What Does the Constitution Say?

The Constitution outlines the national framework of government with its three branches: executive, judiciary and legislative. It describes the qualifications, responsibilities and powers of the president, members of Congress, the judiciary and principles of federalism, and it details how the Constitution may be amended.

The Constitution also outlines the relationship between the states and the relationship between each state and the federal government. In addition, it provides for such processes as admitting new states and border changes between the states. The Constitution requires states to give "full faith and credit" to the public acts, records and court proceedings of other states.

Since the Constitution was ratified in 1789, it has been amended 27 times. The amendments are part of the Constitution. The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791. They offer important protections of individual liberty and limit the powers of government in relation to the individual. It grants freedom of speech (First Amendment), the right to bear arms (Second Amendment) the right against unreasonable searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment), and the right to a jury trial (Seventh Amendment). The majority of the 17 later amendments expand individual civil rights, such as the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery, and the 19th Amendment, which grants women the right to vote.