The U.S. Constitution is a Poem

The Constitution of the United States was ratified 228 years ago today. How did we celebrate? By translating it into iambic pentameter, of course!

 

Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1Celebrate Constitution Day with us by reading this very special Guest Post by longtime OTI Reader Geoffrey Wessel!

Today, September 17th, I’d like to wish a happy Constitution Day to readers in the United States. On this day in 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed a document that would become the supreme law of the land in the world’s first modern democracy. These delegates, including George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin, were luminaries of their time and cultural heroes to this day. American politicians even continue to reference Franklin’s statement on that day: “I consent, sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.”

While “first modern democracy” is probably an accurate description, the ancient world offers several prior examples of forays into democratic governance, with varying levels of success. Athenian democracy in particular served as one of the many sources of inspiration for the drafters of the U.S. Constitution. Solon, the great lawgiver of Athens, created a set of laws for the city-state in the early sixth century BCE. After promulgating the Law and binding the people by solemn oaths to abide by them, as recounted by Herodotus, Solon left Athens for ten years so that the people could not induce him to change the laws. He already sounds like a pretty impressive statesman, but get this: Solon was also a poet, and his entire constitution was written in verse.

Discovering that fact inspired me to “translate” the Constitution of the United States into the most representative poetic form of the English language: unrhymed iambic pentameter, or blank verse. This is the meter of the sonnet, the plays of Shakespeare, and the unsurpassed and unsurpassable greatest work of literature in any language, ever. An iamb is a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable – “buh-BUMP.” Pentameter means five iambs in each line. So a sentence like If frogs had wings, they wouldn’t need to hop is a line of iambic pentameter.

The 1787 Constitutional Convention lasted almost exactly four months; this project took me five, by the end of which I was doing very little else in my free time. The first roadblock was the impossibility of getting anything to rhyme, even one or two key passages for emphasis. I gave up that idea completely within the first day. I also quickly gave myself leeway to employ any of the legerdemain used by Shakespeare and Marlowe: feminine endings (finishing off a line with an extra unstressed syllable), elision of short words like “the” and “to” to save a syllable, trochaic substitution at the beginning of a line (a trochee being the reverse of an iamb: stressed followed by unstressed). I had the good fortune of having several friends who were willing to contribute suggestions, to review the work line-by-line and catch more than a few mistakes, and to offer encouragement and support.

I am not a lawyer, but my respect for the document made me very concerned to preserve as much as possible the exact nuances of meaning in the original Constitution. When this proved difficult, I agonized over even the minutest loss of specificity. In one passage, for example, the original specifies “both… the President and Vice President,” which I was forced to translate into “the government’s two highest Offices” – functionally equivalent, but with a distinct and potentially important difference in the exact language. A few such distortions were inevitable, though, and for that reason readers are cautioned not to consider this poetic version of the Constitution to be a legal document in the way the original is. So just be sure to have a copy of the authentic version when want to quote it in court. (Note, also, that some parts were later eliminated or altered by 27 subsequent amendments, of which I have included only the first ten – the “Bill of Rights,” ratified shortly after the Constitution itself.)

To be honest, much of the translation work was a slog. After the thrill of poetizing the soaring rhetoric of the Preamble (a truly inspiring prose passage that reads, I think, pretty well in verse too), several pages of administrative technicalities seemed like a pretty thankless job. I have a particularly nasty memory of the section of Article I that lists how many Representatives each state will have prior to the first national census; wrestling the names of the states into the formal confines of the meter gave me some serious headaches. Still, though, there were some good times as well. In particular, when I reached the part of Article II that describes the Oath of Office of the President, I was pleased that I did finally manage to work in at least one rhyming couplet, having the President swear to “Preserve, protect and guard in every way / The Constitution of the U.S.A.”

Despite the many challenges, and despite not really having any idea what I was doing it for, I kept going and eventually held in my laptop the document that you are about to read. And why? Why wouldn’t I just give up and go back to watching Seinfeld reruns? Well, because really, at the end of the day, could we let a bunch of ancient Greeks get away with more style points than Our Founding Fathers? I think you know the answer to that – this is Amurrica! Eight seven two! Eight seven two!

