Op/Ed

Victor Nuovo: The Constitution’s 7 articles

Article II also states the grounds for the removal from office of the President, Vice-President, and other officials: treason, bribery and “other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

13th in a series
The Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787. It consisted of delegates from 12 of the 13 states. Its first action was to elect George Washington President of the Convention. Its chief business was to draft a constitution for the United States of America. On September 17, 1787, after unanimously approving a draft of the Constitution, which it forwarded to the states for ratification, the convention was adjourned. Twelve of the 13 states sent delegates. Rhode Island chose not to attend, but it would subsequently ratify the Constitution.
Because the Constitution is essential to our existence as a nation, we must know what it contains. To that end, I offer this brief summary, and I invite my readers to pick up a copy of the Constitution and read along with me.
The Constitution of the United States of America is a body of law consisting, in its present state, of a Preamble, seven Articles, and 27 amendments. The 28th amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment, which would grant equal rights to all Americans regardless of sex, is still pending.
The first three articles of the Constitution describe the three branches of government: Legislative, Executive and Judicial. Each branch has a different function or power: The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch carries them out, and the judicial branch reviews them.
The term “branch” is noteworthy. Literally, a branch is something that grows out of the stem of a plant or the trunk of a tree. The stem or trunk are the people, who have a dual function: The people — that is, citizens of the United States — ordained and established the Constitution in the first place, and no one can be an official in either branch who is not a citizen, who is not “of the people.” Recalling Lincoln’s memorable expression, we must imagine the system of government defined by the Constitution as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” James Madison put it aptly: It is essential to a Republic such as ours “that it be derived from the great body of Society,” that is, the people.
The powers of government may be separate, but they are united in their goals, which are unity, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, public welfare, and the blessings of liberty. The beneficiaries of these benefits are the people. The system is organic. The United States is a living being!
The legislative branch is comprised of two institutions: a House of Representatives, and a Senate. Representatives are apportioned to each state according to population, which gives more populous states an advantage. To compensate for this, each state, regardless of the size of its population, is apportioned two Senators. In the same vein, representatives’ terms are for two years only; senatorial terms are for six. More than once in the history of the nation this provision has given Vermont, although one of the least populous states, the opportunity to play an influential role in national affairs.
The House of Representatives and Senate are self-regulating. They choose their leaders, with one exception that the Vice President, who is part of the Executive branch, presides over the Senate. Each house establishes its own rules of procedure and disciplines its members. The Congress also has a disciplinary role that extends to the other branches of government. The House has the power of impeachment (indictment) of officers of government in the executive and judicial branches; the Senate has the power to try anyone impeached by the House, and by a two-thirds vote remove that person from office. It also has the power to prevent persons impeached and convicted from ever holding public office in the future.
Article I of the Constitution is by far the longest and has the style of a laundry list, in this instance a collection of rules in random order. Among these are laws pertaining to money (to create it and to raise revenues through taxes and duties), and the apportionment of it for various purposes pertaining to the business of government, such as financing an army and navy, and a national postal service. Congress has the power to declare war, the power to call up the militia to suppress insurrections, the power to create courts inferior to the Supreme Court. The list also includes restrictions: a prohibition against depriving persons of the right of habeas corpus, against laws that assign guilt and punishment without trial, and against passage of ex post facto laws. All of these pertain to the rights of individuals under the rule of law, and they are surely precious. Also included in this article are rules pertaining to power of the Executive Branch to finalize laws. The President also has the power of a veto, which may be overridden by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress.
Article II is comparatively brief, and a large part is taken up with the makeup and procedures of the Electoral College in electing the President. It lists the powers of the President, chief among them: to serve as commander in chief of the armed forces; the power to make treaties, which requires the consent of two-thirds of the Senate; and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint judges, ambassadors and officers of the cabinet. Article II also states the grounds for the removal from office of the President, Vice-President, and other officials: treason, bribery and “other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Article III pertains to the powers of the Supreme Court and other federal courts, their scope and limits, and the provision that criminal trials be “by jury” and that they take place in the state where the crimes were committed.
Article IV is key in fulfilling the foremost purpose of the Constitution, to form “a more perfect union.” Each state shall recognize the laws and records of every other state; no state shall give refuge to persons charged for crimes committed in another state; new states shall not be created by dividing or combining existing states without the consent of the legislatures of those states and the Congress. The government of the United States is the protector of the States, and the guarantor that every state shall have a Republican form of government.
Article V states the procedure for amending the Constitution. No amendments were added to the Constitution until it was ratified. The first 10 amendments, “The Bill of Rights,” were adopted and ratified in 1791. Others followed. I shall review the amendments in a future essay.
Article VI provides for the continuity of all obligations of the United States before and after ratification of the Constitution.
Article VII provides for its Ratification.
I shall end this essay with words from Article VI, which provides a perfect summation:
“The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the a Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” The rule of law: long may it prevail!

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