By the Venerable Patrick Germain and Honorable Selmon Rafey

The Constitution of the United States is a brief document, meaning that every word carries great significance. In selecting the most important clauses of the document, it is not to say that there are any clauses that lacks importance; the founding fathers only put in what they thought was purely vital, allowing for anything that was neglected or unforeseeable to be incorporated later as an amendment. However, certain clauses are simply more prevalently alluded to throughout the history of the United States of America and others may not be often referenced, but through landmark events and court cases have defined the structure of the Republic. For the sake of this article, the clauses of the Constitution that fit either or both of these two qualifications have been deemed important.

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Article 1
Article 1 of the Constitution deals with the formation of the Legislative Branch of the United States. It lays the foundation of both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the powers and limitations applied to them.

Section 2, Clause 3

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

The most important part of this clause was the part declaring “all other Persons” (slaves) worth ⅗ of a person in terms of population count. This “⅗ Compromise” answered Southern demands of counting African slaves as part of the population but did not allow them to vote, allowing them to get more representation in the House of Representatives. It also answered Northern demands of denying the slave states extra representation of “non-persons.” This granted Southern states more representatives, but not so much as to dwarf those of the Northern states. This partial counting of the slaves still granted Southern states more representatives, allowing them to have stronger Southern influence in Antebellum-era politics.

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Section 3, Clause 6

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.

This clause lays the rules for impeaching a sitting federal officials. It would require a ⅔ vote from the Senate, and has been used on two presidents, including Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, as well as a variety of federal officials.

Section 7, Clause 2+3

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

These two clauses cover the process of a bill being accepted into law; specifically, the power of the president to veto laws passed by Congress. It also states that Congress has the power to overturn a veto with a ⅔ vote by all of Congress. The veto has been used numerous times by presidents with personal or party disagreements with bills brought to him, and is one of the greatest threats a president can issue to a piece of legislation.

Section 8, Clause 3

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

The Commerce Clause gives the Federal government the right to control interstate and international commerce, but it has been used to justify the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act as well as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as ‘Obamacare’).

Section 8, Clause 18

The Congress shall have Power - To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
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This clause is known as the Elastic Clause, otherwise know as the Necessary and Proper clause. It gives Congress the right to do whatever it deems necessary to carry out its other powers. The flexibility of this clause, for which it gets its “elastic” qualifier, has led to great discussion and even protest. Before the Constitution was ratified, the anti-federalists argued that this clause would provide the federal government with too much power corrupt the republic into a tyranny. The federalists countered that the clause simply strengthened the efficacy of the republic by allowing it to properly carry out its other duties. Eventually, Alexander Hamilton put forth the argument that a national bank that could back the gold and silver-backed currency would stabilize the economy. It could lend funds to the federal government. He used this clause of the Constitution to pass a bill for the Bank of the United States in 1791. Though the bank is no longer existent, the supreme court case McCullough v. Maryland in 1819 looked at whether the bank was constitutionally lawful. The court, under chief justice John Marshall, unanimously decided that under the elastic clause the creation of a national bank was justified, extending the power of the federal government.
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Article 2
The second article of Constitution focuses on the powers vested in the Executive Branch of government. The leader of the Executive is the President, the vice-president is next in line, and below him are a group of appointed officers. All have unique duties.

Section 1, Clause 6

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

While this is a simple clause, it has been historically very important and continues to be today. It states that if the president cannot or will not carry out his/her duties, or is removed from office, the vice-president will take over as Commander in Chief. It has led to the leadership of several presidents that were serving as vice-president at the time of the commander in chief’s death or resignation and that were elected to president after. History has viewed these leaders in both positive and negative lights. Andrew Johnson, who followed Abraham Lincoln, was so unpopular that Congress unsuccessfully attempted to find him guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. However, Chester A. Arthur, who followed James Garfield, was viewed as a keen organizer and adept leader. The clause also states that if the vice president dies, resigns, or is removed from office, that Congress may choose who should take his or her role.

Section 2, Clause 1

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

The first clause of Section 2 grants the President the role of Commander in Chief. It also allows the President the right to pardon criminals, a right that some feel presidents can abuse. For example, Bill Clinton used it to pardon his half-brother in his final day in office.

Article 3
This article of the Constitution established the Judiciary Branch and system of the United States government, and created the Supreme Court.

Section 2, Clause 3

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

The foremost importance of this clause is that it sets up the basis of every trial to be decided by a Jury; in this way, it has defended the rights of those Americans accused of a crime since the creation of the United States. The clause goes on to state that crimes that are committed in a single state will be tried in that state. More importantly, those criminals that commit illegal acts not within a state will be tried by the federal government. These places include federal buildings like the post office or the Pentagon, but the rule is also applied if a criminal were to go on a crime spree in multiple states. Under normal circumstances, the law protects people from Double Jeopardy, being tried for the same crime twice. However, this clause allows that a criminal may be tried for the same crime in two different courts if it is a federal crime, in a federal court and in a court from the state in which the crime was committed.

Article 4

Section 1

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.
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This clause allows for the ability of United States citizens to retain freedoms between states. Legal agreements at the state level need to be honored by other states. Such agreements include marriage and driver licenses, so that a driver may legally drive into another state and that a couple married in Connecticut will still be considered a legal pair if they travel to Tennessee. Because this is a matter of interstate dealings, any disputes that are brought to court will be dealt with by the federal government. Federal courts have so far even upheld the legal union of homosexual couples to remain married in states
in which gay marriage is illegal.

Article 5

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Article 5 of the Constitution provides the framework for amending it, which is the core feature of the Constitution that makes it a “living document.” There have been 27 amendments to the Constitution so far, including the abolition of slavery and the right for women to vote.
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Article 6

Clause 2

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The most important clause of Article 6, and arguably, one of the most important clauses of the entire Constitution, is the “Supremacy Clause” which states that the Constitution and the Federal Government are the supreme law of the land, and that they overrule any laws set by the states. This, in some people’s opinion, grants the Federal Government too much power over state and local governments. One example of where this was used was in the desegregation of schools in Arkansas: the state government made several laws justifying their segregation, but the Supreme Court used the Supremacy Clause to prove that the federal law mandating their desegregation was superior.

Vocab Review

Clause: a distinct provision of the Constitution, separated by paragraphs. Constitutional clauses are found within sections, and the sections themselves are found within articles.

Antebellum: an adjective meaning something before a war; in the United States, this term almost always refers to anything before the Civil War, as it does in this wiki.

Impeach: to accuse an official of misconduct. It does not mean that the official has been found guilty.

Bill: a document that proposes a new law to the legislature.

Commerce: the whole of trade and business.

Pardon: to free a person from the punishments of a crime for which he or she has been found guilty.

Misdemeanor: misbehavior; in law, it is less serious than a felony.

Amendment: an addition to a document that either adds a new idea or changes an idea that is already present.

Review Questions

1. The creation of the Bank of the United States was considered constitutionally justifiable due to which clause of the Constitution? In what court case was this decided?

2. In what two ways can an amendment to the Constitution be ratified?

3. A Connecticut driver license is still honored in Massachusetts due to which clause in the Constitution?

4. Why was the ⅗ Compromise made and how did it affect the antebellum Republic?

5. In what way is the United States Constitution “supreme”?

6. How could a criminal be tried in a federal, rather than state, court?

7. The president is capable of doing what to legislation that reaches his desk? Can his decision be overturned? How?

Works Cited

"Amending the Constitution." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. <>.

"Bank of the United States." Bank of the United States. Thayer Watkins, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.
<>. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. <>.

"Elastic Clause." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.
<>. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. <>.

"John Marshall by Henry Inman." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.