 

The Constitution of the United States, in Iambic Pentameter

PREAMBLE

Now we, the people of the United States,

In order to perfect our union more,

Establish Justice, and insure within

Our borders maximum tranquility,

Promote the welfare of our citizens,                                           [5]

And get the blessings liberty bestows,

For us and for our daughters and our sons,

Ordain and do establish here and now

This Constitution for the U.S.A.

ARTICLE I

SECTION 1

All legislative Powers herein granted                                         [10]

Shall be invested in a U.S. Congress;

That Congress shall consist of, first, a Senate,

And, second, House of Representatives.

SECTION 2

The House of Representatives shall be

Composed of Members which the People of

The several States shall choose each second year;

Electors in a given State shall meet

Whatever the requirements shall be

To be elected to the largest Branch

Of that State’s Legislature. Furthermore,                                  [20]

No Person less than five and twenty years

Of age shall be a Representative,

Or less than seven years a citizen

Of these United States, or who shall not,

Be, when elected, an inhabitant

Of that same State in which he shall be chosen.

Among the several States within this Union

Shall be apportioned Representatives,

Direct taxation also, based upon

Their Numbers, which shall be established as                          [30]

The sum of all free Persons, even those

To Service bound for any Term of Years,

But not including Indians not taxed,

And three in five of any other Persons.

The real Enumeration shall be made

Within the three years starting on the date

On which the U.S. Congress first shall meet,

And yet again within each ten-year term

To follow that, in such a Manner as

They shall by Law direct. No State may have,                           [40]

In all, more Representatives than one

Per thirty thousand people, but each State

Shall have at least one Representative.

Until the real enumeration’s made,

The States shall be entitled to these numbers:

New Hampshire, three; and Massachusetts, eight;

Rhode Island, only one; Connecticut,

The five it chooses; New York, six; New Jersey,

Its choice of four; and Pennsylvania, eight;

Just one for Delaware; for Mar’land, six;                                   [50]

Virginia, ten; North Carolina, five;

South Carolina, five; and Georgia, three.

If any State shall have a vacant post

Of Representative at any time,

That State’s Executive Authority

Shall issue then Election Writs to fill them.

The House of Representatives shall choose

Their Speaker and their other Officers

And also have the sole Impeachment power.

SECTION 3

The Legislature of each State shall choose                                 [60]

Two Senators, to serve for six-year terms;

The Senate thus shall be composed of all

These Senators, and each shall have one vote.

Upon their first Election and assembly,

The Senators shall split into three groups

As equal as is possible in number.

The first group shall in two years’ time vacate

Their Seats within the Senate; two years later,

The second group shall do the same, and then,

The third group two years after that, and so                             [70]

Each second year one third may be re-chosen.

If Vacancies occur by Resignation,

Or else for any other reason, during

The Recess of the Legislature of

A State, then its Executive may then

Appoint a temporary Senator

To serve until the Legislature meets,

At which time it shall fill such Vacancies.

No Person who, in age, is any less

Than thirty years shall be a Senator,                                          [80]

Or less than nine years’ time a Citizen

Of these United States, or who shall not

Be, when elected, an Inhabitant

Of that same State for which he shall be chosen.

The USA’s Vice President shall be

The Senate’s President, who shall not have

A Vote, unless it be to break a tie.

The Senate’s other Officers shall all

Be chosen by the Senate, and include

A President pro tem., for cases when                                         [90]

Its President is absent, or must serve

As President of the United States.

