most powerful branch of the United States government.
As David New points out in The Constitution for Beginners, “Our Constitution separates the law enforcement power [the President] from the law making power [Congress].” Our founding fathers set this up to help prevent the United States from ever becoming a dictatorship.
As we know, corruption unfortunately perverts this system at times today. Again, David New writes, “The President and the Supreme Court have been usurping the powers of Congress. For example, Executive Orders issued by the President sometimes can have the effect of being a quasi law. A quasi law is not a real law but it operates like one. The Supreme Court can legislate from the bench through the legal opinions it issues every year. This is known as judicial activism. When this happens, the Supreme Court is usurping the powers of the Congress.”
Article One, Section 1
Article One, Section 1 simply states,
“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
This establishes our bicameral (two-chambered) form of legislature, one of the many checks and balances that our founding fathers put in place to insure the protection of liberty.
To review our post on Article One, Section 1, see here.
Article One, Section 2
This section deals specifically with the House of Representatives and gives details as to what qualifications are required, how members are to be elected, how often elections are to be held, and qualifications for voters.
This section also covers how representatives are to be apportioned (the number of members needed is determined by the population of the state), how often a census is to be held (to insure proper representation is maintained), how vacancies are to be filled, and also discusses the power of impeachment (any resolution for impeachment must originate in the House of Representatives).
Article One, Section 3
This Section addresses the Senate and the election of senators. While senators were originally supposed to be chosen by the state legislatures, the 17th Amendment changed that to where they are now elected by the people. Unlike representatives, which are numbered according to the population of each state, each state only has two senators.
As we already addressed, the House of Representatives is responsible for bringing the charges of impeachment. However, the Senate is in charge of the impeachment trial.
Article One, Section 4
This section covers the fact that each state is responsible for determining how their state legislators will be elected. However, Congress is given the authority to provide rules regarding congressional elections.
This section also lines out that Congress must assemble at least once per year and even sets aside a specific day. However, the date Congress must convene was changed by the 20th Amendment from December to January to help avoid “lame-duck” sessions.
To review our post on Article One, Section 4, see here.
Article One, Section 5
The first clause, the Qualifications and Quorum Clause, deals with rules for members of Congress. Each house is to set its own rules for its members as well as establish penalties for members who are unnecessarily absent.
The second clause, the Rules and Expulsion Clause, is similar to the first. It also allows for each house of Congress to remove its members upon a two-thirds majority vote.
The third clause is the House Journal Clause. Congress consistently keeps this record and includes information on votes, debate minutes, and other happenings from the floor. Although certain information can be kept from it, this is not typically the case.
The last clause in this section is the Adjournment Clause. This keeps both Houses of Congress working simultaneously and prevents one house from preventing or delaying the actions of the other.
To review our post on Article One, Section 5, see here.
Article One, Section 6
The first clause in this section, the Compensation Clause, deals with the salary that senators and representatives receive.
The second clause is the Privileged from Arrest Clause. This clause dealt with the practice of civil arrest, which, is hardly, if ever, used today.
The third clause, the Speech and Debate Clause, was put in place to ensure that senators and representatives could freely express their views.
The last paragraph in this section of Article One deals with the Sinecure Clause and the Incompatibility Clause. This prevents senators and representatives from serving simultaneously in the legislature and also holding an executive position, thus keeping the president from being able to buy votes in Congress.
We also learn that senators and representatives cannot resign to take newly created or higher-paying political offices.
To review our post on Article One, Section 6, see here.
Article One, Section 7
The first paragraph is known as the Origination Clause. This clause gives the authority to raise national revenue only to the House of Representatives. This clause also keeps the Senate from introducing any bills that would raise revenue if implemented.
The second paragraph is known as the Presentment Clause and, as Benjamin points out in his article on this section, deals with the much-debated topic of the Constitutional Convention. It also gives some rules to the president when vetoing a bill.
The third paragraph is known as the Presentment of Resolutions Clause. This clause was meant to guard against the violation of the Presentment Clause. As Benjamin writes, “[This clause] basically says that everything Congress may pass is subject to the approval of the President and reiterates the rules for a veto and veto override.”
To review our post on Article One, Section 7, see here.
Article One, Section 8
Section eight deals with some of the most important powers of Congress and is, by far, the longest section we’ve studied so far. This section covers rules on taxes, naturalization, borrowing money, coining money, establishing post offices, the military, declaring war, regulating commerce between states, and more!
For more details, you can review our posts on section eight by using the links below.
I hope you’ve found this review helpful and that you’ll be excited to dig into the final clauses of Article One, Section 8 next month! Until then, I’d like to propose that you take a few minutes to read the text of our Constitution for yourself. It’s important that we know it by heart and there’s no better time than now!
“The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.” -James Madison