Age of Thirty Years
Senators must be at least thirty years old at the time of their first election, while a House member can stand for office at age twenty-five.
Articles in Addition to, and Amendment of
All amendments to the Constitution are referred to as articles and numbered 1 through 27 consecutively. More popularly, they are called the First Amendment, Second Amendment, etc. Actually, only the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th amendments were ratified with numbers attached to them. But as a convenience and for purposes of clarity, all other amendments have received numbers in various printings of the Constitution. The use of brackets around the titles and numbers of the amendments is inconsistent, but it reflects the inconsistency of the original titles and numbering over more than two centuries of the ratification process. There are also inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation in the Constitution and its amendments that have been preserved in this on-line version.
The first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights. Many of the framers of the Constitution, including, at first, James Madison, felt these amendments were unnecessary. But many leading anti-Federalists feared the power of the new Constitution and campaigned to insure that individual freedoms were not left out of the protection of the Constitution. Perhaps the most vocal critic of the new Constitution was George Mason of Virginia, who was against the adoption of the Constitution because it had no bill of rights. Years earlier, in June of 1776, Mason drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which influenced Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. At the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Mason's ringing defense of individual rights carried the day and was the basis of much of the work of James Madison, when he drafted the constitutional amendments that became known as the Bill of Rights. For more information on the Bill of Rights and to download a high resolution image of the original Bill of Rights displayed in the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, DC, click here.
This clause had an important effect on the commerce of the United States and helped join the separate states into one nation. In colonial times it was not unusual for a person in New Jersey to think of someone from Virginia as being from another country. Carrying goods, or even the mail, across borders sometimes meant paying taxes, duties, and fees as if the merchandise was being exported to a foreign country.
Compel the Attendance of absent Members
The House and the Senate each have an officer called the Sergeant at Arms. Among the duties of this office is rounding up members of the House or Senate in order to insure a quorum is present. In modern times this function is rarely used since members can be reached by telephone, pagers, and other electronic devices. In the nineteenth century some members stayed away on purpose to block the House or Senate from taking action. In these cases the Sergeant at Arms had the authority to arrest members and compel their attendance. Another parliamentary trick used in the House in the nineteenth century was called the disappearing quorum. Members would be present on the floor of the House but would refuse to be counted by not answering the roll call. House rules were changed dramatically and suddenly when, on January 29, 1890, Speaker Thomas B. Reed started counting members for purpose of making a quorum even if they did not answer the roll call. Some members tried to flee the chamber to avoid being counted. Others hid under their desks, but the doors of the House chamber were locked and everyone was counted. After this episode there were no more disappearing quorums.
Constitution of the United States
This version of the Constitution follows the text of the engrossed copy signed by George Washington and the delegates from 12 states. The use of prominent clause numbers did not appear in the original. They have been added to improve clarity and ease of use. The historical notes, definitions, and other explanatory matter were written by Raymond W. Smock, former Historian of the United States House of Representatives.
Background on the Constitutional Convention
The Delegates who convened at the Federal Convention on May 25, 1787, quickly rejected the idea of revising the Articles of Confederation and agreed to construct a new framework for a national government. Throughout the summer months at the convention in Philadelphia, delegates from 12 states debated the proper form such a government should take, but few questioned the need to establish a more vigorous government to preside over the union of states. The 39 delegates who signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787, expected the new charter to provide a permanent guarantee of the political liberties achieved in the Revolution.
Prior to the adoption of the federal Constitution, an Articles of Confederation, drafted by the Continental Congress and approved by 13 states, provided for a union of the former British colonies. Even before Maryland became the last state to accede to the Articles in 1781, a number of Americans, particularly those involved in the prosecution of the Revolutionary War, recognized the inadequacies of the Articles as a national government. In the 1780s these nationally-minded Americans became increasingly disturbed by the Articles' failure to provide the central government with authority to raise revenue, regulate commerce, or enforce treaties. Despite repeated proposals that the Continental Congress revise the Articles, the movement for a new national government began outside the Congress. Representatives of Maryland and Virginia, meeting at Mt. Vernon to discuss trade problems between the two states, agreed to invite delegates from all states to discuss commercial affairs at a meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, in September 1786. Although delegates from only five states reached the Annapolis convention, that group issued a call for a meeting of all states to discuss necessary revisions of the Articles of Confederation. Responding to this call and the endorsement of the Continental Congress, every state except Rhode Island selected delegates for the meeting in the State House at Philadelphia.