The Power of the trying of Impeachments

The Senate shall exclusively maintain;

When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be

On Oath or Affirmation. At a trial

Of any U.S. President shall preside the

Chief Justice; and there shall be no

Conviction in the absence of Concurrence

Of two thirds of the Members present there.                            [100]

In Cases of Impeachment, any Judgment

Shall not extend to more than the removal

From Office of the Party being tried

And banning from all rights to future Offices

Of Honor, Trust or Profit under the

United States; however, Parties who

Are in this way convicted shall remain

Both liable and subject to Indictment,

And Trial, Judgment, and such Punishment

As any Laws which may apply entail.                                         [110]

SECTION 4

The Places, Times and Manner to be used

To hold Elections, both for Senators

And Representatives, shall be prescribed

In each State by its Legislature; but

The Congress may at any time by Law

Create or alter any Regulations

Pertaining to such things, excepting those

About the Place of choosing Senators.

The Congress shall assemble in each Year

At least one time, and that upon the first                                  [120]

December Monday of the year, unless

They shall by Law appoint a different Day.

SECTION 5

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections,

Returns, and Fitness for their Offices

Of its own Members, and of each a full

Majority shall constitute a Quorum,

Required to do Business; nonetheless,

A smaller number may adjourn from day

To day, and may be authorized as well

To force attendance of whichever Members                             [130]

Are absent, in such Manner, and applying

Such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may also for itself determine

The Rules of its Proceedings; Members may

Be punished for disorderly Behaviour

Or, with two-thirds Concurrence, be expelled.

Each House shall keep of all of its Proceedings

A Journal, which they will from time to time

Make public, leaving out such Parts as may

Demand, in their opinion, Secrecy.                                           [140]

At either House, one fifth of Members present

Shall have, at their desire, the “Yeas” and “Nays”

Of all the Members entered on the Journal.

At any time the Congress is in Session,

Unless the other House give their consent,

Each House shall not adjourn for any time

In excess of three days, and furthermore,

Shall not adjourn to any other Place

Than that in which both Houses shall be sitting.

SECTION 6

The Senators and Representatives                                             [150]

Shall each receive a Compensation for

Their Services as such, which shall be set

By Law, and which the U.S. Treasury

Shall then have charge of paying out to them.

They also, while attending at the Session

Of their respective Houses, and in going

Both to and from the same, shall be exempt from

Arrest, except in case of Felony,

Breach of the Peace, and Treason; also, they

Shall not for any Speech in either House                                  [160]

In any other place submit to questions.

No Senator or Representative

Shall, during all the Time for which he was

Elected, simultaneously be

Appointed to a civil U.S. Office

Created in that time, or one for which

The Compensation shall have been increased;

No Person holding any U.S. Office

Shall, during his Continuance in Office

Take on a membership in either House.                                    [170]

SECTION 7

All bills for raising Revenue shall be

Originated first within the House

Of Representatives; but still, the Senate

May, in response, propose or else concur with

Amendments to them, as on other Bills.

Each Bill which shall have passed both Houses shall,

Before it can become a Law, be sent

Before the U.S. President, who shall,

If he approve, append his signature;

If otherwise, along with his Objections                                      [180]

He shall return it to that House in which

It shall have first originated, then,

That House first having entered on their Journal

The President’s Objections to the bill,

They shall proceed to reconsider it.

If after such a Reconsideration

Two thirds agree to pass the Bill again,

The Bill and the Objections shall be sent

From that House to the other, which shall then

Proceed to reconsider it as well,                                                  [190]

And if two thirds of them approve it too,

The bill shall then become a Law. However,

In all such Cases, both the Houses shall

Determine all their Votes by Yeas and Nays,

And enter on their Journal both the names

Of those who vote in favor of the bill

And those who vote, if any do, against.

And also, if the President shall fail

To send a Bill, with his Objections, back to

The Congress in the span of ten Days’ time                             [200]

(Excepting Sundays) from the day when he

Receives it, then that same bill shall

Be made a Law, as if it had been signed,

Unless the Congress by Adjournment block

The Bill’s return – then shall it not be Law.

In every case in which the Senate and

The House of Representatives must both

Concur to some joint Order, Resolution,

Or Vote, except on questions of Adjournment,

Before the Same shall take effect they shall                             [210]

Present it to the U.S. President,

And if the President does not approve it,

Both Houses must re-pass it by two thirds

According to the Rules and Limitations

Prescribed herein for use in passing Bills.

