Defining Documents in American History: The Constitution

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The Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1788 and came into force the following year. As the supreme law of the country, it delineates the nation’s frame of government, and was originally comprised of seven articles. The first three articles put forth the separation of powers (three branches of government), the next three embody the concepts of federalism (rights and responsibilities of the states in relationship to the federal government), and the last article established the procedure used by the then 13 states to ratify it. It has been amended 27 times to meet the needs of a nation that has undergone profound change. The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights, and deal with individual liberty. The majority of the remaining 17 amendments expand individual civil rights, with some relating to federal authority. The Constitution has remained in force for over two centuries due to the way the framers separated and balanced governmental powers. It is interpreted, supplemented, and implemented by a large body of federal constitutional law, and has influenced the constitutions of other nations. This volume analyzes the sections of the Constitution itself, and its amendments, as well as other documents that have played a significant role in its creation and adherence.

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