Editor’s note: This is part six of an 11-part series on the Constitution of the United States. This article contains the text as written and explanations of articles and amendments. Spelling and grammar are as the original text was written. Explanations contained in this article are not based on the writer’s opinion; they are based on interpretations mainly from Congress and the Supreme Court. The explanations are contained in brackets  to distinguish them from the actual text of the Constitution. Italicized text indicates words and passages of the Constitution that were changed or affected by amendments.
Article VI – [Article VI establishes the Constitution, and all federal laws and treaties of the United States made according to it, to be the supreme law of the land, and that “the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the laws or constitutions of any state notwithstanding.” It validates national debt created under the Articles of Confederation and requires that all federal and state legislators, officers, and judges take oaths or affirmations to support the Constitution. This means that the states’ constitutions and laws should not conflict with the laws of the federal constitution and that in case of a conflict; state judges are legally bound to honor the federal laws and constitution over those of any state. Article Six also states “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”] All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Article VII – The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.
Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,
[The signing of the United States Constitution occurred on September 17, 1787, when 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention endorsed the constitution created during the convention. In addition to signatures, this closing endorsement, the Constitution’s final section, included a brief declaration that the delegates’ work has been successfully completed and that those whose signatures appear on it subscribe to the final document. Included are a statement pronouncing the document’s adoption by the states present, a formulaic dating of its adoption, and the signatures of those endorsing it. Additionally, the convention’s secretary, William Jackson, added a note to verify four amendments made by hand to the final document, and signed the note to authenticate its validity.]
Amendments – [A proposed amendment becomes an operative part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the States (currently 38 of the 50 states). There is no further step. The text requires no additional action by Congress or anyone else after ratification by the required number of states. Thus, when the Office of the Federal Register verifies that it has received the required number of authenticated ratification documents, it drafts a formal proclamation for the Archivist to certify that the amendment is valid and has become part of the nation’s frame of government.
Structurally, the Constitution’s original text and all prior amendments remain untouched. The precedent for this practice was set in 1789, when Congress considered and proposed the first several Constitutional amendments. Among these, Amendments 1–10 are collectively known as the Bill of Rights, and Amendments 13–15 are known as the Reconstruction Amendments. Excluding the Twenty-seventh Amendment, which was pending before the states for 202 years, 225 days, the longest pending amendment that was successfully ratified was the Twenty-second Amendment, which took 3 years, 343 days. The Twenty-sixth Amendment was ratified in the shortest time, 100 days. The average ratification time for the first twenty-six amendments was 1 year, 252 days; for all twenty-seven, 9 years, 48 days.]
Amendment I (1791) – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
[The First Amendment prohibits Congress from obstructing the exercise of certain individual freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and right to petition. Its Free Exercise Clause guarantees a person’s right to hold whatever religious beliefs they want, and to freely exercise that belief, and its Establishment Clause prevents the federal government from creating an official national church or favoring one set of religious beliefs over another. The amendment guarantees an individual’s right to express and to be exposed to a wide range of opinions and views. It was intended to ensure a free exchange of ideas, even unpopular ones. It also guarantees an individual’s right to physically gather or associate with others in groups for economic, political or religious purposes. Additionally, it guarantees an individual’s right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.]
Amendment II (1791) – A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
[The Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. Although the Supreme Court has ruled that this right applies to individuals, not merely to collective militias, it has also held that the government may regulate or place some limits on the manufacture, ownership and sale of firearms or other weapons. Requested by several states during the Constitutional ratification debates, the amendment reflected the lingering resentment over the widespread efforts of the British to confiscate the colonists’ firearms at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Patrick Henry had rhetorically asked, shall we be stronger, “when we are totally disarmed, and when a British Guard shall be stationed in every house?”]
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973.