SECTION 8

The Congress shall have power to enact

Such Legislation as concerns: for one,

The laying and collecting of such Taxes

And Duties, Imposts and Excises needed

To pay the Debts and make provisions for                               [220]

Defense and general Welfare of the States;

But any Duties, Imposts and Excises

Shall be the same throughout the U.S.A;

Second, the borrowing of money on

The credit of the U.S.A.; and, third,

The regulation of all Commerce with

The Indian Tribes, and foreign Nations, and

Among the several States; and also, fourth,

Establishment of universal Rules

For Naturalization, and of Laws                                                  [230]

For Bankruptcies throughout the U.S.A.;

And fifth, the coining of the nation’s Money,

And regulation of its Value and

Of Foreign coin, and fixing Weights and Measures;

And sixth, the fate of counterfeiters of

U.S. Securities and current Coin;

Seventh, establishment of Postal Roads

And Offices; and eighth, promotion of

The useful Arts and Science, by securing

For certain Times to Authors and Inventors                             [240]

Exclusive Right to products of their work;

Ninthly, the constitution of Tribunals

Inferior to the supreme Court; tenth,

The definition and the punishment

Of Piracies and Felonies committed

Upon the Sea, against the Law of Nations;

Eleventh, any declaration of War,

And Letters of Reprisal and of Marque,

And rules concerning Land and Naval Captures;

As well, the raising and support of Armies,                               [250]

But no Appropriation to that Use

Shall be for more than two Years’ Term; thirteenth,

The building and maintaining of a Navy;

Fourteenth, the Rules for Government of Land

And Naval Forces, and their Regulation;

Fifteenth, the calling forth of the Militia

To execute the Union’s Laws, repel

Invasions, and suppress Revolts; sixteenth,

The organizing of the same Militia,

Their arming and their disciplining, and                                    [260]

The governing of such a part of them

As shall be in the U.S.A.’s employ,

Reserving to the States respectively,

Their Officers’ Appointments, and the right

To train them, as the Congress shall prescribe;

And seventeenth, exclusive legislation

In every Case, in such a place as may,

By Cession of some State or States, and by                                 [270]

The Congress’s acceptance, be selected

To be the Seat of U.S. Government,

And likewise in all Places which the Congress,

With full consent of that State’s Legislature

Wherein the Same shall be, shall purchase for

Erection of such Magazines and Forts,

And Arsenals and dock-Yards as are needful.

Additionally, Congress shall retain

The right to make all necessary Laws

For carrying into execution all                                                       [280]

Foregoing Powers, and all other Powers

This Constitution grants the Government

Of the United States, and its Departments.

SECTION 9

Before the Year one thousand eight-oh-eight,

The Congress shall not make a law against

The Importation or Migration of

Such Persons as existing States shall mandate,

But may impose a Tax or duty on

Such Importation, up to ten dollars each.

The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus                                [290]

Shall always be upheld, unless in Cases

Of Rebels or Invaders, public Safety

May any time require its suspension.

The Congress shall, in legislating, pass

No ex post facto Law or Bill of Attainder.

No direct Tax or capitation shall

Be laid that is not in Proportion to

The Census which was hereabove directed.

No Tax or Duty shall be laid on exports

Of any Articles from any State.                                                      [300]

Commercial Regulation shall not give

A Preference to the Ports of any State

Over the Ports of any other; nor

Shall Vessels travelling to or from one State

Be forced to clear or enter, or obliged

To pay a Duty in or to, another.

Withdrawals made upon the Treasury

Shall only be in Consequence of such

Directives as the Congress makes by Law;

A Statement and Account of the Receipts                                   [310]

And Spending of all public Money shall

From time to time be regularly published.

No Title of Nobility shall be

Conferred by the United States, and no-one

In any Office under them of Trust

Or Profit shall accept of any present,

Emolument or Title, all-inclusive,

From any King or Prince or foreign State

Unless the Congress first shall have consented.

