Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Article I: The Legislative Branch—Congress (Sections 1, 2 and 3)

February 21, 2014 by NCC Staff


Article I of the Constitution defines the role of Congress, the federal legislative branch. Section 1 gives legislative powers to a bicameral Congress. Section 2 defines the roles and responsibilities of the House of Representatives; Section 3 defines the powers of the Senate.

The following was prepared by the Office of the Secretary of the Senate with the assistance of the Library of Congress, providing the original text of each clause of the Constitution with an accompanying explanation of its meaning and how that meaning has changed over time. Source: U.S. Senate, Library Of Congress

Sections 1, 2 and 3 (Legislative Powers) | Sections 4, 5, 6 and 7 (Elections and Legislative Process) | Section 8 (Enumerated Powers)  |  Sections 9 and 10 (Powers Denied To Congress and States)
Article I, Section 1: Legislative Powers
Text Explanation
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. The Constitution divides the federal government into three branches, giving legislative powers to a bicameral (two chamber) Congress
Article I, Section 2: The House of Representatives
Article I, Section 2, Clause 1: Congressional Districting
Text Explanation
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature. The House of Representatives was intended to be "the people's house." Its members were elected directly by the voters in the states, and the entire House would have to stand for election every two years.
Article I, Section 2, Clause 2: Qualifications of Members of Congress
Text Explanation
No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen. Representatives need to be 25 years old (compared to 30 for senators), and 7 years a citizen (compared to 9 years for senators). They must be residents within their states at the time of their election, but do not necessarily have to live within their districts.
Article I, Section 2, Clause 3: Apportionment of Seats in the House
Text Explanation
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three. Membership in the House is apportioned according to the population of the states. Every state must have at least one House seat. Larger states will have many more representatives. Every ten years, after the census has been taken, House districts are reapportioned to reflect their changing population. For many years the House increased its size as the nation’s population grew, but in 1911 the number of representatives was fixed at 435 (together with non-voting delegates representing several territories and the District of Columbia). Words in italics indicate provisions that were later dropped from the Constitution. The 13th amendment abolished slavery and the 14th amendment provided that representation would be determined according to the whole number of persons in each state, not by the “three-fifths” of the slaves. Since American Indians are now taxed, they are counted for purposes of apportionment.
Article I, Section 2, Clause 4: Vacancies
Text Explanation
When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies. Vacant House seats must be filled by election. For the Senate, state governors may fill vacancies.
Article I, Section 2, Clause 5: Officers and Power of Impeachment
Text Explanation
The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment. Representatives choose their presiding officer, the Speaker, from among the membership of the majority party. Other elected officers, such as the chaplain, clerk of the House, sergeant at arms, and doorkeeper, are not members of the House. Impeachment is the power to remove federal officers. The House initiates the process by voting to impeach, which then refers the matter to the Senate for a trial.
Article I, Section 3: The Senate
Article I, Section 3, Clause 1: Composition and Selection
Text Explanation
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote. Each state has two senators, regardless of the size of its population. Originally, senators were chosen by state legislatures. In 1913 the 17th amendment provided that senators would be directly elected by the people.
Article I, Section 3, Clause 2: Classes of Senators
Text Explanation
Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies. From the beginning, senators were divided into three groups for staggered elections, so that one-third of the seats are filled every two years. The italicized parts, regarding the filling of vacancies, were altered by the 17th amendment.
Article I, Section 3, Clause 3: Qualifications
Text Explanation
No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. As with representatives, the Constitution fixes the qualifications a person must meet to be eligible to be a senator.
Article I, Section 3, Clause 4: The Vice President
Text Explanation
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided. As the presiding officer of the Senate, the vice president may vote only to break a tie.
Article I, Section 3, Clause 5: Officers
Text Explanation
The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States. Except for the Vice President, the Senate elects its own officers. The President pro tempore is usually the longest-serving member of the majority party. Other elected officers include a chaplain, secretary of the Senate, and sergeant at arms, who are not senators.
Article I, Section 3, Clause 6: Trial of Impeachments
Text Explanation
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Once the House votes to impeach, the Senate conducts a trial to determine whether to convict or acquit. A two-thirds vote is necessary to remove the individual from office. The chief justice of the United States presides over the impeachment trial of a president.
Article I, Section 3, Clause 7: Judgments on Impeachment
Text Explanation
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law. Convicted persons can be barred from holding future office, and may be subject to criminal trial in the courts.

Sign up for our email newsletter