The United States Constitution

How and why did the framers distribute power in the Constitution?


For more than 200 years, the Constitution has served as a blueprint for republican government and a guarantor of basic rights and freedoms for the American people. It has endured because of its flexibility and the strength of its underlying principles.

Elements of the Constitution The Constitution is structured in three parts: Preamble, articles, and amendments. The Preamble sets the purpose of government, the articles establish the governing framework, and the amendments make formal changes.

Amending the Constitution The amendment process requires the participation of both Congress and the states. Just 27 amendments have been ratified over the years. The first ten constitute the Bill of Rights. The other 17 cover a range of issues, including voting rights and the powers of government.

Guiding principles of the Constitution The limited government envisioned in the Constitution is based on six principles: (1) popular sovereignty, (2) the rule of law, (3) separation of powers and checks and balances, (4) federalism, (5) an independent judiciary, and (6) individual rights. The principles underlie many features of our government.

Interpreting the Constitution The three branches of government all play a role in working out the details of governing under the Constitution. The courts interpret the Constitution and decide whether laws and government actions are constitutional, a power known as judicial review.