The document printed here was the product of nearly four months of deliberations in the federal convention at Philadelphia. The challenging task before the delegates was to create a republican form of government that could encompass the 13 states and accommodate the anticipated expansion to the West. The distribution of authority between legislative, executive, and judicial branches was a boldly original attempt to create an energetic central government at the same time that the sovereignty of the people was preserved.
The longest debate of the Convention centered on the proper form of representation and election for the Congress. The division between small states that wished to perpetuate the equal representation of states in the Continental Congress and the large states that proposed representation proportional to population threatened to bring the convention proceedings to a halt. Over several weeks the delegates developed a complicated compromise that provided for equal representation of the states in a Senate elected by state legislatures and proportional representation in a popularly-elected House of Representatives.
The conflict between large and small states disappeared in the early years of the republic. More lasting was the division between slave and free states that had been a disturbing undercurrent in the convention debates. The convention's strained attempt to avoid using the word slavery in the articles granting recognition and protection to that institution scarcely hid the regional divisions that would remain unresolved under the terms of union agreed to in 1787.
The debates in the state ratification conventions of 1787 and 1788 made clear the need to provide amendments to the basic framework drafted in Philadelphia. Beginning with Massachusetts, a number of state conventions ratified the Constitution with the request that a bill of rights be added to protect certain liberties at the core of English and American political traditions. The First Congress approved a set of amendments which became the Bill of Rights when ratified by the states in 1791. The continuing process of amendment, clearly described in the notes of the following text, has enabled the Constitution to accommodate changing conditions in American society at the same time that the founders' basic outline of national government remains intact.
For more information about the origins of the Constitution go to: The Charters of Freedom: A New World is at Hand - Constitution of the United States.
Senator Robert C. Byrd's Account of the Filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
From Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate (Vol. 2), pp.151,153. [Courtesy of U. S. Senate Historical Office]
The 1964 filibuster occurred on a House bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1963, which was designed to enforce the right to vote; to protect against discrimination in federally assisted programs and in public accommodations, public facilities, and public education; to extend the Civil Rights Commission; and to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity. It was, indeed, a major and far- reaching civil rights bill, which had President Lyndon Johnson's strong backing.
When the bill arrived from the House on February 26, 1964, it went directly to the Senate calendar, thus avoiding referral to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator James O. Eastland of Mississippi, an avowed opponent of civil rights legislation. Majority Leader Mike Mansfield moved on March 9 to take up the bill, and the motion was debated until March 26, when the Senate voted, 67 to 17, for the motion (my own vote being with those in the majority). From March 26 until cloture was invoked on June 10, the bill was before the Senate for a total of 77 days including Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays and was actually debated for 57 days, 6 of which were Saturdays. Still, the bill was not passed until 9 days after cloture was voted. Hence, 103 days had passed between March 9, when the motion was made to take up the bill, and final passage on June 19.
The southern senators opposing the bill, led by Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia, were well organized, and their speeches were germane to the bill. The 1964 filibuster thus differed from other lengthy filibusters of the past, in that there was serious and informed "extended debate" over the entire period during which it was before the Senate. The discussion avoided the time-consuming dilatory tactics that had been the trademark of many earlier filibusters, and neither side resorted to parliamentary gamesmanship. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota led the forces supporting the bill, and he proved equal to the task. Majority Leader Mansfield played a low-key role, quietly courting Minority Leader Everett Dirksen's support, and avoiding all-night sessions, except for my all-night speech against the bill on June 9, 1964, the longest speech (fourteen hours and thirteen minutes) of the debate.
