The U.S. Constitution

The First Amendment to the Constitution secures the right to freedom of speech and thereby also the right to protest.
An old photo from inside one of the United States’ legislative assemblies.
Amendments number one through three to the U.S. Constiution. Zoom in to read the text of individual amendments.
The White House — home of the U.S. president.

The United States Constitution was enacted in 1787, right when the U.S. was founded. Its purpose, as established by the founding fathers who authored it, was to create a system of government that safeguarded the security of the United States, as well as the liberty and prosperity of the American people.

Power-sharing

To try meet the objectives of liberty and prosperity that they had set out, the authors of the Constitution decided to make it as hard as possible for future presidents to assume dictatorial powers. For this reason, as a core legislative principle, they had the Constitution mandate strict power-sharing between three separate branches of the federal government: the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judiciary branch.

When trilateral separation of power was announced as the core safeguard against abuse of power — despite it putting checks and balances on the president — liberty-minded people became worried. Their fear was that the federal government itself, as a whole, would become unjustifiably powerful under the new laws, unless the fundamental rights of individuals and state governments were also explicitly spelled out. This concern, after some consideration, led to ten amendments being added to the Constitution.

Constitutional amendments

The first of the ten amendments that were added to the Constitution guaranteed individuals freedom of speech, while another often cited amendment, the Fifth Amendment, secured the same individual right to due process. The Tenth Amendment, furthermore, in an attempt to safeguard the power of local governments, mandated that the state governments handle anything that the Constitution did not specifically prescribe the federal government to do.

From a small to a large government

Nevertheless, despite the existence of the ten constitutional amendments, over the years, the federal government has grown large and powerful. This, quite expectedly, has prompted a debate about what the wordings in the Constitution and its amendments really signify. The federal government, in this debate, often goes for a broad interpretation of the old documents, which allows federal authorities to exert far-reaching power over individuals and states. Their ideological opponents, on the other hand, due to their more narrow reading of the Constitution, contend that the federal government is in gross violation of the Constitution and its amendments.