Article I is the first of seven articles of the Constitution, the lodestar of the KTB Prep American Government and Civics series which is designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy.
What is the Constitution?
The Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the United States. Empowered with the sovereign authority of the people by the framers and the consent of the legislatures of the states, it is the source of all government powers, and also provides important limitations on the government that protect the fundamental rights of United States citizens.
It’s organized into three parts. The first part, the Preamble, describes the purpose of the document and the Federal Government. The second part, the seven Articles, establishes how the Government is structured and how the Constitution can be changed. The third part, the 27 Amendments, lists changes to the Constitution; the first 10 are called the Bill of Rights.
Article I gives Congress its powers and limits. Congress is the legislative branch of the government, meaning they are the ones to make laws for the United States of America.
The article also creates the two sections of Congress, known as a bicameral legislature. The first of the two is the Senate, which is made up of two senators from each state. The second is the House of Representatives, which has representatives from each state based on the population.
Section 1: Vesting Clause
Congress of the government has power to make laws. There are similar vesting clauses in Article II and Article III, which give powers to the other branches of the government. This means no other branch is allowed to exercise the same power. In combination with the Vesting Clauses of Article Two and Article Three, the Vesting Clause of Article One establishes the separation of powers among the three branches of the federal government.
Section 2: House of Representatives
Clause 1: Composition and Election of Members
There will be elections for members of the House of Representatives every second year. These representatives are voted in by the people, meaning the citizens of each state will choose the representatives.
Clause 2: Qualifications of Members
Any representative who decides to run for a seat on the House of Representatives must be at 25 years old, and must have been an American citizen for at least 7 years. He or she must also live in the state that he or she wishes to be a representative for.
Clause 3: Apportionment of Members
Population is the basis of apportioning the seats in the House of Representatives and the tax liability among the states. The Constitution mandates that a census be conducted every ten years to determine the population of each state and of the nation as a whole and establishes a rule for who shall be counted or excluded from the count.
Clause 4: Vacancies
When vacancies occur in the House of Representatives, it is not the job of the House of Representatives to arrange for a replacement. It is the job of the State whose vacant seat is up for refilling. Moreover, the State Governor may not appoint a temporary replacement, but must instead arrange for a special election to fill the vacancy. The original qualifications and procedures for holding that election are still valid.
Clause 5: Speakers And Other Officers; Impeachment
The House of Representatives may choose its Speaker and its other officers. Though the Constitution does not mandate it, every Speaker has been a member of the House of Representatives. The Speaker rarely presides over routine House sessions, choosing instead to deputize a junior member to accomplish the task.
The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment. Although the Supreme Court has not had an occasion to interpret this specific provision, the Court has suggested that the grant to the House of the “sole” power of impeachment makes the House the exclusive interpreter of what constitutes an impeachable offense.
Article I, Section 3: Senate
Clause 1: Election of Senators
There will be two Senators for each state, and they will have 6 year terms. Each Senator has one vote.
Clause 2: Classifications of Senators; Vacancies
After the first group of Senators was elected to the First Congress (1789–1791), the Senators were divided into three “classes” as nearly equal in size as possible, as required by this section. This was done in May 1789 by lot. It was also decided that each state’s Senators would be assigned to two different classes.
Those Senators grouped in the first class had their term expire after only two years; those Senators in the second class had their term expire after only four years, instead of six. After this, all Senators from those States have been elected to six-year terms, and as new States have joined the Union, their Senate seats have been assigned to two of the three classes, maintaining each grouping as nearly equal in size as possible. In this way, election is staggered; approximately one-third of the Senate is up for re-election every two years, but the entire body is never up for re-election in the same year (as contrasted with the House, where its entire membership is up for re-election every 2 years).
As originally established, Senators were elected by the Legislature of the State they represented in the Senate. If a senator dies, resigns, or is expelled, the replacement must be popularly elected, instead of appointed by the State Legislature. The Governor must call a special election to fill the vacancy, but (unlike in the House) it vests in the State Legislature the authority to allow the Governor to appoint a temporary replacement until the special election is held.
Clause 3: Qualifications of Senators
In order to be a Senator, a person has to be at least 30 years old, and must have been an American citizen for at least 9 years. He or she must also live in the state that he or she wishes to be a representative for.
Clause 4: Vice President as President of the Senate
The Vice President of the United States as the president of the Senate but only casts a tie-breaking vote.
