If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:13:52
CON‑1.C.1 (EK)

Video transcript

hi this is Kim from Khan Academy and today I'm learning more about article six of the US Constitution Article six is as will soon see kind of a constitutional grab bag it covers debts religious tests for office and it establishes the Constitution as the supreme law of the land to learn more about what binds these diverse ideas together I sought out the help of two experts Kermit Roosevelt is a professor of law specializing in constitutional law and conflict of laws at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Michael Ramsey is professor of law and director of international and comparative law programs at the University of San Diego School of Law so let's start out talking about the debts portion of article six professor Roosevelt why were the framers so interested in dead what was the historical context that led them to explicitly address debt in article six well debt is important generally because nations often need to borrow money and specifically with the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation the US government had been borrowing money to pay for the Revolutionary War so there was a question we're moving from a sort of loose confederation almost like a treaty between nations under the Articles of Confederation to a single unitary country with a stronger national government under the Constitution and there was a question is it still the same country will the new United States pay the debts of the old United States now there's a general principle of international law that a successor government undertakes the obligations of the predecessor so you wouldn't necessarily think this would be a problem but I think they were particularly concerned because the idea of a republic was a somewhat new one at least in the 18th century somewhat unusual one and the the the change of a Republican government might cause some worries in Europe where where this money was owed so I think they just wanted to reassure all of the creditors that even if they were changing their method of government that that wasn't going to affect any of the debts what might have happened had they decided not to pay those debts if they decided not pay the debts then other countries would probably have been much less willing to lend money to the new United States because they might have thought well you know another change in government could occur there was substantial question throughout the world whether the United States would be able to survive in the face of all the challenges that they had after gaining their independence so in order to make it seem that they that the United States was a country that could be trusted the country that could be expected to stick around and not collapse in the chaos or revert to colonial status one of the most important things for them was to show that the the debts would be honored because a failure to honor debts would suggest that the country did not in fact have true sovereignty and was not prepared to be a actor on the international stage that could be trusted another interesting thing to contrast this to is the treatment of debts after the Civil War where of course the United States the federal government paid its own debts but there's a provision in the 14th amendment explicitly repudiating the Confederate debt so if you loaned money to the Confederate States of America you're never getting that back because we didn't treat that as a valid government that would be continued going forward another thing that it illustrates is that the Constitution in some respects was was a visionary document that was concerned with a long-term future of the United States but in other respects it responded to very immediate practical problems that the framers faced in their day they were thinking about not not just the future of the country for the ages and they were thinking about that but but they weren't thinking just about that they were they were also thinking about reassuring France with respect to the debts that existed right at that moment so there's a lot going on in article 6 and specifically it talks about the Constitution as the supreme law of the land so what's important about that statement what's important about that is that it means the Constitution is our highest law it prevails over any other kind of law in a conflict so one thing that that means is the Constitution is supreme over state law and then the Constitution actually goes on to talk about that a little bit more but it also means the Constitution is supreme over federal law so everyone is bound by the Constitution the states can't bill against it Congress can't go past it the president can't violate constitutional restrictions the Constitution is really the last word it's the pinnacle or the keystone of the arch of American democracy and that's why we can say that things are unconstitutional that laws are unconstitutional and therefore invalid and most importantly it's why the Supreme Court can say that laws are unconstitutional and not in and invalid it creates a superior law that that limits the laws that can be passed by the other parts of the government it creates a hierarchy of laws and in doing so it assures that we have a single set of rules that applies to all the states and to the federal government and it can't be changed except by an amendment which is relatively difficult to do there's a procedure in the Constitution for how you can amend the Constitution but until amended the Constitution as as written is our superior law and that that was different from the way that the framers the law rules the framers were used to under the English system where they didn't have a written constitution and an unwritten Constitution but that that Constitution was subject to change by Parliament so has this supremacy of a constitution been tested over time there haven't been a lot of claims that the Constitution is not supreme so generally speaking everyone gives at least lip service to this idea what's been tested is more the question of who gets to decide what the Constitution means and when something conflicts with it so if you want the Constitution and federal law to be supreme probably you would want to have someone in the federal government deciding when there's a conflict say with state law and the forms that resistance has taken over the years or more states saying not you know we can go against the Constitution we're above the Constitution but States saying we don't think what we're doing violates the Constitution right and you the Supreme Court you think it does but you're wrong in the 19th century just before the Civil War the Supreme Court decided