The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. The first three Articles of the Constitution establish the rules and separate powers of the three branches of the federal government: a legislature, the bicameral Congress; an executive branch led by the President; and a federal judiciary headed by the Supreme Court. The last four Articles frame the principle of federalism. The Tenth Amendment confirms its federal characteristics.
The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified by conventions in eleven states. It went into effect on March 4, 1789. The first ten constitutional amendments ratified by three-fourths of the states in 1791 are known as the Bill of Rights. The Constitution has been amended seventeen additional times (for a total of 27 amendments) and its principles are applied in courts of law by judicial review.
The Constitution guides American society in law and political culture. It is the oldest written national constitution in continuous use, and it influenced later international figures establishing national constitutions. Recent impulses for reform center on concerns for extending democracy and balancing the federal budget.
The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. While originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, most of their provisions have since been held to apply to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The amendments were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States. While twelve amendments were passed by Congress, only ten were originally passed by the states. Of the remaining two, one was adopted as the Twenty-seventh Amendment and the other technically remains pending before the states.
Originally, the Bill of Rights implicitly legally protected only white men,excluding American Indians, people considered to be "black" (now described as African Americans), and women. These exclusions were not explicit in the Bill of Right's text, but were well understood and applied.
The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law and government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.