SECTION 10

No State shall enter into any Treaty,                                          [320]

Alliance, or Confederation; grant

A Letter of Reprisal or of Marque;

Coin Money; send out Bills of Credit; pay

Its Debts in any Coin but gold and silver;

Pass any Bill of Attainder, any Law

Impairing the Contractual Obligation,

Or any ex post facto Law. No State

Shall grant a Title of Nobility.

No State, without Consent of Congress, shall

On Imports or on Exports lay Imposts                                      [330]

Or Duties, other than such levies as

Are absolutely necessary for

The execution of that State’s inspection Laws.

The net Production of all such Imposts

And Duties, laid by any State, shall be

Remanded to the U.S. Treasury;

And all such Laws shall be made subject to

Congressional Revision and Control.

No State, without Consent of Congress, shall

Lay any Tonnage duty, maintain Troops,                                  [340]

Or Ships of War in time of Peace, agree

To any Compact or Agreement with

Another State, or with a foreign Power,

Or in a War engage, unless invaded

Or in such Danger as precludes delay.

ARTICLE II

SECTION 1

The power of the executive shall be

Invested in a U.S. President.

Vice-Presidents and Presidents shall be

Elected for concurrent four-year Terms

Together with each other, as below:                                           [350]

The Legislature of each State shall choose

A Manner for appointing some Electors

In Number equal to the total sum

Of Senators and Representatives

To which the State may be entitled in

The Congress: but no Representative

Or Senator, or Person holding Office

Of Trust or Profit for the U.S.A.

Shall be appointed one of these Electors.

Once chosen, these Electors all shall meet                                [360]

In their respective States, and each shall vote

By Ballot for one person who shall not

Inhabit the Elector’s state, and also

One other person, who, however, may

Reside in any State. And they shall make

A List of all the Persons voted for,

Which shall enumerate the total Number

Of Votes for every Person voted for,

And which they all shall sign and certify

And seal, and transmit thusly to the Seat of                              [370]

The Government of the United States,

Directed to the Senate’s President,

Who shall, within the Presence of the Senate

And House of Representatives, unseal

And open all the Lists, and count the Votes.

Whoever has of all these Votes the most,

Provided that the total represents a

Majority of all Electors voting,

Shall be the President. If more than one

Such Presidential Candidate shall have                                     [380]

Such a Majority, with equal Votes,

The House of Representatives shall choose,

By Ballot, one of them for President;

Alternatively, if no Person has a

Majority, the House shall likewise choose

The President by Ballot from among

The top five Persons on the List. But all

The Representatives from any State

Will share a single Vote, a quorum then

Consisting of at least one Member from                                     [390]

Two-thirds of all the several States; a Choice

Requiring a Majority of Votes.

The President first having been selected,

The Person with the most electoral Votes

Shall be the USA’s Vice-President;

If two or more remain with equal Votes,

The Senate shall by Ballot choose among them.

The Congress may determine both the Time

Of Choosing the Electors, and the Day

On which they give their Votes; which Day shall be                [400]

The same throughout the whole United States.

No person shall be eligible for

The Presidency of the U.S.A.

Except a Citizen from birth, or from

This document’s adoption, who shall have

Attained the Age of thirty-five, and been

At least for fourteen Years a Resident

Within the borders of the U.S.A.

In case of any of the following,

The Office of the U.S. President                                                   [410]

Immediately shall be vested in the

Vice-President: The President’s removal

From Office, or his Death, or Resignation,

Or Inability to carry out

The Powers and the Duties of the Office.

The Congress may by Law provide for Cases

Of simultaneous vacancy of both

The government’s two highest Offices,

Declaring who shall act as President;

Such Officer shall act accordingly,                                             [420]

Until the Disability be removed,

Or else a President shall be elected.

