Article I of the US Constitution

The United States Congress is the branch of government that passes laws. This authority is granted by Article I of the Constitution.

The Constitution is organized into seven articles. Article I, defines the legislature, its powers and prohibitions and defines relations between the federal and state governments.  Article II defines the presidency.  Article III defines the judiciary and Article IV outlines the obligations of the state and federal governments.

Article V  provides the amendment procedure;  Article VI contains the Supremacy Clause and Article VII defines the constitutional ratification process.

Article I, the longest and most detailed of the articles, begins simply:

 “Section 1. All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

US House of Representatives: Composition, Election & Qualification of Members

Section 2 Defines the House of Representatives.  The House of Representatives is made up of members from each state according to the population of the states as determined every ten years in the national census. Every two years there is an election for every member of the House. The House elects the Speaker and its other officers, and has the sole power of impeachment. The following qualifications are required to serve in the House:

  • 25 years of age
  • 7 years a citizen of the United States
  • An inhabitant of the state from which elected

Section 2 further defines the House term of two years;  who may vote for House members (the voting requirements were to be same as set by the States for members of the State Legislature); who is counted for purposes of representation (at the time, three-fifths of the slaves were counted);  the original number of representatives for each state, providing that every state shall have at least one;  how vacancies are filled; the office of the Speaker of the House; and the power of impeachment.

US Senate: Composition, Election & Qualification of Members

Section 3 defines the US Senate.  The US Senate is composed of two Senators from every state regardless of population. Each Senator serves a term of six years. The terms of Senators are staggered so that one-third of the Senate is elected every two years. The Vice-President is President of the Senate, voting in the case of ties. Senators elect their other officers. The Senate has the power to try impeachments. Article II gives the Senate power to approve presidential appointments and treaties. The following qualifications are required to serve in the Senate:

  • 30 years of age
  • 9 years a citizen of the United States
  • An inhabitant of the state from which elected

The selection of Senators was given to the states.  It remained this way until 1913 when the 17th Amendment provided for election by popular vote.

Sections 4, 5, 6 and 7:  The Operation of Congress

Sections 4, 5, and 6 address technical operations of Congress, e.g.:  meeting schedules, compensation, keeping of records,

Section 7 has important provisions:

  • Any law regarding raising revenue for the government must originate in the House of Representatives.  This means that any law regarding taxes must start in the House of Representatives.
  • A bill passed by Congress becomes a law when signed by the president.  Section 7 defines how a president can reject a bill via a veto, and how Congress can enact a law over the president’s objections.

The Enumerated Powers of the US Congress, Section 8

Section 8 of the Constitution grants specific powers regarding the laws which Congress may pass. Congressional power is to be limited to these “enumerated powers”. When Congress acts outside the enumerated powers granted that act is “unconstitutional”.   This is the legal concept of “limited government”.   An analogy is when an agent appointed by a “power of attorney” acts outside the powers granted by the principal.  Such acts are illegal or invalid.  This same is true of congressional acts that are outside the powers in Art. I, section 8.

Since 1803 in Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court has exercised the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.  For over 150 years the Court, in general, saw the Constitution as a real limit on the authority of Congress.

In 1942, that changed with the case of Wickard v. Filburn   when the Court agreed Congress could regulate farmer growing wheat for his own use.  With that case the Court began agreeing that The Commerce Clause  gave Congress great authority over American life.  With an expansive view of the Commerce Clause, Congress, with the approval of the Supreme Court, has the authority to legislate regarding anything affecting interstate commerce.  In practice, this has given Congress control over most aspects of American life.

The Section 8 Enumerated Powers are:

  • Lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises;
  • Pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States;
  • Borrow money on the credit of the United States;
  • Regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;
  • Establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
  • Coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
  • Provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;
  • Establish post offices and post roads;
  • Promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
  • Constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;
  • Define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
  • Declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
  • Raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
  • Provide and maintain a navy;
  • Make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
  • Provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
  • Provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia;
  • Exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over the seat of government;
  • Make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers

Prohibited Acts of Congress:  Section 9

In addition to granting specific power, the Constitution (original, not as amended) prohibits Congress from doing the following:

  • Suspending the writ of habeas corpus
  • Taxing the ports of one state more than the ports of another
  • Passing bills of attainder or ex post facto laws
  • Spending funds without passing a law allowing it to do so
  • Granting titles of nobility

While Americans generally look to the Bill of Rights (Amendments I-X) as constitutional guarantees, two important rights are enumerated in Article I, Section 9.  Habeas Corpus dates in Anglo-American legal tradition to the Magna Carta in 1215, and requires that when someone is held against his will the right to demand a judicial hearing.  The restrictions on Bills of Attainder and ex post facto laws ensure that Congress cannot single out for punishment a particular person, or make something illegal after the fact.

Article I Limitations on State Governments

In order to maintain congressional authority in specific areas, the Constitution limits the actions of state governments. State governments cannot:

  • Enter into treaties, coin money, pass bills of attainder, ex post facto laws or impair contracts
  • Pass laws imposing import taxes or duties
  • Engage in war

Article I, the First Article for the First Among Equals

The legislative, executive and judicial branches of the American government are often described as co-equal branches of government.  Article I is by far the most detailed article of the Constitution.  It was the legislature that the Founders saw as the true source of government authority.  It is said the Congress is defined in Article I because as James Madison said the Congress was to be “the first branch of government.”