Well-orchestrated, heavy and unrelenting pressure from the administration, civil rights groups, churches, labor organizations, and the media proved, in the final analysis, to be too much for the embattled southerners. In addition, Dirksen, who was the crucial factor in the outcome, threw his prestigious influence into the balance in support of cloture. When the vote came on June 10 the one hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's nomination for a second presidential term it was decisive: 71 to 29 for cloture. Except for Senators Carl Hayden of Arizona and Alan Bible of Nevada, I was the only non-southern Democrat who voted against cloture.
Senator Russell reflected the views of the bill's opponents:
"Mr. President, what does equality mean?
". . . Equality does not mean that one person shall be admitted to a club merely because he desires to be. . . . No, Mr. President, equal rights in this land of ours means that each citizen has an equal opportunity to acquire property through honest means, that once that property has been acquired he has a right to exercise dominion over it. . . Life, liberty, and property--in that order- -are spelled out in the Constitution of the United States as our greatest civil rights. I care not how much politics may be involved, and it matters not how great may be the emotional appeal. We cannot strike down one of those rights without gnawing into the very vitals of constitutional government in this land. . . . Mr. President, those of us who have opposed this bill have done so from a profound conviction that the bill not only is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution of the United States, but also violates the letter of the Constitution. . . It confers upon the Attorney General the power to control many facets in the daily lives and in the private lives of the people of the United States. It greatly broadens Federal supervision and regulation--going into new areas--over the activities of business, commerce, and industry....One of the saddest aspects of the bill is the general enlargement of the Federal Government over affairs that have heretofore been considered the concern of the States and local governments."
Senator Dirksen's comments mirrored the feelings of the bill's supporters:
"The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, in education, and in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here....
". . . For many years, each political party has given major consideration to a civil rights plank in its platform. . . . Were these pledges so much campaign stuff or did we mean it? Were these promises on civil rights but idle words for vote-getting purposes or were they a covenant meant to be kept? If all this was mere pretense, let us confess the sin of hypocrisy now and vow not to delude the people again. . . . There is another reason why we dare not temporize with the issue which is before us. It is essentially moral in character. It must be resolved. It will not go away. Its time has come."
Note: For the full text of Senator Dirksen s Speech of June 10, 1964, click here.
The outcome, once cloture was invoked, was never in doubt. Again, the southern senators resorted to no parliamentary games or post-cloture delaying tactics. They offered serious amendments and accepted the verdict gracefully. Thirty-four roll-call votes occurred on June 16. On June 19, the bill passed, 73 to 27, mine being the only non-southern Democratic vote against the bill:
Contrary to Constitution
"Mr. President. those of us who have opposed this bill have done so from a profound conviction that the bill not only is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution of the United States. but also violates the letter of the Constitution.
"We have opposed it because the broad abdication of power and authority by the legislative branch to the executive branch that it provides would destroy forever the doctrine of separation of powers. This great doctrine was devised by our forefathers as a bulwark against tyranny: and over the years it has protected our liberties and way of life.
"But the bill goes even further. It confers upon the Attorney General the power to control many facets in the daily lives and in the private lives of the people of the united States. It greatly broadens federal supervision and regulation-- going into new areas -- over the activities of business, commerce, and industry, which are already heavily burdened and hampered by existing law.
"One of the saddest aspects of the bill is the general enlargement of the Federal Government over affairs that have heretofore been considered the concern of the states and local governments l appeal to the Senate to consider the broad aspects of this legislation, and not to be influenced by the frustrations of the hours that have been spent in debate. l appeal to the Senate to vote down this gag rule with assurances that we can proceed to vote upon vital amendments without any lengthy debate. l appeal to Senators to rise above the pressures to which they have been subjected and to reject this legislation that will result in vast changes. not only in our social order. but in our very form of government."
Dirksen, Everett, M.
