We noted that Congress is divided into two houses which are to balance each other before any mention of other governmental powers: the Senate and the House of the Representatives. These two form one portion of the powers granted to the government. In this section, it’s great seeing how they’re elected.
Section 2 – The House. The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
Every 2 years, the people of the states pick their representatives via voting. What’s huge about this is that these representatives are going to serve the entire country and not merely the state. These representatives become, together, the House of Representatives. This stipulation is also important because it means that Representatives aren’t voted in for life: they are truly subject to the will of the People. In Congress, this house of representatives will have more people than the other house (the Senate).
No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.
Representatives have to have certain qualification—but surprisingly very little others: at least 25 years old, been a citizen of the US for at least seven years, and have been an inhabitant of the State in which he is chosen.
So this means that a person who is an inhabitant of another state can’t be a Representative, people who are citizens for less than 7 years (or non-citizens at all), and if they’re under 25.
But one doesn’t have to be royalty, a noble, come from a family of money, own a lot of land—none of that. Not even a level of intelligence is stipulated here. Which is all awesome. It means I am able to be a representative.
Article I: The Legislative Branch
Section 1 – The Legislature: 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.
The rules for this new nation have to go about establishing certain offices, departments, and modes of operation. The first listed is the Legislative Branch—which I guess can mean the Part of the Government that Makes the Laws.
This is pretty major on several counts. Kings had executive, judicial and legislative powers—all facets of government were subject to them; Parliament also had that sort of power—although they are a legislative branch, they have sovereignty over the other branches. Parliament has ultimate power and the only thing it doesn’t have power over is future Parliament.
But this Congress is different. It is given all legislative powers, and even some modicum of judicial power (mentioned later) but it is not given ultimate sovereignty.
A question is raised though: can states make laws? Do they have legislative powers?
Well, surely, else the states would never have ratified the Constitution. The “all legislative power” here has to be contextually defined as well as exposed to the light of what’s going on with this newly created government.
In other words, this power is not something that is naturally inherent in Congress, but it is being vested (note the words “granted” and “vested”) in it by the true sovereigns of the new government: the people.
I saw this great example in one of the books I read. If we were to imagine every power that a government could have (like making laws, starting wars, arresting people, torturing citizens, housing armies in homes) and put them into a box we would have the diagram below. This is just governmental power.
What this Constitution is starting to do is draw a line in the box. On one side of the line are powers not granted to the governing body—that we put into the category of infringing on the freedom of the people—and on the other side are powers that are granted to the governing body.
The powers granted in Article 1 are “all legislative” but only as demarcated by the boundaries of its sections. Since this is dealing with the creation of a federal body by the people what we’re seeing is a division of power solely on the side of granted powers. The federal government would have specific powers, as defined by the Constitution—state government would be a separate issue (although the first Article does deal with some of those issues).
So all we’re dealing with here is a portion of the upper right hand quadrant.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
We the People of the United States…do ordain
I noted that the preamble really wasn’t the setting down of laws, rights or anything but I purposefully didn’t mention the monumental importance of the language that was used.
The States of the Americas were already labeled “united” in the Articles of Confederations—but nowhere near the way that the Constitution was using the term.
Each state functioned, essentially, as its own country. They could make their own currency. They could enforce their own state constitutions. Honestly, they could even go to war against one another (if attacked by invasion). When they became the united States, they were the individual states which, together, signed the articles to form a confederation—not a new government. In other words, they weren’t forming a new government; they were merely in union with certain purposes.
For example: if a law had to be passed, all the states had to agree to it and then they may or may not implement it in their own states. A strange predicament that. But this makes sense if it was merely a sort of non-aggression contract. This is why the Articles of Confederation even allowed Canada to be part of the united (small “U”) States if they so wished. Canada wouldn’t be giving up her sovereignty; she’d only be in union with the other States.
Imagine the situation: States, functioning independently, making different currencies, different laws that didn’t function across borders—and the horror of an angry overseas enemy constantly looming. Sure the Articles stuffed in some language about no State making a treaty with England but it’s still a shaky concept when you consider the fractured history of Europe. If anything, even though the Articles were helpful, they would ultimately be a failure resulting in a fractured landmass under the constant thread of a powerful enemy and no way to deal with all the problems without all the States agreeing to the fixes first.
Enter the Constitution.
It doesn’t speak in terms of States coming into an agreement and then forming this central government by ending the previous system and accepting all sorts of inequities; rather it speaks in terms of the people collectively decreeing something into existence which wasn’t there before. The People are the ones who are speaking and ordaining this central government and this then becomes the (capital “U”) United States.
This is interesting since the ordaining of the United States doesn’t necessitate all the States agreeing on a change in Confederation—this United States didn’t have much to do with the Confederation as it was. This was a new thing.
We see in Article 7 (which we’ll get to eventually) it doesn’t speak of enforcing this United States over all the States by merely nine States agreeing on it, rather it speaks of the United States grounded on the Constitution coming into being via ordination by nine States ratifying the thing.
In effect, in the Americas, you would have Canada (up north), The United States (made up of whatever nine states did ratify it) and then all the other States functioning as other Countries.
As states ratified the Constitution, they entered into this more perfect union of an ordained Government rather than signing a treaty of peace with this New Country. In this way, Rhode Island continued to exist as a separate entity while the United States marched on with George Washington as her President. Once Rhode Island finally ratified the constitution they didn’t form a contract with the United States, they became part of the country already known as the United States.
Therefore, the importance of this “We the People of the United States…do ordain” is monumental, even if it isn’t establishing rights or laws. There may have been attempts at democratic governments in the past, even in ancient Greece and Rome, but such attempts ended at the State level. This government, ordained by the People and for the people and ratified by the People of the States was a new thing: for good or ill, the world would watch would wonder and realize that it would never again be the same.