The enumerated powers of Article I are the primary source of congressional authority.  Depending upon how one counts there are as many as thirty-five powers granted throughout the Constitution.


For Further Reading



  1. […] Constitution’s Article I  grants the power to pass legislation exclusively to Congress. Laws with an effect (known in […]

  2. […] Constitution defines the powers of each branch.  Article I defines the legislative, or congress. Article II defines the executive, or presidency. Article III […]

  3. […] I, II and III define the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. The US […]

  4. […] Congress passes a law pursuant to the powers enumerated in Article I, then state law must defer. Even State constitutions are subordinate to federal statutes and […]

  5. […] first three articles of the Constitution are devoted to this structure: Article I, legislative, Article II, executive, Article III, […]

  6. […] US Constitution grants enumerated powers to the central government. The drafters believed enumerating the powers limited the […]

  7. […] Congress (the national legislature) or a state legislature passes a law, the law must comply with the […]

  8. […] Article I directed that State Legislatures choose Senators and not by the direct vote of the people. Many […]

  9. […] promote free and open discussion of any issue that might come before the United States Congress, Article I, Section 6, Clause 1, of the U.S. Constitution states in […]

  10. […] Constitution’s Articles I, II and III established the legislative, executive and judicial departments.[8] The method of selection varied for each as did the […]

  11. […] Constitution’s Article I vests legislative power in Congress; Article II, the “executive Power” in a President; […]

  12. […] American Constitution separated the functions of government into three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. This separation is sometimes misunderstood to be an element of federalism. […]

  13. […] Granted to the Agent (Article I, Sec. 8 and elements of Art. II & […]

  14. […] of government closest to the people would be responsible for taxation, the Constitution’s Article I, Section 7, clause 1, known as the “Origination Clause” […]

  15. […] the solutions was the Constitution’s Origination Clause in Article I, Section 7, clause […]

  16. […] section changed Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution which counted slaves as only 3/5 of a person for congressional […]

  17. […] that the Senate may agree to a House bill that raises revenue or offer amendments.  The Clause, in Article I, Section 7 reads as […]

  18. […] I, Section 7 defines the President’s power to approve or veto laws passed by Congress.  Article I is devoted to Congress and the passage of laws, so while Article II is the principal source of presidential power, […]

  19. […] of government closest to the people would be responsible for taxation, the Constitution’s Article I, Section 7, clause 1, known as the “Origination Clause” […]

  20. […] The Origination Clause was among the protections as were two provisions in Article I: […]

  21. […] II defines the criteria for removal of the president and other officials of the United States.  Article I defines the Congress and its powers. Congress conducts impeachments and Article I defines the […]

  22. […] citizenship.  The Constitution recognized the states’ power to determine who could vote.   In Article I, Section 2 the Constitution defined eligibility to vote in federal elections, by making voters the […]

  23. […] the Constitution left a few matters messy.  The Constitution provided terms of office for House members, Senators and the President.  It did not give dates for when those terms would begin.  It left the times […]

  24. […] voter requirements for federal elections, Art. I, Sec. 2:  “…the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for […]

  25. […] Constitution’s Article I, Section 8, clause 17 empowered Congress to establish a seat of government, and also to exercise […]

  26. […] and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States…” Article I, Sec. […]

  27. […] proponents[1] argued that the central government could exercise only the powers named in Article I.[2]  This was argument developed from agency law, something the drafters at the Constitutional […]

  28. […] of government closest to the people would be responsible for taxation, the Constitution’s Article I, Section 7, clause 1, known as the “Origination Clause” […]

  29. […] original constitutional provision for Senate elections is in Article I, Section 3 and reads as […]

  30. […] power they designed the Constitution to separate the powers of government into three branches: legislative, executive and judicial, and divided sovereignty between the federal government and the states. For […]

  31. […] of government closest to the people would be responsible for taxation, the Constitution’s Article I, Section 7, clause 1, known as the “Origination Clause” […]

  32. […] life. A real constitutional discussion from this event might have included the meaning of the Art. I, Sec. 8 provision that “Congress shall have power … to declare war.”  In 2002, then Senator […]

  33. […] first sentence of the Constitution.  It appears quite simple.  The power to enact laws about the subjects listed in the Constitution is granted to the Congress, and the Congress is the Senate and House of Representatives.  Can […]

  34. […] the power to legislate to anyone else, specifically the executive branch. The doctrine comes from Article I of the Constitution: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States. . . […]

  35. […] through the usurpation of federal power that is not constitutionally recognized. For example, if Article I does not give congress authority on a particular matter, that authority belongs to the sovereign […]

  36. […] Art. I, Section 2, clause 2 requires members of the House to be 25 years old, seven years a citizen, and live in the state they represent. […]

  37. […] federal government was designed to have only the powers listed in the Constitution, with any power not listed left to the states. The Tenth Amendment was included […]

  38. alternatives to outlook

    Article I of the US Constitution – David J. Shestokas

  39. […] For example Art. I defines Congress, Art. II the Executive, and Art. III the Judiciary. These are technical matters creating […]