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What all should know about the Constitution

To commemorate the Sept. 17, 1787, signing of the Constitution of the United States, Congress designated Sept. 17th of each year as Constitution Day.

More then ever it is important to understand the purpose of the U.S. Constitution. It is often referred to as a “living document” that grows and changes as society moves forward. No matter a person’s view on constitutional interpretation, there is no doubt that amendments to the Constitution have changed the course of the American legal system.

The first 10 amendments became known as the “Bill of Rights,” including many freedoms we associate so closely with the United States — freedom of religion, speech and the press. The Founding Fathers believed the country needed a national government with its own constitution. This way, all 13 states could act together. Prior to the ratification of the Constitution, all the states ensured these first 10 amendments were included to protect the rights of the people.

Utilizing the Constitution, let’s look at current issues in the news: “1619,” “slavery” and “voting.”

More than six decades passed between ratification of the 12th and 13th Amendments. The United States was becoming a country with various tensions arising over slavery. Few in the post-founding generations wanted to provoke a constitutional crisis by proposing a potentially divisive amendment. But after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed only enslaved people behind enemy lines during the Civil War, support grew for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery. Ratified after Lincoln’s assassination, the 13th Amendment finally put an end to the institution that had tarnished the country since 1619.

12th Amendment

Ratified 1804

• Election of president

13th Amendment

Ratified 1865

• Slavery and involuntary servitude

This amendment changed a portion of Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution to the following: Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

14th Amendment

Ratified 1868

• Rights guaranteed, privileges and immunities of citizenship, due process and equal protection

It was ratified in order to protect the civil rights of freed slaves after the war.

15th Amendment

Ratified 1870

• Right of citizens to vote

Granted the right to vote could not be denied based on race, color or previous condition of servitude.

17th Amendment

Ratified 1913

• Popular election of senators

This amendment modified Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution by allowing voters to cast direct votes for United States senators. Prior to its passage, senators were chosen by state legislatures.

19th Amendment

Ratified 1920

• Women’s suffrage rights

This amendment was added to the Constitution, ensuring that American citizens could no longer be denied the right to vote because of their sex.

22nd Amendment

Ratified 1951

• Presidential tenure

Limited presidents to two terms.

24th Amendment

Ratified 1964

• Abolition of the poll tax qualification in federal elections

Prohibited the federal and state governments from imposing poll taxes before a citizen could participate in a federal election.

26th Amendment

Ratified 1971

• Reduction of voting age qualification

The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.

The original document included the Bill of Rights because our Founding Fathers knew that as a new nation we would grow, and life would change. This is proven with the 27 amendments to the Constitution.

Truly America began as a dream. It has not been easy and there have been a lot of heated and crucial debates. Take a moment on Sept. 17 and look at the Constitution of the United States. As events happened that changed the course of our country, so has the Constitution.

God Bless America.

Proud American, CMSgt. J. Lori Stone of Youngstown, is retired from the U.S. Air Force. Recognized as an outstanding veteran, Stone has been inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.

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