Everett McKinley Dirksen took a good deal of pride in the civil rights accomplishments of the Republican Party during his nearly thirty years in Congress prior to 1964. First as a representative from 1933 through 1948, and then as a senator from Illinois, Dirksen actively participated in the legislative momentum for civil rights after 1945.
According to his own records, Dirksen introduced personally nineteen bills that dealt directly with civil rights, and dozens more that addressed the problem indirectly. In all but two congressional sessions between 1932 and 1964, Dirksen sponsored measures touching the entire range of civil rights issues including the poll tax, lynching, employment discrimination, voting rights, school desegregation, and housing. He supported the 1957 Civil Rights Act and, as Senate minority leader, worked hard for passage of the 1960 Civil Rights Act. This long history of involvement in civil rights legislation prepared Dirksen for the trials of leadership he encountered in the 1964 civil rights debate.
Dirksen had no doubts that racial discrimination was wrong, immoral, and unjust. Yet he did not agree totally with the Kennedy administration that H.R. 7152 solved the problem. Dirksen opposed any unqualified grant of power to the federal government to force privately-owned businesses to serve African American customers against their will. Title II of the bill authorized such an expansion of government authority. Dirksen did not approve or support discrimination by private business, but he seriously wondered whether or not federal compulsion would be an unconstitutional invasion of private property. He sought to resolve the dilemma by relying on voluntary compliance with civil rights laws, backed by state enforcement powers.
It was against this background that Dirksen considered H.R. 7152 as it came to the Senate. The administration and his Democratic colleagues had consulted regularly with the Republican leader throughout the formative states of the legislation. Yet Dirksen kept his views to himself, only expressing his concern about Title II of the bill. Gradually, as he studied the proposal carefully, Dirksen developed some amendments that he believed would improve the bill, resolve his own questions, and provide a basis upon which other uncommitted senators could support the bill. When Dirksen introduced his ten amendments to H.R. 7152 on April 16, 1964, he made it clear that he did not intend to weaken federal protection of minority civil rights:
I do not wish to save any pockets of prejudice for the future. l have an interest in what happens long after I have left this mudane sphere. I have a couple of grandchildren. I want them to grow up in a country of opportunity as completely free from hate and prejudice and bias as can be consummated by legislation, and a maximum amount of good will on the part of the lawmakers, who will be the ultimate authors of whatever goes on the books.
Dirksen's calculated reserve served another purpose. The minority leader completely understood the politics of the situation. He knew what arguments appealed to which senators, and he was careful not to jeopardize support for the bill by associating himself completely with H.R. 7152. By these means, Dirksen preserved his independence, his leadership, and his bargaining power throughout the debate. From May 1963 through June 1964, most major strategy decisions affecting the legislation were cleared with Dirksen in advance. Democrats had little choice because Dirksen controlled the votes they needed for cloture.
The nation's media recognized the unique and influential role Dirksen was to play in the story of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:
"The man to watch during Washington's bruising civil rights battle is not President Kennedy, the Attorney General or the Negro leaders but effusive, ever-loving Everett McKinley Dirksen." Washington Evening Star, January 18,1963
"Without Dirksen's efforts, this happy conclusion could not be anticipated, everyone agrees. If the Senate can be rescued from the morass in which it has floundered for nearly three months, the minority leader will rightly be given a major portion of the credit. The Democratic majority, huge as it is, would have been helpless without him." Chicago Tribune, May 31,1964
"His influence has never been so clear as in his handling of the hotly controversial civil rights bill. Dirksen today is at the peak of his power." James McCartney, Chicago Daily News, June 8,1964
'When the honors are passed out for yesterday's key victory, they must be shared by both parties. It can be said of many individuals that cloture would not have been possible without his work, but of no one is it more true than of Everett Dirksen." St. Petersburg, Fla., Times, June 11,1964
". . . all reports indicate that Senator Dirksen is doing an indispensable job right where he is as minority leader on the civil rights bill." William F. Graney, Chicago New World, June 12, 1964
Equal Suffrage in the Senate
Each state has two senators and two votes in the Senate regardless of the size of the state. Suffrage means to vote, or the right to vote.
