Happy Friday to all, and welcome the to 10th in the Dog’s series on the US Constitution. In this series the Dog is going over each part of the Constitution and talking about the meaning of them. For those of you who are coming in at the middle (and who have a lot of time on their hands) below are the links to the previous parts of the series:
Friday Constitutional 1 – Preamble, Sections 1 And 2
Friday Constitutional 2 – Article One, Sections 3 And 4
Friday Constitutional 3 – Article One, Sections 5 and 6
Friday Constitutional 4- Article One, Sections 7 and 8
Friday Constitutional 5 – Article One, Sections 9 and 10
Friday Constitutional 6 – Article 2, Presidential Powers, Sections 1-3
Friday Constitutional 7 – Article Two, Presidential Powers
Friday Constitutional 8 – Article Three, Judiciary Branch, Sections 1-3
Friday Constitutional 9 – Article Four, Relationships Between The States
This week we will cover the last three Articles of the Constitution:
Article Five, the Amendment Process:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
This article sets out the ways that the Constitution may be amended. An Amendment can be introduced and passed by a 2/3 vote in both Houses. In this method the Amendment is not ratified until ¾ of the State Legislatures vote to approve it. This is kind of strange, since the Dog remembers the ERA as a kid, in Michigan, it seems that they called for a popular vote, but he might be wrong about that. This is another place that clearly shows the Framers intended this country to be a representative democracy and not a direct one.
The second method is calling a Constitutional Convention. It takes 2/3 of the State Legislatures calling for it. Once it is in session Amendments are proposed and then, if ¾ of the members approve it, it is ratified. This is a really high stakes method that the Dog doubts we will ever see. There are calls from time to time for a new Convention. The problem is not that it might go off in some completely wacky direction, so much as the Dog doubts that the people of this country would be willing to accept new and perhaps, to some, radical changes in the Constitution. It is shocking how little most Americans know about their founding document, but if there are to be changes, they sure as hell want their voice to be heard.
The last little bit that is interesting is the fact that the Framers felt they needed to put in that bit about no State being denied their suffrage (vote) in the Senate without their consent. Just as bigger States are unhappy about the level of representation that smaller States get with their two Senators, so were they unhappy about it when the Constitution was framed. It seems that it would take not only a Constitutional Amendment to change this but the consent of the States themselves. It seems that you could just grant other states more Senators and you would not need the consent of the smaller States as you would not be reducing their suffrage, but the Dog thinks you’ll see pork roosting in the trees prior to that happening.
All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.
This clause made it clear that all of the previous contracts and debt of the Confederation of States that preceded the adoption of the Constitution would continue after adoption. This was important as the United States had been acting as a defacto sovereign government since they had won the Revolutionary War. It would have been very bad to default on these agreements as soon as we became a real country.
This entire clause was made more explicit in the 14th Amendment, Section 4 which reads:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
This section was put in place to settle any argument about loss of property, value or slaves from the break away States of the Confederacy.
This 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 Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The language of this seems a little backwards, but basically this clause is stating that the laws and treaties of the United States (what we would call Federal Law) always trumps State law. It also instructs judges that they are to follow this reasoning, with no exceptions. It is another of the ways that the Framers bound the country together. By making an overarching set of laws that must be applied everywhere, they made sure that there would be continuity between the States.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
This clause requires that everyone that serves in office at the Federal or State level shall affirm an oath to support the Constitution. Note that it says nothing about the State constitutions it is totally concerned with the support of the US Constitution. This is one more place where the Framers were making a direct effort to have those that would be part of the Federal Government think of themselves as more than Virginians or New Yorkers or Pennsylvanians. They very clearly knew the dangers to a Federal government if the people would not think of themselves as Americans first and all other labels second.
There is also the fact that no religious test shall ever be required. There are several States that still have laws that bar Atheists from holding office. This seems to be in direct violation of this Article that makes the Constitution and Federal law supreme over State law. The only reason that these provisions still exist is that they have not been tested by Atheist politicians being elected and then denied the right to serve. That is a shame as it is kind of a catch 22. As long as we have such laws on the books, it will be considered a nearly insurmountable obstacle to public service. While the Dog realizes that we have more critical issues, we should really put some effort into having these laws overturned, when one citizen is denied rights, all citizens rights are degraded.
Article Seven – Ratification Of The Constitution:
The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.
Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,
Presidt. and deputy from Virginia
[Signed also by the deputies of twelve States.]
Gunning Bedford jun
Dan. of St. Thos. Jenifer
Wm. Saml. Johnson
James Madison Jr.
Richd. Dobbs Spaight.
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
William Jackson, Secretary
On September 17th, 1787 the Untied States Constitution was ratified. Something new in the world came into being. Something that was a great worth, if the citizens of that country would make it so.
We will stop here for this week. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Next week we will start in on the Bill of Rights. What are your thoughts, citizens?
The Floor is yours.