in the Dred Scott case that african-americans could not be citizens of the United States even if they were freed slaves and President Lincoln believes that that was wrong he said that there was nothing in the Constitution that denied that the ability of them to be citizens and and he said that the Supreme Court had misunder interpreted the Constitution and he would not accept the Supreme Court's ruling in that regard later in the twentieth century the Supreme Court held that the Constitution barred segregation particularly in in schools in the Brown versus Board of Education case but many southern governors and other institutions throughout the South thought that the Supreme Court had gotten that one wrong and they refused to abide by what the Supreme Court had said the Constitution means what they said was not the Constitution doesn't bind us but we know what the Constitution means better than you Supreme Court you're wrong you're making this up it's political it's not judging another thing that article six talks about is religious tests why were the framers so interested in preventing religious tests in government what sort of historical evils were they trying to prevent so this is connected to the basic idea of the separation of church and state and you separate church and state really to protect both of those things so you want to protect religion from being corrupted by political considerations but you also want to protect your political system from being a battleground between rival religions so where this comes from is that in England they had had a series of what they called test acts and what the test acts did was it required that for people to be eligible for government offices that that people had to be members of the Church of England and that other other religious groups they were barred by the test acts from holding government office so actually many of those minority religions many adherents of those ended up coming to the American colonies to gain some measure of religious freedom the pilgrims were an example of that there were there was a Catholic colony and in Maryland and just generally speaking many of the people many of the colonists who came over were people who were not part of the main established church in England and so you can see why they would not want to have something like the test acts and they wanted to make clear that in the new national government that that any religion or no religion would would be allowed for for government office holders do you think it's true that we don't have religious tests or oaths in the United States how about the practice of swearing on a Bible during the presidential inauguration well the practice of swearing on a Bible is very interesting as is the fact that when the president recites the oath of office every president going back to George Washington has added on to the end of it so help me God there's actually an oath in the Constitution the president has to swear to preserve protect and defend the Constitution but the Constitution doesn't say so help me God the president's just add that on on their own and actually that sort of illustrates the way in which the Constitution treats religion which is it can't be part of government in an official sense but we know that members of government are also people and they have religious beliefs that are important to them and we don't demand that they exclude religion from their lives we just demand that it be separated from government authority so you can swear on a Bible if you want to you don't have to you can swear on some other religious book we had a member of Congress take an oath of office on a Koran so individual government officials are allowed to include religion insofar as it's about them personally you know what you think is appropriate to mark this occasion what celebified's this oath for you you can do that but we can't require it and they can't make the exercise of their power religious in nature so you can't you know as a government official exercise your power on religious grounds it's something that strikes me about article six is that it addresses so many different things do you have a sense of why debts and constitutional supremacy and religious tests are all in one article article six as you said is a little bit of a grab bag it's not entirely clear how these different pieces of article six relate to each other and I think they were just things that the framers wanted in the Constitution and didn't know for sure where else to put them I'm not exactly sure why the debts are there if I had to say something about article six it would be it's sort of the glue that holds the constitutional architecture together so maybe the debts are in there to explain the continuity between the US government under the Articles of Confederation and the US government under the Constitution then the Supremacy Clause explains how all of the different parts of the federal system are supposed to fit together and what the Supremacy Clause is saying is the Constitution is above all of them the Constitution connects them all everyone has to abide by the Constitution and it tells you you know the Constitution is the highest log then you've got federal law and then below that is state law so that if there's a conflict between federal law and state law the federal law is going to win and then the last part of article six is sort of doing the same thing because you know what holds the country together what binds people into a single people in a lot of countries at the time of the founding it was religion right religion was the glue that held the society together and if you weren't a member of that religion you were an outsider he were a second-class citizen you would be shunned and and not given equal rights in some ways the last Clause of Article six says something sort of similar about America except it explicitly says it's not religion that binds us together right no religious test can be required but you do have to take an oath what do you have to pledge to support you have to pledge to support the Constitution so there again it's telling you the Constitution is what we all have in common that's what makes us Americans that really is the glue that binds our society together so we've learned that article sex is as professor Roosevelt put it the glue that binds the country together in assuming the debts from the era of the Articles of Confederation article six establish the continuity of US government it also placed the Constitution not religion as the supreme law of the United States to learn more about article six visit the National Constitution Center's interactive Constitution and Khan Academy's resources on US government and politics