The President, at stated Times, shall get

A Compensation for his Services,

Which shall not be diminished or increased

Within a single Presidency, and

Within that time the President shall not

Receive Emolument of any kind

Besides the Compensation named above

From the United States, or any State.                                       [430]

Each President, before he enter on

The Execution of his Office, first

Shall take this oath or affirmation: “I

Do solemnly (affirm or) swear that I

Will faithfully perform the duties of

The office of the U.S. President,

And will, to my Ability’s extent,

Preserve, protect and guard in every way

The Constitution of the U.S.A.”

SECTION 2

The President shall be the Chief Commander                       [440]

Of both the U.S. Army and the Navy,

And also of the several States’ Militiae

When called into the Service of the Nation.

The President may call upon the head

Of each of the executive Departments

To render a report on any subject

Relating to the Duties of their Office.

The powers of the President shall also

Extend to granting Pardons and Reprieves

For crimes against the United States, except                       [450]

In Cases of Impeachment. He shall have

The Power to make Treaties, by and with

The Counsel and Agreement of the Senate,

At least two thirds of Senators concurring.

The President shall also nominate,

And likewise with the Senate’s confirmation,

Appoint Ambassadors and other Consuls,

And public Ministers, Supreme Court Judges, and

All other U.S. Officers established

By Law, whose method of Appointment is                           [460]

Not herein otherwise provided for;

The Congress may, however, legislate

That certain minor Officers’ appointments

Be vested in the President alone,

The Head of a Department, or the Courts.

The President shall also have the power

To fill up any Senate Vacancies

That happen while that body is in Recess;

Commissions granted by the President

Shall last until the following Session’s end.                          [470]

SECTION 3

The President, from time to time, shall give

The Congress current Information of

The Union’s State, and recommend to them

Such Measures as shall be adjudged by him

As necessary and expedient;

The President may order to convene

The Houses of the Congress, both or either,

In extra-ordinary circumstances.

If both the Houses ever disagree

About the Time to which they shall adjourn,                       [480]

The President may then adjourn them to

Such Time as he shall think appropriate.

The President shall furthermore receive

Ambassadors and other Ministers,

Take care that Laws be executed faithfully,

And, finally, he shall Commission all

The Officers of the United States.

SECTION 4

The President, Vice President and all

Civilian U.S. Officers shall be

Removed from Office on Impeachment for                          [490]

And subsequent Conviction of high Crimes

And Misdemeanors, Bribery, or Treason.

ARTICLE III

SECTION 1

Judicial Power in the United States

Shall be invested in one supreme Court,

And in such lower Courts as Congress may

From time to time establish and ordain.

At either type of Court, the Judges shall

Maintain that Office during good Behavior,

And for their work receive a Compensation

At stated Times, which shall not be diminished                  [500]

So long as they shall hold their Offices.

SECTION 2

Judicial Power shall extend to all

Cases, in Law and Equity, arising

Under this Constitution and the Laws

Of the United States, and Treaties made,

Or to be made, by their Authority;

All Cases that affect Ambassadors

And other public Ministers and Consuls;

All Cases of the Admiralty and

Cases of Jurisdiction maritime;                                             [510]

Disputes to which the U.S.A. shall be

A Party, and disputes among the States,

Between one State and another’s Citizens,

Or Citizens of different States, or claiming

The right to certain Lands from Grants of Land

Derived from different States; and finally

Disputes between a State or Citizens

And foreign States or Citizens or Subjects.

In any case to which Ambassadors,

Or other public Ministers and Consuls,                                [520]

Or any of the States, shall be a Party,

The Jurisdiction of the Case shall lie

Originally with the Supreme Court.

In all the other Cases named above,

Both as to Law and Fact, the Supreme Court

Shall have appellate Jurisdiction, but

With such Exceptions, and abiding by

Such Regulations as the Congress shall

Establish by appropriate legislation.

Except in Cases of Impeachment, Trial                                [530]

Of all and any Crimes shall be by Jury;

Such Trial shall be held within the State

In which the same transgressions shall have been

Committed, but when not committed in

The boundaries of any State, then at

Such Place or Places as the Congress may

Have chosen for such purposes by Law.