Clause 5: President Pro Tempore
The President Pro Tempore of the Senate is elected to the post by the Senate to preside over the body when the Vice President is either absent or exercising the powers and duties of the president. Since World War II, the senior (longest serving) member of the majority party has filled this position. As is true of the Speaker of the House, the Constitution does not require that the President Pro Tempore be a senator, but by convention, a senator is always chosen.
Clause 6: Impeachment
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Clause 7: Judgment and Punishment Upon Conviction of Impeachment Cases
If any officer is convicted on impeachment, he or she is immediately removed from office, and may be barred from holding any public office in the future. No other punishments may be inflicted pursuant to the impeachment proceeding, but the convicted party remains liable to trial and punishment in the courts for civil and criminal charges.
Article I, Section 4: Congressional Elections
Clause 1: Time, Place, and Manner
The States have the power to determine where, when, and how elections will be held for Senators and Representatives.
Clause 2: Sessions of Congress
Congress must meet at least once each year, and this meeting must be on the first Monday in December.
Article I, Section 5: Procedure
Clause 1: Qualifications of Members
Both houses of Congress have the power to judge their own elections and determine the qualifications of their own members. A majority of each House constitutes a quorum to do business; a smaller number may adjourn the House or compel the attendance of absent members.
A quorum is assumed to be present unless a quorum call, requested by a member, proves otherwise. Rarely do members ask for quorum calls to demonstrate the absence of a quorum; more often, they use the quorum call as a delaying tactic.
Clause 2: Rules
Each House can determine its own rules (assuming a quorum is present), and may punish any of its members. A two-thirds vote is necessary to expel a member. Specific guidance to each House regarding when and how each House may change its rules is not given, leaving details to the respective chambers.
Clause 3: Recordings of Proceedings
Each House must keep and publish a Journal, though it may choose to keep any part of the Journal secret. The decisions of the House—not the words spoken during debates—are recorded in the Journal; if one-fifth of those present (assuming a quorum is present) request it, the votes of the members on a particular question must also be entered.
Clause 4: Adjournment
Neither House may adjourn, without the consent of the other, for more than three days. Often, a House will hold pro forma sessions every three days; such sessions are merely held to fulfill the constitutional requirement, and not to conduct business. Furthermore, neither House may meet in any place other than that designated for both Houses (the Capitol), without the consent of the other House.
Article 1, Section 6: Privileges, Restrictions, and Compensation
Clause 1: Compensation and Legal Protection
These civil officers get paid by the Treasury of the United States. They cannot be arrested, unless it is for a felony, treason, or a breach of peace.
Clause 2: Independence From The Executive
Members of Congress cannot take an office in the Executive government while they are still in Congress.
Article 1, Section 7: Bills
Clause 1: Bills of Revenue
Any bill may originate in either House of Congress, except for a revenue bill, which may originate only in the House of Representatives. In practice, the Senate sometimes circumvents this requirement by substituting the text of a revenue bill previously passed by the House with a substitute text. Either House may amend any bill, including revenue and appropriation bills.
Clause 2: Presentment Clause
Before a bill becomes law, it must be presented to the President, who has ten days (excluding Sundays) to act upon it. If the President signs the bill, it becomes law. If he disapproves of the bill, he must return it to the House in which it originated together with his objections.
This procedure has become known as the veto, although that particular word does not appear in the text of Article One. The bill does not then become law unless both Houses, by two-thirds votes, override the veto.
If the President neither signs nor returns the bill within the ten-day limit, the bill becomes law, unless the Congress has adjourned in the meantime, thereby preventing the President from returning the bill to the House in which it originated. In the latter case, the President, by taking no action on the bill towards the end of a session, exercises a “pocket veto”, which Congress may not override.
Clause 3: Presidential Veto
Every bill, order, resolution, or vote that must be passed by both Houses, except on a question of adjournment, must be presented to the President before becoming law. However, to propose a constitutional amendment, two-thirds of both Houses may submit it to the states for the ratification, without any consideration by the President, as prescribed in Article V.
Article I, Section 8: Powers of Congress
Many powers of Congress have been granted under a broad interpretation of Article 1, section 8. Most notably, Clauses 1 (the General Welfare or Taxing and Spending clause), 3 (the Commerce clause), and 18 (The Necessary and Proper clause) have been deemed to grant expansive powers to Congress. These three clauses have been interpreted so broadly that the federal government of the United States exercises many powers that are not expressly delegated to it by the states under the Constitution.