First Monday in December
The provision related to the time Congress shall meet each year was changed with the adoption of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution in 1933. The Twentieth Amendment helped eliminate the long time period between the November elections and the actual convening of Congress in December of the following year. This meant newly elected members had to wait thirteen months to take office. In the meantime, those who were defeated served for thirteen months after their defeat, giving rise to the term lame duck. Some lame ducks took advantage of their situation to further their political and personal interests while still in office. The Twentieth Amendment greatly reduced the time between the election in November and the time a new Congress would convene.
House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot
Only twice in American history has the election of the president been decided by the House of Representatives. The first time was in 1800, when a tie vote in the electoral college resulted in both Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr claiming victory. The second time was in 1825, after the election of 1824 produced an electoral college majority for one person in a crowded field of five candidates, William H. Crawford, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and John Quincy Adams. Adams was elected by the House of Representatives but Andrew Jackson felt he had been cheated by a corrupt bargain between Adams and Henry Clay, then Speaker of the House, who was appointed Secretary of State in the Adams administration. Jackson successfully used the corrupt bargain charge as a campaign slogan against Adams in the presidential election of 1828.
H.R. 7152 and S.1731 and S.1732
H. R. 7152 and S. 1731. These two bill numbers, along with a third bill, S. 1732, are the congressional bills that eventually became law and are known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bill numbers in the House of Representatives begin with H. R. and Senate bills begin with an S. The bills were submitted to the House and Senate on June 19, 1963, by President John F. Kennedy, who urged Congress to consider such a bill. For more background and a brief legislative history of these bills and how they worked their way through the House and Senate, click here (legislative history document time line).
Letters of Marque and Reprisal
The written authority granted by the government to a private citizen to seize the citizens and property of another nation. Letters of Marque were used in the nineteenth century to allow ships owned privately to act as vessels of war. The captain or owner of such a ship was called a privateer.
March on Washington
Some civil rights leaders thought that President Kennedy was too careful and too concerned about the political situation. They suggested that more demonstrations would create more pressure on Congress to act. At the risk of alienating some support in Congress, African American leaders decided to hold a march in the nation's capital to demonstrate support for civil rights legislation. On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington brought more than 200,000 people together in a peaceful display of solidarity. Martin Luther King, Jr. climaxed the rally with his moving, memorable "I have a dream" plea for civil rights. Although political advisors had warned against the march, the pace of protest refused to respond to strictly political considerations. The political situation continued to influence the president's civil rights strategy throughout the fall of 1963. Kennedy could have been encouraged by the Gallup Poll's report that 89% of the African Americans surveyed approved the job the President was doing. At the same time, however, 70% of white southerners opposed his civil rights proposals. The political climate remained charged with emotion. lt was delicate to manage, particularly in the fall when polls began to reveal a white "backlash" which seemed to oppose the administration's civil rights measures in growing numbers.
The Mathematics of Senate Passage
Once opponents of the civil rights measure committed themselves to the filibuster as a means to prevent passage of H.R.7152, the Senate civil rights leaders' problem boiled down to numbers. Civil rights activists needed to have two-thirds of the senators' support in order to end the filibuster by cloture and to move on to vote on the bill itself. Only in this way could the pro-civil rights forces in the Senate cut off the southern filibuster against the bill under Senate Rule 22. Never in the nation's history had the Senate imposed cloture on a civil rights bill, so the task was an immense one. In fact, from 1920 to 1964, 28 attempts had been made to close debate on a variety of subjects in the Senate. Only two or three attempts succeeded, including only once since 1930.
