The Articles of Confederation created a weak federal government with only a single legislative body. Delegates charged with amending the Articles instead created an entirely new national government. The document they produced was ratified in 1788 and remains the founding charter of the U.S. government. The seven articles of the Constitution establish and outline the powers and responsibilities of the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
Article I of the Constitution grants legislative power to a bicameral national congress. The seats in the House of Representatives are divided among the states according to their population. In 1911, the number of seats in the House was capped at 435. In addition to describing how citizens qualify to run for congressional office, the length of terms and the elections process, the Article lists subjects appropriate for Congress to make laws. With the exception of tax laws, which must originate in the House, either chamber may introduce bills. Once a majority of the members in each chamber have voted to approve a bill, it is presented to the president. With the president's approval, the bill becomes law.
The president is the head of the executive branch, with powers listed in Article II of the Constitution. The presidential powers provided by the Constitution aren't specified with as much detail as legislative power, in part to give the president more flexibility in crisis situations. As head of state, the president negotiates treaties with other countries and international organizations, which must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate to be binding on the United States. As chief executive, the president oversees the entire executive branch, including all departments and agencies. The president also appoints the heads of these departments and other key executive officials and federal judges. Those appointments also must be approved by the Senate. The president is also commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, although only Congress has the authority to declare war.
Resolving Legal Conflicts
When the Supreme Court opened its first session on February 2, 1790, the U.S. government under the Constitution became fully operational. Federal judicial power is described in Article III, which establishes the Supreme Court as the highest court in the country and allows Congress to establish any lower courts as needed. The nine justices of the Supreme Court are nominated by the president. If confirmed by the Senate, they begin lifetime terms. The courts' power extends only to cases and controversies between two parties, although in the process of rendering judgment in conflicts they also evaluate laws. Article VI establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and federal courts can overturn laws that are unconstitutional.
Relationship Between State and Federal Governments
Article IV of the Constitution outlines the duties states have to the federal government, to their citizens and to each other. It requires each state to recognize the laws and records, such as driver's licenses, of other states. Similarly, states are constitutionally bound to treat all U.S. citizens equally, regardless of which state they're from. The federal government controls U.S. relations with other countries, and Article IV prohibits states from making their own treaties or trade agreements with other countries or interfering with an agreement made by the federal government. While states are allowed to make agreements with another state, such as a plan to combat pollution in a river crossing both states' territory, those agreements are subject to congressional approval.
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