Diving into the Constitution: Articles III through VII

In this post, we will be covering Articles III through VII of the Constitution for the United States. Despite the brief text of each Article, there are many important principles and limits that affect our everyday lives laid out here.

If you haven’t read the blog posts on Article I and Article II, please start with them. In particular, note that Article II, Section 2 states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…Judges of the supreme Court…”.


Article III covers the powers delegated to the Judicial branch of the Federal government. Congress has the power to establish levels of federal courts below the Supreme Court. Justices and Judges must meet certain standards, and each level of courts handles certain types of cases. There are specific rules for how and where trials are held. Section 2 refers to all cases in “law and equity” (those addressed by laws and those that must be decided by principles of fairness found outside of the laws). Section 3 refers to “Corruption of blood, or Forfeiture” (the effect of an attainder which bars a person from inheriting, retaining, or transmitting any estate, rank, or title). It also addresses the issue of which types of cases can go directly to the Supreme Court and which need to come up through appellate courts, when juries are required, and what constitutes treason.

Over the years there has been much contention over whether the Constitution is meant to be a fixed document retaining the original meaning of phrases and processes outlined by the framers or whether it should be a “living” document that changes with the changes in society. This is why Justices and Judges are sometimes called either “originalists” or “activists”. As you can see, the more “activist” the Justices and Judges are, the more the actual nature and balance of power among the branches of Federal government and between the Federal and State governments can change.

Article IV addresses the rights of States among themselves and the effect of those rights on Citizens living within the various States. It also addresses how new States can be formed and how Territories and other properties outside of States are to be administered. Section 4 is being tested in current events as Governors and Mayors invite or don’t invite federal intervention in cases of health and social unrest: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”

Notice the emphasis on the republican form of government. A republican form of government is one in which the people are directly involved through election of representatives to act on their behalf (that is, on behalf of all of the people). Here are a couple of links to help you to understand this form of government:

Article V addresses the process by which Amendments to the Constitution are to be passed by the Legislative branch of the Federal government and then approved by the States.

Article VI holds the United States to be responsible for all debts and other “engagements” incurred before the adoption of the Constitution for the United States (in other words, incurred under the Articles of Confederation). It states that all laws and treaties made under the Constitution are binding on all the States and on all the Citizens, and it requires that all elected and appointed officials of the federal and state governments must be bound by oath to support the Constitution for the United States. There is no religious test for office.

The War of Independence left the Americans bankrupt, but this Article confirmed that King George would have no further obligation toward the Native aboriginal people to stop westward colonization, no obligation to send support, troops, or supplies to the Colonies, and no obligation to pay ANY debts arising from the war. Britain retained control of American international commerce and shipping due to their complete control of the jurisdiction of the sea (the British navy was supreme, and the Americans had no real navy), and all British commercial interests remained intact. The effect of this Article was to establish, from the beginning of the Republic, two separate sets of rights and laws, one for land jurisdiction (Law of the Land, whose patriot citizens have Natural and Unalienable Rights and who have supreme civil authority on the land) and one for sea jurisdiction (Law of the Sea, which regards the Constitution as an equity contract only and whose internationalist-oriented citizens have no civil authority on the land, only civil rights granted by Congress).

The Constitution is the “Supreme law of the Land” and supercedes any laws passed by the States. This is where the federal nature of our government comes most into play. Each State has broad latitude to develop its own laws and practices but they must conform to the broad template presented in the Constitution.

Finally, Article VII requires that nine States must ratify the Constitution in order for it to become the supreme law of the land.

You will notice that Rhode Island was not represented at the signing. Rhode Island did ratify the Constitution – last of all the States – on May 29, 1790.


Article III

Section 1

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Section 2

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;–to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;–to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;–to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;–to Controversies between two or more States;–between a State and Citizens of another State [this provision was changed by Amendment 11];–between Citizens of different States;–between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects [this provision was changed by the Amendment 11].

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

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.

Section 3

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Article IV

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.

Section 2

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due. [this provision was changed by Amendment 13]

Section 3

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

Section 4

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

Article V

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 VI

All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

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 Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Article VII

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September  in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names.

Go. Washington – Presid. and deputy from Virginia

Delaware        Geo: Read, Gunning Bedford jun, John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, Jaco: Broom

Maryland       James McHenry, Dan of St. Thos. Jenifer, Danl. Carroll

Virginia          John Blair–, James Madison Jr.

North Carolina    Wm. Blount, Richd. Dobbs Spaight, Hu Williamson

South Carolina     J. Rutledge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, Pierce Butler

Georgia          William Few, Abr Baldwin

New Hampshire    John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman

Massachusetts       Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King

Connecticut    Wm. Saml. Johnson, Roger Sherman

New York       Alexander Hamilton

New Jersey     Wil: Livingston, David Brearley, Wm. Paterson, Jona: Dayton

Pennsylvania   B Franklin, Thomas Mifflin, Robt. Morris, Geo, Clymer, Thos. FitzSimons, Jared Ingersoll, James Wilson, Gouv Morris

Attest William Jackson Secretary



www.constitution.hillsdale.edu (here you can find a free one semester college course on the Constitution)

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