The Constitution of the United States Text and Scans By: National Archives
and Records Administration
The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in
Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because
the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members
adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25.
Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than
amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of
government. All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated,
and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at
issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many
representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives
should be elected--directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work
of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship
and the art of compromise.
Founding Fathers page features the biographies of the 55 delegates
to the Constitutional Convention.
On September 17, 1787, the document was signed and sent to Congress, which
soon forwarded printed copies to the state legislatures. Then began the great
debate. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay wrote the brilliant Federalist Papers. George
Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Patrick Henry led the Antifederalists in opposing it.
Others joined in the argument, in pamphlets, articles, speeches, and letters. By
June 21, 1788, conventions in nine states later approved it. Thus the States,
which had so recently gained their independence, gave up some of their hard-won
sovereignty "in Order to form a more perfect Union."
Image: James Madison was not only the preeminent figure at the
but also played a leading role in the ratification process.
The authority to amend the Constitution
of the United States is derived from Article
V of the Constitution. After Congress proposes an amendment, the Archivist
of the United States, who heads the National Archives and Records Administration
(NARA), is charged with responsibility for administering the ratification
process under the provisions of 1
U.S.C. 106b. The Archivist has delegated many of the ministerial duties
associated with this function to the Director of the Federal Register. Neither
Article V of the Constitution nor section 106b describe the ratification process
in detail. The Archivist and the Director of the Federal Register follow
procedures and customs established by the Secretary of State, who performed
these duties until 1950, and the Administrator of General Services, who served
in this capacity until NARA assumed responsibility as an independent agency in
The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the
Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives
and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the
State legislatures. None of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been
proposed by constitutional convention. The Congress proposes an amendment in the
form of a joint resolution. Since the President does not have a constitutional
role in the amendment process, the joint resolution does not go to the White
House for signature or approval. The original document is forwarded directly to
NARA's Office of the Federal Register (OFR) for processing and publication. The
OFR adds legislative history notes to the joint resolution and publishes it in
slip law format. The OFR also assembles an information package for the States
which includes formal "red-line" copies of the joint resolution,
copies of the joint resolution in slip law format, and the statutory procedure
for ratification under 1 U.S.C. 106b.
The Archivist submits the proposed amendment to the States for their
consideration by sending a letter of notification to each Governor along with
the informational material prepared by the OFR. The Governors then formally
submit the amendment to their State legislatures. In the past, some State
legislatures have not waited to receive official notice before taking action on
a proposed amendment. When a State ratifies a proposed amendment, it sends the
Archivist an original or certified copy of the State action, which is
immediately conveyed to the Director of the Federal Register. The OFR examines
ratification documents for facial legal sufficiency and an authenticating
signature. If the documents are found to be in good order, the Director
acknowledges receipt and maintains custody of them. The OFR retains these
documents until an amendment is adopted or fails, and then transfers the records
to the National Archives for preservation.
A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is
ratified by three-fourths of the States (38 of 50 States). When the OFR verifies
that it has received the required number of authenticated ratification
documents, it drafts a formal proclamation for the Archivist to certify that the
amendment is valid and has become part of the Constitution. This certification
is published in the Federal Register and U.S. Statutes at Large and serves as
official notice to the Congress and to the Nation that the amendment process has
In a few instances, States have sent official documents to NARA to record the
rejection of an amendment or the rescission of a prior ratification. The
Archivist does not make any substantive determinations as to the validity of
State ratification actions, but it has been established that the Archivist's
certification of the facial legal sufficiency of ratification documents is final
In recent history, the signing of the certification has become a ceremonial
function attended by various dignitaries, which may include the President.
President Johnson signed the certifications for the 24th and 25th Amendments as
a witness, and President Nixon similarly witnessed the certification of the 26th
Amendment along with three young scholars. On May 18, 1992, the Archivist
performed the duties of the certifying official for the first time to recognize
the ratification of the 27th Amendment, and the Director of the Federal Register
signed the certification as a witness.
Links to Constitutional Amendment Information in the Treasures of Congress
CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES ARTICLES IN ADDITION TO, AND AMENDMENT OF,
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PROPOSED BY CONGRESS, AND
RATIFIED BY THE LEGISLATURES OF THE SEVERAL STATES, PURSUANT TO THE FIFTH
ARTICLE OF THE ORIGINAL CONSTITUTION
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of
the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and
no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
persons or things to be seized.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime,
unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising
in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time
of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to
be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal
case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for
public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and
public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime
shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained
by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be
confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for
obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty
dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a
jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than
according to the rules of the common law.
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any
suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States
by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for
President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant
of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person
voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as
Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as
President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of
votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to
the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of
the Senate;--The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate
and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then
be counted;--The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall
be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors
appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the
highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President,
the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President.
But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the
representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall
consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of
all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of
Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall
devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the
Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other
constitutional disability of the President.<3>
--The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the
Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors
appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers
on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the
purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a
majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person
constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that
of Vice-President of the United States.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime
whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United
States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the
jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein
they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the
privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State
deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;
nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to
their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State,
excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the
choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States,
Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or
the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants
of such State, being twenty-one years of age,<4>
and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for
participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein
shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall
bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of
President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the
United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a
member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any
State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to
support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in
insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the
enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove
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.
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each
State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have
one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for
electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the
executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such
vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the
executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the
vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of
any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale,
or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into,
or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to
the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an
amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as
provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission
hereof to the States by the Congress.
The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th
day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d
day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this
article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then
If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the
President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become
President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for
the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to
qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President
shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein
neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified,
declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to
act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President
or Vice President shall have qualified.
The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the
persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever
the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death
of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever
the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an
amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the
several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of
the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in
violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an
amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided
in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof
to the States by the Congress.
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice,
and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for
more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President
shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this Article
shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article
was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be
holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within
which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or
acting as President during the remainder of such term.
Section 2. This article shall be inoperative
unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the
legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the
date of its submission to the States by the Congress.
The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall
appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct:
A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole
number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District
would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least
populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States,
but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President
and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet
in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other
election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice
President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or
abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll
tax or other tax.
Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate
and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he
is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he
transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties
shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers
of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law
provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of
the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is
unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President
shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the
Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration
that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office
unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the
or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days
to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of
Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to
discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide
the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in
session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter
written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days
after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both
Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his
office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting
President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and
Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall
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