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U.S. Constitution


At over 230 years old, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written political constitution still in existence. It has been amended only 17 times after being ratified in 1788 (not including its first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights), with the last time coming with the 27th Amendment concerning compensation for senators and representatives, which was originally proposed in 1789 and ratified over 200 years later in 1992.

The most intense political controversies in American history have turned on differing interpretations of the Constitution. Americans have argued about the constitutionality of the federal government chartering a national bank and what powers Congress had to provide funding for internal improvements such as roads and canals in the states. The battles over Congress’s power to restrict slavery in the territories and the broader question of the status of blacks under the Constitution were undoubtedly the biggest political controversies of the mid-nineteenth century.

More recently, Americans have argued about what the Constitution says about segregation, abortion, and the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare).

Given the centrality of the Constitution to our national debates, many Americans may be surprised to learn that we once lived under a different constitutional order

Essential Reading

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Quotes/Primary Sources

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Secondary Sources

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Gordon S. Wood, University of Texas at San Antonio
David McCullough, ConSource
Chief Justice Roberts on the Constitution <div class="video-icon"></div>
Chief Justice John Roberts, CSPAN
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg & Jeffrey Rosen, National Constitution Center
How Do You Interpret the Constitution? A Debate <div class="video-icon"></div>
Justice Stephen Breyer & Justice Antonin Scalia, CSPAN
Jeffrey Rosen, National Constutution Center
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