The Senate has 100 members (67 Democrats and 33 Republicans in 1964). Therefore, with all members voting, #67 would have to support cloture in order for such a move to succeed. The magic number for civil rights bill passage was 67 and there were 67 Democrats, enough to pass the bill without a single Republican vote. The Democrats, however, were split. Eighteen southern Democrats filibustered against the bill, reducing possible Democratic supporters to 49. Subtract Senators Gore and Walters of Tennessee who opposed cloture in principle, although they did not participate in the filibuster. Robert Byrd of West Virginia opposed both the bill and cloture, although he did not join the filibuster forces either. Democratic leaders could not count on Senators Bible, Cannon, and Hayden who represented small states and who believed that unlimited debate favored small states in other matters. Finally, subtract from the ranks of Democratic supporters Senator Lausche of Ohio whose vote no one could predict. Out of a total of 67 Democrats, then, only 42 could be counted on to favor the bill. This left the pro-civil rights forces 25 votes short of the necessary 67.
In order to secure 67 votes to end debate and to proceed with consideration of H.R. 7152, the Senate required help from 25 of the 33 Republican senators. Six Republicans refused to support the bill under any conditions, leaving 27, or 2 more than the required 25 votes. Yet 7 of the 27 were leaning against cloture. It was this group of 7 Republican senators that held the key to the 1964 civil rights legislation.
Leaders in both the Republican and Democratic parties who favored civil rights, men like Everett Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey, believed that they needed five or six "swing" votes to impose cloture. They were aided in their struggle by the wording of the Senate rule governing cloture which stated that a filibuster could be ended by a vote of two-thirds of the members present at the time of voting. The rule meant that if one member were absent, it reduced the number required to impose cloture. In other words, the arithmetic of a two-thirds majority meant that each absence became a two-vote advantage for the civil rights forces. If President Lyndon Johnson could persuade some of the "swing" Democrats (Bible, Cannon, and Hayden ) to be absent, the job of the civil rights leaders would be easier.
The Migration or Importation of such Persons
This clause, without using the word itself, is about slavery and the slave trade. This highly controversial compromise with powerful slave holding states prohibited Congress from passing any laws curtailing the slave trade until the year 1808. During the struggle to ratify the Constitution in 1787 and 1788, some people, such as Luther Martin of Maryland, argued against ratification of the Constitution because he could not justify a vote to perpetuate the evils of slavery and the slave trade.
Number of Electors
While the term electoral college does not appear in the Constitution, Article II does describe the indirect method of electing the president that is popularly referred to as the electoral college. This term has confused many people, because it is not a college as we usually think of the term. It is a body of electors in each state who are empowered by the Constitution to elect the president. Each state could determine how the electors were chosen. Today they are chosen by popular vote in each state. Some of the framers of the Constitution wanted the president to be elected by direct popular vote of the people. Others wanted Congress to elect the president. The electoral college was the compromise. Many critics have said the electoral college device has outlived its usefulness, but attempts to change this provision of the Constitution have failed in the past. The 12th Amendment (adopted in 1804) did change the provisions of Article II to allow for a separate vote for president and vice president after the election of 1800 resulted in a tie vote between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.
Number of Representatives
The number of persons in the House of Representatives grew steadily as the nation grew. Finally, in 1911 Congress froze the size of the House at 435 members. Since the United States has continued to increase in population, the result has been that each member of the House now represents approximately 600,000 persons compared with the 30,000 citizens for each representative as first adopted in the Constitution in 1787. James Madison's views regarding the number of Representatives can be found in Federalist 55.
This clause refers to the veto power of the president, which is his right to object to legislation and his power to reject it. If he does reject a bill that has passed both houses of Congress, the president must state his objections in writing to Congress and return the bill. Congress then has the power to override the president's veto if the House and Senate can both muster a vote of two-thirds of their members.
Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution describes the enumerated or listed powers of Congress. This list contains 17 very specific clauses which describe the powers of Congress. The 18th clause, the last clause in Section 8, departs from the pattern of being very specific and is instead a broad general statement of powers not specifically named but implied in the phrase "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper." This clause has been the subject of much debate throughout American history. It is often called the "necessary and proper clause" or the "elastic clause" because it can be expanded to fit the wishes of Congress. To see how the framers of the Constitution argued about the powers of Congress, see Federalist 33 for the view of Alexander Hamilton and Federalist 44 for the opinion of James Madison. In 1819 the Supreme Court upheld Congress' broad power in a famous case, McCullough v. Maryland.