SECTION 3

The only acts comprising Treason against

The United States shall be the levying

Of War against them, or adherence to                                  [540]

Their Enemies, providing Aid and Comfort

To them. In order to convict a Person

Of Treason, Testimony of at least

Two Witnesses to a single overt Act

Shall be required, or a sworn Confession,

Made by the one accused in open Court.

The Congress shall have power to declare

The Punishment of Treason, but shall not

Cause any Blood Corruption to be worked,

Or any Forfeiture for any time                                                [550]

Beyond the Lifetime of the Person who

Shall be convicted of the Crime of Treason.

ARTICLE IV

SECTION 1

Full Faith and Credit shall be given to

The public Acts and Records and judicial

Proceedings of each State in all the others.

The Congress may by general Laws prescribe

How such Proceedings, Acts and Records shall

Be proved, and also the Effect thereof.

SECTION 2

In all the States, the Privileges and

Immunities of Citizens shall be                                              [560]

Applied to Citizens of every State.

A Person charged in any State with Treason,

Or Felony or any other Crime,

Who, having fled from Justice, shall be found

In any other State, shall on demand

Of its executive Authority

Be given up and re-delivered to

The State with Jurisdiction of the Crime.

No Person who, according to the Laws

Of any State, is bound to Service there,                              [570]

Escaping into any other State,

Shall be, in Consequence of any Law

Or Regulation there, discharged from such

Service; but on the Party’s claim to whom

Such Service may be due, shall be returned.

SECTION 3

New States may be admitted by the Congress

Into this Union; no new States, however,

Shall be created in the Jurisdiction

Of any other State; nor shall a State

Be formed by recombining two or more                             [580]

Existing States, or parts of States, without

Consent from both the Legislatures of

The State or States concerned, and of the Congress.

The Congress shall have power to dispose of

And make all needful Rules and Regulations

Respecting U.S. Territory or

Such other Property as may belong

To the United States; and nothing in

This Constitution shall be so construed

As prejudicing any Claims thereof                                       [590]

Or any Claims of any of the States.

SECTION 4

The United States shall guarantee to all

The States therein a Government that is

Republican in Form, and shall protect

Them each against Invasion; and against

Domestic Violence, at any time

The Legislature, or Executive

(In case the Legislature cannot be

Convened) applies to them for such protection.

ARTICLE V

The Congress shall propose Amendments to                     [600]

This Constitution, if two thirds of both

The Houses deem it necessary, or,

If two thirds of the Legislatures of

The States make Application, shall convene

Conventions for proposing such Amendments,

Which shall, in either Case, to all Intents

And Purposes, be valid pieces of

This Constitution, when three fourths of all

The Legislatures of the several States

Or else Conventions in three fourths thereof                      [610]

Shall ratify them; whether by Convention

Or Legislature, as the Congress may

Propose; provided no Amendment which

Would change in any way Clause One or Four

Of Section Nine in Article the First

Be made before the Year eighteen-oh-eight;

And that no State, without Consent, shall be

Deprived of equal Suffrage in the Senate.

ARTICLE VI

All Debts contracted and Engagements made

Before this Constitution shall have been                             [620]

Adopted shall be just as valid for

The U.S. under it as they had been

Under the previous Confederation.

This Constitution, and the U.S. Laws

Which shall be made in Pursuance thereof,

And all and any Treaties made, or which

Shall be made, under the Authority

Of the United States, shall be the Law

Supreme in all the States, in all of which

The Judges shall be bound by these, and not                     [630]

By any contradiction of them in

The Laws or Constitution of a State.

The Senators and Representatives

And Members of the Legislatures of

The several States, and all judicial and

Executive Officials, both of the

United States and of the several States,

Shall all be bound by Oath or Affirmation

To give this Constitution their support;

But no religious Test shall ever be                                        [640]

A requisite for any public Trust

Or Office under the United States.

