In this series about the U.S. Constitution, we are exploring the natural unalienable rights recognized in the Constitution, keeping in mind the rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness that we covered in the preceding series about the Declaration of Independence. This sixth part covers Articles IV, V, VI and VII, which are the final Articles of the main body of the Constitution. In the seventh part we will cover the first ten Articles of Amendment, also called the Bill of Rights.
Article IV, Section 1, contains the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which requires that each state recognize and give validity to the acts of another state. Section 2, in its first sentence, contains the Privileges and Immunities Clause, which requires that each state recognize as citizens those who are citizens in other states. In its second sentence, it has what we now commonly call the extradition clause, which requires that a state surrender to another state a fugitive from justice in that other state.
In its third sentence, Section 2 of Article IV has what is the most problematic and controversial clause in the entire original Constitution. This clause is particularly troubling when doing an analysis of natural rights, as we are doing. It is in fact contrary to the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. This clause legalized slavery within the federated Republic that the United States became under the Constitution. The clause requires that a state to which a slave escapes must return the slave to his or her master even if the state to which the slave escaped outlaws slavery. This clause was a compromise put into the original Constitution because of the fact that some states were “slave” states and some were “free” states, meaning that in some states slavery was legal and in others it was illegal. The “slave” states required this clause in order to avoid losing their slaves by escapes to “free” states. We look back on this clause as a shameful reminder of the horrible institution of slavery, and as a deviation from the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence. The contradiction that this clause created was so profound that it led to the Civil War in 1861 when Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected President with a platform to abolish slavery. The ruling class in the “slave” states viewed slavery as indispensable to their political and economic power. Slave owners had required the clause in the original Constitution as a condition for the southern states to become part of the Union. When Lincoln presented a threat to slavery, the “slave” states seceded rather than lose it. The consequence was the most sad and tragic event in American history, where states, neighbors, friends and brothers fought one another in a long and bloody war. The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery have superseded the clause.
Article IV, Section 3, provides for the creation and admission of states, and gives Congress power over the territories and possessions of the United States. Section 4 provides that the United States shall guarantee a republican form or government to each state and protect them from invasion and domestic violence.
Article V established the mechanism to make amendments to the Constitution.
Article VI has the Supremacy Clause, which establishes that the Constitution and the federal laws and treaties are superior to the constitutions and laws of the states, and that all judges in every state are bound thereby. This Article also requires that certain public officials take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution.
Article VI also prohibits a religious test to qualify for an office under the United States. This prohibition may become the focus of litigation in coming years as the distinction between religion and ideology may become more blurred. For example, under current law, it is legal to deny public office or admission to the country to someone who is an avowed communist, but not to someone because of his or her religion. The question will become: What about a person who has an ideology that is contrary to that of the United States, like communism is, but who calls his or her ideology a religion? Sharia law, for example, although part of a religious faith, is also a legal and social order that is contrary to the laws and Constitution of the United States. It will be interesting to see how the issue develops before the courts in coming years.
Article VII put in motion the process to ratify the Constitution by the states, in order for it to become effective. This Article provides a perfect conclusion to our analysis of the main body of the original Constitution because the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were the result of that ratification process, as we will see in the next part of this series.