Punish its Members for Disorderly Behaviour
The House has broad authority to discipline its own members, but this process has always been difficult. Many times the House or Senate have operated on the assumption that the voters should make the final decision about the fitness of a member for office. Members have, however, been punished for various kinds of misbehavior or criminal activities. Some have been reprimanded, or censured, while the most extreme penalty is expulsion from Congress. A reprimand may be little more than a letter saying the House disapproves of the member's action. Censure involves more strict penalties that may result in the loss of seniority or a loss of a committee chairmanship or other leadership position. Explusion forces the member from service in Congress. For more information, see Censure and Condemnation.
Qualifications for voting were very restricted in the early years of the nation, but they have expanded to the present day when almost every citizen eighteen years of age or older can vote. At the time the new nation began, voting rights, set by each state, were limited to free white males age twenty-one or older.
The Whisky Rebellion of 1794 was one of the earliest, and certainly the most dramatic, demonstrations of the power of the Constitution and the new federal government to regulate commerce. President George Washington, accompanied by Alexander Hamilton, led 13,000 militiamen into western Pennsylvania to force compliance from those who refused to pay a tax on whisky production. This was the only time in American history that the president of the United States, acting in his capacity as commander-in-chief, actually led troops in the field.
Section 9 of Article I of the Constitution is about powers reserved to the states and denied to the federal government.
Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises
Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 33, argued that the greatest power of Congress is the power to tax. James Madison felt these powers were limited to the specific powers listed in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. See Federalist 41.
Term of Four Years
Notice that in Article II, the Constitution does not say anything about how many terms a president may serve. George Washington established the tradition of two terms that was followed until 1940, when Franklin D. Roosevelt won election to an unprecedented third term and then in 1944 was elected to a fourth term. (He died in office early in his fourth term). The Constitution was amended in 1951 (22nd Amendment) to allow only two terms. Only one president, Grover Cleveland, has served two non-consecutive terms.
In the first two Congresses, which met from 1789 to 1793, some senators had only two-year terms, some had four-year terms, and others had six-year terms. These were the three classes of Senate membership mentioned in the Constitution. This provided for the election of one-third of the Senate every two years. This is in contrast to the House of Representatives which elects all of its members every two years. The Senate is known as a continuing body since two-thirds of its members are not up for election in the two-year congressional voting cycle. The House, on the other hand, has to reinvent itself after each two-year election cycle, adopt its rules, and elect its leaders and officers all over again. Senate rules and Senate leaders can continue for longer periods of time, until the Senate chooses to make changes, usually when the majority party changes.
Three fifths of all other Persons
This controversial provision of the Constitution counted a portion of slaves for the purpose of determining how many representatives each state would have. While slaves were considered property and not citizens, those states with a high slave population felt they would be under-represented in Congress unless at least a portion of the slaves were counted. This led those who opposed slavery to say that the Constitution considered African Americans to be only three-fifths of a person. Since the abolition of slavery, this reference is no longer an operable part of the Constitution. (See the 13th Amendment and the declaration of the 14th Amendment which counts whole persons in each state for purposes of determining the number of representatives in the House. James Madison explained his view of the meaning of three-fifths of a person in Federalist 54).
To Declare War
One of the most important powers of Congress is that of declaring war. While the president acts as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he does not have the constitutional authority to declare war. The history of the United States is, however, filled with examples of the tensions between the legislative and executive branch over the power to declare war. This is especially true in modern times, when massive wars could be launched in a matter of hours or days. The president must be in the position to act quickly against an aggressor, even before Congress can convene, debate the matter, and decide on a course of action. The United States has used its armed forces on more than 200 occasions since the nation began, but Congress has actually declared war only five times: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. In 1973 Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to check the authority of presidents and limit the president's authority to send troops overseas without congressional approval. But this resolution has not solved the problem defining the respective powers of the president and the Congress in the act of making or declaring war.