ARTICLE VII

Whenever the Conventions of nine States

Shall ratify this Constitution, that

Shall be sufficient to establish it

Among those States where it is ratified.                             [646]

The Bill of Rights

AMENDMENT 1

The Congress shall refrain from making laws

Respecting an establishment of faith,

Or limiting the freedom of the people

To exercise religion as they choose;

Or laws abridging popular free speech,                               [5]

Or freedom of the press; or of the right

Of people to assemble peaceably,

And make petitions to the Government

To try to have their grievances redressed.

AMENDMENT 2

Because a State’s security demands                                      [10]

The presence of a well-controlled Militia,

The people’s right to keep and to bear Arms

Shall never be infringed by any law.

AMENDMENT 3

No Soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered

In any house, against the Owner’s will,

Nor yet in time of war, except in such

A manner as shall be prescribed by law.

AMENDMENT 4

No laws shall ever violate the right

Of people, in their persons, houses, papers

And property, to be secure against                                        [20]

Unreasonable search and seizure, and

No Warrant shall be issued in the absence

Of likely cause, supported by an Oath

Or affirmation, and all warrants must

Describe specific places to be searched

And articles or persons to be seized.

AMENDMENT 5

No person shall be held to answer for

A crime for which the punishment is death

Or which is infamous in other ways,

Without first having been indicted by                                   [30]

Grand Jury, if the case does not arise

Within the land or naval forces, or

Militia, when in actual service in

A time of War or other public danger.

No person shall be subject for the same

Offense to be put into jeopardy

Of life or limb more than a single time;

Nor shall a person accused in any crime

Be forced to be a witness against himself,

Nor be deprived of liberty or life                                                [40]

Or property, without due legal process;

Nor private property be taken for

The public use without just compensation.

AMENDMENT 6

Whoever is accused of any crime

Shall, under prosecution, have the right

To speedy public trial by a jury

Of impartial citizens of that same State

And district where the crime had been committed,

Which first shall have been ascertained by law;

The accused shall also be informed about                               [50]

The accusation’s nature and its cause,

Confronted with the witnesses against him,

And have the right to processes by which

He may compel the testimony of

Witnesses in his favor, and the right

To have a Counsel for his own defense.

AMENDMENT 7

The right to jury trial shall be preserved

In suits at common law where the amount

In controversy shall be more than twenty

Dollars, and no fact tried by jury shall                                     [60]

Be reexamined otherwise than in

Accordance with the rules of common law,

In any court of the United States.

AMENDMENT 8

The courts shall not require excessive bail,

Impose excessive fines, or yet inflict

Unusual and cruel punishments.

AMENDMENT 9

Whatever rights may be enumerated

Herein shall not be so interpreted

As to deny or otherwise disparage

Retention of all other rights by the people.                             [70]

AMENDMENT 10

Whatever powers that this Constitution

Does not expressly grant the nation or

Prohibit to the individual states

Shall be reserved to them, or to the people.                            [74]

 

Geoffrey Wessel is an American diplomat and philosopher. This is his first piece for Overthinking It.

Overthinking It occasionally publishes guest articles from our partners in the OTI-verse. (Open pitches for guest articles are currently closed.)

5 Comments on “The U.S. Constitution is a Poem”

  1. Stokes OTI Staff #

    Preamble Weamble
    Us U.S. citizens,
    Want to perfect our great
    Union still more.

    Also, we’re tired of an
    Unconstitutional
    Nation. So here’s a few
    Thoughts on that score:

    Reply

  2. Stokes OTI Staff #

    (ps – COME AT ME BRO!!)

    Reply

  3. Lemur #

    Clippety cloppety
    General Washington
    Made many efforts in
    Aid of the cause.

    One of the best of his
    Postrevolution’ry
    Civic achievements was
    Helping write laws.

    Reply

  4. Lemur #

    The Declaration of Independence, in limerick form:

    Self-evidently, it is true
    Men are peers, with the right to pursue
    Gladness, live, and be free,
    But we’ve got tyranny,
    So as subjects of Britain, we’re through.

    Reply

    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      Love it! I might rewrite line 3 as “Gladness, life, liberty”

      Reply

Add a Comment