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The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land. All laws in the United States need to follow the Constitution. Sometimes, people think a law does not follow the Constitution. They make a case. They take the case to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can decide that a law is unconstitutional. If that happens, it is declared “unconstitutional” and cannot be a law anymore. The Constitution was adopted in 1788.
“We the People …” are the first three words of the Constitution. The full text is: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure 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 preamble was created at the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787. It was probably written by Gouverneur Morris, who drafted much of the rest of the Constitution.
A change to the Constitution. An amendment is a change to the Constitution. The country grows and changes. Amendments to the Constitution allow the government to grow and change, too. For example, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Many people, like Susan B. Anthony, fought for this right for many years. Today, women can vote because of this amendment.
The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. It spells out the rights of Americans in relation to their government. It guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual—like freedom of speech, press and religion. It sets rules for due process of law and reserves all powers not delegated to the federal government to the people or the states.
Twenty-seven amendments have been ratified by the required number of states and are now an integral part of the Constitution. The first 10 amendments were adopted and ratified simultaneously and are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. Six amendments adopted by Congress and sent to the states have not been ratified by the required number of states. Four of these amendments are still pending.
South Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania. The 13 Colonies, also known as the 13 British Colonies, were a group of colonies of Great Britain on the Atlantic Coast of North America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries that declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The 13 original states were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
There are currently 435 voting representatives. Representatives serve two-year terms, must be 25 years old and must have been U.S. citizens for at least seven years. Congress twice set the size of the House at 435 voting members. The first law to do so was passed on August 8, 1911. In 1929, the Permanent Apportionment Act permanently set the maximum number of representatives at 435.
Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) wrote the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, the third president, was an important political leader and thinker. He wanted to create a government for the United States that protected individual rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the United States was free from Britain. He wrote that all men are created equal. He wrote that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The ideas in the Declaration of Independence helped shape the American government.
Freedom of religion is the ability to practice any religion, or not practice a religion. Freedom to practice different religions is part of American life. It is part of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Everyone living in the United States has religious freedom. They can choose to practice any religion or not practice a religion.
The system of checks and balances stops one branch of the federal government from becoming too powerful. The United States government is divided into three separate branches. They are the president, Congress and the courts. Here is an example of how this works. Congress makes laws. But the president can veto a law. That means the president can refuse to sign it. The law is then sent back to Congress. This is one way the president limits, or “checks,” the power of Congress.
Only U.S. citizens may serve on juries. It is also the responsibility of citizens to serve on a jury when they are asked. A jury is a group of citizens in a courtroom that listen to evidence in a trial. The jury decides the outcome of the trial. Noncitizens may serve in the military and must pay taxes.
The United States presidential line of succession is the order in which officials of the U.S. federal government assume the powers and duties of the office of president of the United States if the incumbent president becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns or is removed from office. The order of succession specifies that the office passes to the vice president; if the vice presidency is vacant, or if the vice president cannot serve, the powers and duties of the presidency pass to the speaker of the House of Representatives.
Under the principle of federalism, the responsibility of running public education belongs to the states. The other powers—to print money, declare war and make treaties—are specifically reserved for the federal government.
Of the four promises, only the promise to give up loyalty to other countries is included in the oath of citizenship.
The Federalist Papers is a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution. The collection was commonly known as The Federalist until the name The Federalist Papers emerged in the 20th century. Alexander Hamilton wrote a majority of the essays.
Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was a Founding Father and signer of the Declaration of Independence but was never a U.S. president. James Monroe (1758–1831 was the fifth president; John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) was the sixth president; Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) was the seventh president.
The Louisiana Purchase was the acquisition of the territory of Louisiana by the United States from France in 1803. In return for $15 million, or approximately $18 per square mile, the United States acquired a total of 828,000 square miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River to present day Montana. The Alaska Purchase was acquired from Russia in 1867. The Gadsden Purchase was acquired from Mexico in 1854. Guadalupe Hidalgo was a treaty signed in 1848 that ended the Mexican-American War.
There are five major U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, acquired by treaty from Spain in 1899. Residents of Guam are American citizens by birth. Territories have their own local governments. They also must follow the laws of the U.S. federal government. Haiti is an independent country. The Cayman Islands and Bermuda are autonomous British Overseas Territories.
The Emancipation Proclamation, or Proclamation 95, was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862. On January 1, 1863, the proclamation changed the legal status under federal law of more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the secessionist Confederate states from enslaved to free.
U.S. senators represent a single state in its entirety. Each state is equally represented by two senators who serve staggered terms of six years. There are 100 senators representing the 50 states. The Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress, which, along with the House of Representatives—the lower chamber—constitutes the Legislative Branch of the U.S. government.