Each state, regardless of the size of its population, has two senators. One of the main differences between the House and the Senate is that House membership is based on population within each state, while population makes no difference in Senate selection. This has the effect of giving each state equal representation in the Senate. A small state like Delaware has the same representation in the Senate as a larger, more populous state like California.
We the People
The opening sentence of the Constitution, beginning "We the People" is called the Preamble, which is an introductory statement that explains the purpose of the formal document which follows. Imagine trying to explain the broad purposes of the federal government in just one sentence.
Teaching About Congress
14 Units to Learn How a Bill Becomes a Law
The legislative process is a fascinating, important, and complex set of actions whose excitement and variability are not fully captured in the standard "a bill becomes a law" chart. While the formal stages in the legislative process are a good place to start, it is important to recognize alternative routes. Legislation passes or fails both on the quality of its content and the strategies of its opponents and proponents. This module uses text, graphics, and video to enliven students' understanding of the legislative process and to encourage them to explore its various facets in-depth.
An Effective Congress and Effective Members: What Does It Take?
What are the skills needed to serve effectively in Congress and how do politicians acquire them? Political scientist Barbara Sinclair answers these questions in an article that originally appeared in PS Online in September 1996.
How to Communicate Effectively with Congress
This selection from AdVanced Consulting's Advocacy Classroom provides expert tips for reaching your Congress member. Learn what a congressional office can and cannot (or should not) do for you, what staff members do, and how best to deal with them.
Reference Sources on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Reporting on Congress: The Role of the Media
Political scientist Stephanie Larson briefly answers these questions: Why teach Congress and the media? What would a comprehensive lesson on the media and Congress include? What approach can you take to teaching this information? What does scholarship teach us about Congress and the media?
The Ten Most Important Things to Know about the U.S. Senate
Betty Koed, Associate Historian of the U.S. Senate, identifies ten factors organized around six major themes: the Senate as a deliberative body, as protector of minority rights, as promoter of compromise, as “cooling factor” in the legislative process, as “states’ ambassadors,” and as advisory body.
The Ten (Really Twelve) Most Important Things to Know about the U.S. House of Representatives
Ray Smock, former historian of the U.S. House, singles out 12 factors key to understanding the so-called lower chamber. They range from the House as the “embodiment of representative democracy” to “the virtue of inefficiency.”
The Voices of Your Classroom are the Voices of Our Future
Writing in The Instructor (March 1967), Dirksen told America’s teachers: “Our challenge and responsibility are clear. If we would desire good citizenship, love of country, respect for heritage among our young, then we must teach them. And we must do so actively, consistently, and most of all early. It is essential that we provide children with an environment conducive to the learning about, practicing of, and valuing of good citizenship and responsible involvement in national life.”
What Do Students See When They Look at Congress?
Professor Jeffrey L. Bernstein presents a video report on his “think-aloud” methodology to explore what students see when they look at Congress. His research reveals the importance of understanding (1) the tension between majority rule and minority rights and (2) the essentially conflictual nature of legislative activity. When students have a low comfort level with these ideas, their ability to understand the work of the legislative branch suffers dramatically. He concludes this lecture by discussing how his findings can inform classroom teaching.
What Every Student Should Know about Congress
Congressional scholar Charles O. Jones responds to this question: “Suppose you had 15 minutes to describe the ten most important features of the U.S. Congress—what would they be?”
What High School Government Teachers Should Know about Congressional Elections
Jeffrey Bernstein, a political scientist at Eastern Michigan University, describes the central fact about congressional elections: incumbents are re-elected in overwhelming numbers. He also reviews how political scientists have explained this phenomenon and suggests ways for high school and college teachers to teach their students about incumbency.
What I Wish Political Scientists Would Teach about Congress
Former Congressman Lee Hamilton offers ten basic lessons about Congress ranging from “the legislative process is dynamic and complex” to “the country needs more politicians.”
A classification of six “learning categories” to guide educators in teaching their students.
A glossary of congressional terms.
Notes on congressional events and procedures.