The U.S. Constitution is the framework of supreme law in the United States of America and is the oldest written constitution in the world. Its significance is to establish the structure of the federal system and distribution of power between national and state governments in the interests, and for the protection of the rights, of United States citizens and all people who live within its borders.
What Is the Constitution?
The Constitution is made up of a preamble (an introduction that summarizes the principles contained within the Constitution), seven articles and 27 amendments. The first draft was written in 1787 and ratified two years later. Articles I, II and III establish the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Article IV outlines the relationship among individual states. Article V establishes the procedure for amending the Constitution. Article VI declares the Constitution to be the Supreme Law of the Land. Finally, Article VII deals with the ratification of the Constitution. Of the 27 amendments only 25 are active -- the first 10, added in 1791, are known as the Bill of Rights. They are designed to limit the power of government and protect the rights of individuals in matters including freedom of religion and speech and the freedom of the press.
The Constitution is the driving force behind the way national government functions. Three independent branches of government -- executive, legislative and judicial -- ensure that powers are managed by many hands rather than a few. National laws are enforced by the Office of the President of the United States, the executive branch of national government. National laws are made by Congress, the legislative branch, made up of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. These laws are applied and interpreted by the Supreme Court and other federal courts. The ultimate power in constitutional matters lies with the Supreme Court.
State Government and the People
The rights of individual states to pass legislation is enshrined in the Tenth Amendment. The Constitution gives powers to the states to legislate on matters such as marriage, divorce and public schools. The rights of individuals, which the government is forbidden to violate, are contained in the Bill of Rights. These include the right to bear arms, the right to own property, the right to remain silent and the right to be tried by a jury.
The United States Constitution is significant because it states that all American citizens, from the President of the United States downwards, must act in accordance with a higher law. Admired throughout the world for the rights it grants to the United States people, it was described by the 19th-century British statesman and Prime Minister William Gladstone as "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."