Clause 1: General Welfare or Taxing and Spending Clause
Congress may lay and collect taxes for the “common defense” or “general welfare” of the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court has not often defined “general welfare,” leaving the political question to Congress.
Clause 2: Borrowing Power
Congress has the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States.
Clause 3: Commerce Clause
The United States Congress shall have power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”
Clause 4: Immigration and Bankruptcy
To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States.
Clause 5: Money; Weights and Measures
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.
Clause 6: Counterfeiting
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current coin of the United States.
Clause 7: Post Offices
To establish Post Offices and post Roads.
Clause 8: Copyright Clause
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
Clause 9: Lower Courts
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court.
Clause 10: International Waters
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations.
Clause 11: War Powers Clause
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.
Clause 12: The Army
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.
Clause 13: The Navy
To provide and maintain a Navy.
Clause 14: Rules and Regulations for the Army and Navy
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.
Clause 15: Calling The Militia
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
Clause 16: The Militia
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.
Clause 17: District of Columbia
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.
Clause 18: Necessary and Proper Clause
Congress has the power to do whatever is “necessary and proper” to carry out its enumerated powers and, crucially, all others vested in it
Article I, Section 9: Limits on Federal Power
Clause 1: Slave Trade
Prevents Congress from passing any law that would restrict the importation of slaves into the United States prior to 1808. Congress could however, levy a per capita duty of up to ten Spanish milled dollars for each slave imported into the country.
This clause was further entrenched into the Constitution by Article V, where it is explicitly shielded from constitutional amendment prior to 1808. On March 2, 1807, Congress approved legislation prohibiting the importation of slaves into the United States, which went into effect January 1, 1808, the first day of the prohibition permitted by the Constitution.
Clause 2: Habeas Corpus
A writ of habeas corpus is a legal action against unlawful detainment that commands a law enforcement agency or other body that has a person in custody to have a court inquire into the legality of the detention. The court may order the person released if the reason for detention is deemed insufficient or unjustifiable. The Constitution further provides that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus may not be suspended “unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it”.
Clause 3: Bill of Attainder
A writ of habeas corpus is a legal action against unlawful detainment that commands a law enforcement agency or other body that has a person in custody to have a court inquire into the legality of the detention. The court may order the person released if the reason for detention is deemed insufficient or unjustifiable. The Constitution further provides that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus may not be suspended “unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it”
Clause 4: Direct Taxes
No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.
Clause 5: State Taxes
No tax may be imposed on exports from any state.
Clause 6: Preferences
Congress may not, by revenue or commerce legislation, give preference to ports of one state over those of another; neither may it require ships from one state to pay duties in another.
Clause 7: Treasury
All funds belonging to the Treasury may not be withdrawn except according to law. Modern practice is that Congress annually passes a number of appropriations bills authorizing the expenditure of public money. The Constitution requires that a regular statement of such expenditures be published.
Clause 8: Title of Nobility Clause
Congress may not grant any title of nobility. No civil officer may accept, without the consent of Congress, any gift, payment, office or title from a foreign ruler or state known as emoluments. A U.S. citizen may receive foreign office before or after their period of public service.
Article I, Section 10: Limits on State Power
Clause 1: Contracts Clause
States may not exercise certain powers reserved for the federal government: they may not:
- enter into treaties, alliances or confederations
- grant letters of marque or reprisal
- coin money or issue bills of credit (such as currency).
- make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts, which expressly forbids any state government (but not the federal government) from “making a tender” (i.e., authorizing something that may be offered in payment) of any type or form of money to meet any financial obligation, unless that form of money is coins made of gold or silver (or a medium of exchange backed by and redeemable in gold or silver coins
Clause 2: Import-Export Clause
States may not, without the consent of Congress, tax imports or exports except for the fulfillment of state inspection laws (which may be revised by Congress). The net revenue of the tax is paid not to the state, but to the federal Treasury.
Clause 3: Compact Clause
States may not, without the consent of Congress, keep troops or armies during times of peace, or enter into agreements with other states or with foreign governments. Furthermore, states may not engage in war unless invaded. States may, however, organize and arm a militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.