An Overview of the Constitution

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

An Overview of the Constitution

The Constitution begins with the following Preamble:

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 opening of the Preamble is remarkable for its first three words. “We the People” suggests that symbolically, the government is a democracy, not a republic—that rather than being written by the representatives, the founding document of the nation was actually written and approved by the people themselves. This shows the framers’ concern for the Lockian principle of government by the consent of the governed.

The Constitution is divided into seven articles, as follows:


Article I Describes the legislative branch with two houses, a Senate and a House of Representatives. Senators are chosen by state legislatures; there are two for each state. Representatives are popularly elected; there is one for every 30,000 people in a state (excluding Indians, and counting each slave as three-fi fths of one person). Gives the rules by which the legislature will conduct business and pass laws.
Article II Describes the executive branch, which will be headed by a President. In a system known as the electoral college, voters will choose electors who will in turn cast their votes for president. Sets forth the duties and powers of the President.
Article III Describes the judicial branch, which will consist of a Supreme Court with nine justices who will serve for life during good behavior.
Article IV Describes the powers and rights of the states.
Article V Describes the process by which the Constitution can be amended.
Article VI States that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that no religious test will be administered as a qualifi cation for office.
Article VII States that the Constitution will become law when nine states have ratified it.


Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights Practice Test

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