The U.S. Constitution: Articles V, VI and VII - amendments, slavery, supremacy, ratification

This is 10th in a series of essays about the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution has seven defining Articles. I have covered the first four in stand-alone essays. This piece combines information from the last four Articles.

The word "slave" is not found in our Constitution. Historian Kenneth Stampp has written that "Prior to the Civil War southern slavery was America's most profound vexatious social problem." The Founders had to deal with it in the Declaration of Independence.

By 1830, John C. Calhoun, a Southern politician, began using the word "peculiar institution" to describe it. "Peculiar" meant special. Words dealing with slavery issues are present in three Articles.

Article I, as you have read, outlines a 3/5ths clause where slaves were counted as 60% of a person.

Article IV discusses the return of fugitives (slaves) in the service of private citizens from one state to another. It also banned the importation of slaves after 1808.

Article V introduces the rule that no amendment to the Constitution banning slavery can be introduced prior to 1808. You will read in a later essay that slavery amendments were offered and passed after 1808.

Article V also explains how the document was to be amended. Congress and states can introduce amendments to the Constitution. Congress can initiate an amendment if two-thirds of both bodies "deem it necessary." States can offer amendments when two-thirds of the states call for conventions to propose amendments.

Regardless, after an amendment is proposed, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states in either their legislatures or at conventions. Citizens do not vote directly on amendments to the Constitution.

Article VI states four major decisions of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. First, the United States is responsible for all its debts - even those incurred prior to the Constitution's approval. We will pay our debts.

The Constitution of the United States is the Supreme Law of the Land. All judges, state or federal, are bound by the laws set forth in the document. There are no exceptions. No one is above the law of the land. As a result, all state legislators, federal senators and representatives, governors, state, and federal workers must take an oath to support the Constitution.

Finally, the Constitution eliminated all previous colonial religious tests for voting or holding elected office. The First Amendment, passed after the Constitution was put in place, reaffirmed that law.

Article VII is straightforward. Ratification of the Constitution would be complete when nine of the 13 states approved it. The document was approved by the Convention with unanimous consent on Sept. 17, 1787. Thirty-nine of the 42 delegates in attendance signed the document.

On Dec. 7, 1787, Delaware was the first state to ratify it. That is why it is called "The First State." New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify it on June 21, 1789, fulfilling the requirement for acceptance.

The first Congress under the Constitution convened in New York City on March 4, 1789. George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of our country on April 30, 1789.

On Sept. 24, 1789, Congress, as directed by the Constitution, established the Supreme Court, 13 District Courts, three Circuit Courts, and the position of Attorney General.

New York's John Jay, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers and a known abolitionist, became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Edmund Randolph of Virginia became the first attorney general.

On June 8, 1789, James Madison, the key contributor to the Constitution, proposed a Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives. These constituted the first amendments.

On Sept. 12, 1789, the first 12 amendments were sent to the states for ratification.

• Bruce Simmons of Aurora is a former teacher with more than 25 years' experience teaching social studies and humanities. This is one in a series of essays describing the history and meaning of the U.S. Constitution. The next installments will cover the Bill of Rights and additional key amendments.

The Framers: Delegates at the Constitutional Convention

Former social studies teacher explains the Constitution

Examining the Constitution: Compromise in Article I

The Constitution: Article I, Powers of the Congress

The Constitution: Article II - The Executive Branch, the presidency

The Constitution: Executive Branch responsibilities, powers

The Constitution Article I: Rules for the Legislative Branch

The U.S. Constitution: The Supreme Court and its powers

The U.S. Constitution Article IV: Congress created a set of rules for the states

Bruce Simmons
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