How to Cite the Constitution

Did you know that Jacob Shallus, an assistant clerk for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, was paid a measly $30 for copying down the original United States Constitution in 1787? Today, the same document is considered priceless, stored under glass in The National Archives Museum in a rotunda alongside the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. If you can’t afford a trip to 701 Constitution Ave., don’t worry. Everyone has access to a scanned copy of the original document online

Some unusual books, such as the Bible and the Constitution, get special treatment when it comes to writing a term paper. No matter which style guide you use, the Constitution of the United States must be handled with care. In this article, we’ll show you how to cite the Constitution, no matter which formatting guideline you choose for your article or paper.

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Legal (Bluebook) Style

According to Harvard Law Review Association’s The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, the U.S. Constitution should be cited with abbreviations identifying the document (U.S. Const.), article (art.), section (§), amendment (amend.), preamble (pmbl.), or clause (cl.). Identify the relevant articles and amendments with Roman numerals. Describe the section numbers and clause numbers with Arabic numerals, as follows:

  • U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 2.
  • U.S. Const. amend. XIV.
  • N.Y. Const. art. XVIII, § 3.

Legal documents identify a state constitution in a similar way, including an abbreviated version of the title of the document. In the example above, “N.Y. Const.” stands for New York Constitution. Any citation should also include the year that the cited copy of the constitution was published, particularly if it identifies distinctive information about the version of the constitution being cited. 

  • Ark. Const. of 1868, art. XIX, § 2 (1873).

Do not use italics when citing the constitution in Bluebook style. 

Modern Language Association (MLA)

Unlike legal citation style, which allows people to quote from the canonical text without giving specific publication information, MLA style prioritizes the particular source you use. If the Constitution appears in a book, archive, website, or volume, treat the name of the source as you would the title of a book, using italics rather than quotation marks. The MLA Style Center website gives the following examples:

  • The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. National Archives, United States National Archives and Records Administration, 28 Feb. 2017, www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript#toc-article-iv-.
  • The Constitution of the United States, with Case Summaries. Edited by Edward Conrad Smith, 9th ed., Barnes and Noble Books, 1972.
  • France. Le constitution. 4 Oct. 1958. Legifrance, www.legifrance.gouv.fr/Droit-francais/Constitution/Constitution-du-4-octobre-1958.

When the name of the government does not appear in the constitution’s title, specify the state or country prior to the title in the list of works cited.

For in-text citations, include the document information in parenthesis at the end of the sentence. Alternatively, you can weave the information into the prose. Either way, be sure that you give enough information to distinguish the correct entry. For example, The Constitution of the United States, with Case Summaries can be easily differentiated from The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. Such titles would not be distinguishable from one another if they were both abbreviated The Constitution. 

Interestingly, The Purdue Online Writing Lab provides different advice than The MLA Style Center website, writing: “Because these [MLA] directives aren’t very specific, you can use the following example as a guide for the Works Cited entry: United States Constitution. Art./Amend. XII, Sec. 3.” Thanks to the broad range of advice available online, the U.S. Constitution is cited inconsistently across MLA-formatted papers. 

American Psychological Association (APA) Style

APA uses the same formatting as Bluebook style to reference the Constitution. In-text citations include information identical to the reference list, and the citation can be woven into the prose or placed as a parenthetical, as needed. Just like with MLA style, in prose, “Constitution” should be capitalized when it refers to the U.S. Constitution. 

Associated Press (AP) Style

AP Style gives guidelines for news publications. As such, works written in this style do not include a reference list; instead, source material should be woven into the prose. As with other style guides, always capitalize references to the U.S. Constitution. For the constitutions of other governments and groups, capitalize “constitution” only when the word appears as part of a proper noun. “The state’s constitution” would be written with a lowercase “c”, whereas “the Florida Constitution” would be written with a capital letter. For constitutional amendments, the numbers in the First through Ninth amendments should be written out. Numeric figures should be used to identify the 10th through 26th amendments. 

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

When writing for law journals or legal publications, CMOS does not require that the constitution be cited in a bibliography. In-text citation of the document will suffice, as long as the publication has a limited number of legal citations. 

For all other publications, The Purdue Online Writing Lab clarifies, “…Government documents should be cited using footnotes, endnotes, and/or citation sentences (with clauses including the same information required in a footnote).” In other words, Chicago style does not use complementary parenthetical citation. Instead, the citation must be woven into the prose or added by way of a footnote or an endnote. CMOS also prioritizes print pages over digital sources, whenever possible.

The CMOS notes and bibliography references fall in line with legal style, except that the preferred abbreviations are “U.S. Constitution” and “sec.” for section. Also, amendment and article numbers can be written using Arabic numerals:

  • U.S. Constitution, amend. 15, sec. 1.
  • U.S. Constitution, art. 1, sec. 8, cl. 3.

A Quick Cheat Sheet

The next time you get stuck wondering how to reference the U.S. constitution, feel free to use this handy guide. We’ve made it easy to understand by including the very first section of the Constitution (after the preamble) in the examples. Pay special attention to Roman numerals, italics, and symbols. 

Bluebook | U.S. Const. art. I, § 1.

Modern Language Association | The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. National Archives, United States National Archives and Records Administration, 28 Feb. 2017,  www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript#toc-article-i-.

American Psychological Association | U.S. Const. art. I, § 1.

Associated Press | According to the first article of the U.S. Constitution, “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.”

Chicago Manual | U.S. Constitution, art. 1, sec. 1. 

Best of luck citing your sources. Be sure to remember that the most famous line—”We the people”— appears in the Constitution’s preamble, not in article one!

Sources:

  1. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution/how-was-it-made
  2. https://www.legalbluebook.com/bluebook/v21/quick-style-guide
  3. https://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2010/06/how-to-cite-the-us-constitution-in-apa-style.html
  4. https://s3.amazonaws.com/snwceomedia/ids/7823454b-3f08-48cd-909d-617114c9c93c.original.pdf
  5. https://sites.utexas.edu/moodywriting/files/2019/04/Top-AP-Style-Rules.pdf
  6. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/cmos_formatting_and_style_guide/legal_public_and_unpublished_materials.html
  7. https://library.bowdoin.edu/research/chicago-gov.pdf
  8. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_faqs.html