What Does the Constitution Say?

A Kid's Guide to How Our Democracy Works


By Ben Sheehan

Illustrated by Mary Kate McDevitt

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$24.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 28, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

If you’ve never read the Constitution, let this guidebook help you! Featuring fun facts, cool illustrations, and even hilarious jokes, What Does the Constitution Say? will help you understand how our American government really works. 

Written more than 230 years ago, the Constitution can be hard to understand (even for adults). But it also gives you what you need to make our country the best it can be for everyone. What Does the Constitution Say? takes you on a tour of the whole Constitution while explaining what its fancy words really mean. From the Preamble to the 7 Articles to the 27 Amendments (so far), this fun-to-read guide is packed with bite-sized info, historic quotes, and graphics on important topics such as:

  • Why the Constitution is a “living document”
  • How the first attempt at a constitution (the Articles of Confederation) failed
  • What powers the president does (and doesn’t) have
  • Key figures like James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington
  • A bonus section on the Declaration of Independence
  • And much more!



Americans didn’t want a king or queen. Without one, they could still provide justice, happiness, safety, freedom, and plenty of July 4th BBQs for themselves and their future kids.


The Preamble isn’t technically part of the Constitution. It’s simply an introduction to the Constitution.


In the year the Preamble was written, “We the People” didn’t mean everyone. In most states, voting was restricted to property owners. In many states, it was restricted to white males and/or taxpayers. The people who were pretty much guaranteed the right to vote—white male property owners—were only 6 percent of the population! In many states women, enslaved people, Native Americans, and children couldn’t vote or hold public office.



Congress, our federal legislature, has 2 chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Only Congress can write our laws (not the president, the courts, your teachers, or your aunt Muriel—unless, of course, she’s a member of Congress).


We don’t live in a true democracy! In ancient Greece, every male citizen voted on every issue. But it would be hard for all 330 million of us to do that and keep a day job. Instead, we elect senators and representatives to Congress who vote on our behalf (a republic). This makes the United States both a representative democracy AND a constitutional republic. The authors of the Constitution wanted us to hold the power, but they were also a little afraid of what we might do with it. This way felt safer.


Like Congress, each state has its own 2-part “state legislature,” which has a house and a senate (except for Nebraska, which has only a senate). To make it easy, we’ll lowercase state legislatures (“house” and “senate”) when we talk about them. State legislatures make laws only for their state—including business laws, marriage laws, and even no-selfies-with-tigers laws. Yes, it’s true. Since 2014, it has been illegal to take a selfie with a tiger in the state of New York. It’s fine in New Jersey.



Members of the House (or “representatives”) are up for reelection every 2 years. To run for the House of Representatives, a candidate must be:

At least 25 years old.

An American citizen for at least 7 years.

Living in the state they wish to represent.

Literally nothing else.


Each state’s population determines its number of representatives. More people equals more representatives. States get at least 1 representative, even if the state has more cows than people (*cough* Nebraska).

BACKGROUND BIT Who counted when determining the population? When the Framers wrote the Constitution, they fought a lot about this. Eventually they had to compromise. It was decided that a “free” person counted as 1 person, a person temporarily working without pay (like an indentured servant) counted as 1 person, a Native American (who didn’t pay taxes) didn’t count as a person, and an enslaved person counted as ⅗ of a person. That means 100 enslaved people equaled 60 free persons. Pretty messed up!

Here’s how many U.S. representatives your state has (as of September 2021).


To determine the population, we count the people in every state with a census. It’s done every 10 years. The most recent census was in 2020.


If a representative quits, dies, or gets kicked out before their term ends, the governor of that state calls for a special election. No empty seats!


The leader of the House is called the speaker of the House, and he or she is selected by House members. Also, only the House has the power to impeach a president (or some other federal official).


Impeachment is confusing, but it’s NOT a go-straight-to-jail card. Impeachment only means the House accuses a federal government worker of committing a high crime or misdemeanor and votes to formally charge him or her.

BACKGROUND BIT There are no rules for who can be the speaker of the House. If the House voted for your aunt Muriel, then congrats! She wouldn’t even have to be a member of the House to get the job! Or it could be a celebrity, or your sister, or ANYONE. But so far it has always been a member of the House.



Each state gets 2 U.S. senators. Senators are up for reelection every 6 years.

BACKGROUND BIT State legislatures (state houses and state senates) used to pick U.S. senators.

BACKGROUND BIT Senators originally represented the states, not the people. (The people were represented in the House.) To the authors of the Constitution, the people change their minds too quickly, which is also why senators were given longer terms (6 years instead of 2).


The Senate is divided into thirds. Every 2 years, ⅓ of the Senate is up for reelection. If a senator quits, dies, or gets kicked out before his or her term ends, in most states the governor can appoint a temporary senator. Again, no empty seats!

BACKGROUND BIT If every House and Senate seat were up for reelection at the same time, it would be chaotic. Policies would change constantly. The only commercials we’d see would be political ads (not cool if you love a good jingle). That’s why senators are divided into 3 groups, with each group having a different start and end date for its terms.


Senate candidates must be:

At least 30 years old.

An American citizen for at least 9 years.

Living in the state they wish to represent.

Nothing else.


The vice president is also the president of the Senate but doesn’t get to vote unless there’s a tie. If the vice president isn’t available on a given day, the Senate has its own “president pro tempore” to keep things running smoothly.


“President pro tempore” is a fancy Latin term for “president for a time” (as in, temporarily). Also, like the speaker of the House, there are no constitutional requirements for the job. Make sure to tell Aunt Muriel!

BACKGROUND BIT The 1st vice president, John Adams (who was also our 2nd president), called being vice president “the most insignificant office” ever imagined. Before the 25th Amendment, the office of vice president could go vacant for years at a time and no one bothered to fill it!


After the House impeaches a government official, the Senate puts that impeached person on trial.

Senators must go under oath (swearing on their religion) or affirmation (making a pinky swear).

The trial takes place on the floor of the Senate.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court oversees the trial if it’s for the sitting president.

Two-thirds of the senators at the trial must agree to convict.


If the government official is convicted, the only possible punishments from this trial are removal from office and not being allowed to hold federal office ever again. The person can also be taken to regular court and tried for those (or other) crimes.

BACKGROUND BIT To date, 3 presidents have been impeached by the House: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump. All 3 were acquitted in the Senate, meaning none of them were removed from office or banned from holding future federal office. Most people think Richard Nixon was impeached and removed from office, but this is a trick trivia question! Richard Nixon resigned before the House could vote to impeach him.



States decide when, where, and how to hold elections for senators and representatives, but Congress can change their decisions.


In 1845, Congress decided that everyone will vote for representatives and senators on the 1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday of November. They made it the same day so that one state’s results wouldn’t influence another’s. But they also chose this day so that farmers could be done farming and have more time to vote. We’ve kept this date for over 175 years!


Congress must go to work at least once a year, and they can pass a law to choose the specific day.


They meet more than once a year, but they do schedule themselves plenty of breaks.

BACKGROUND BIT The Constitution says this day should be the 1st Monday in December, but this was later changed.



Congress will make sure their new members are of age (i.e., they can’t be 10 years old) and meet all the other requirements. In addition, there must be a majority (called a “quorum”) present to pass laws. This is good! If there wasn’t a majority, 2 senators could get together and pass a bill that said everyone had to buy a giraffe or hop on 1 leg for 10 minutes. Also, if members play hooky, Congress can force them to go to work. If they still don’t come in, Congress can punish them. Again, this is good. Otherwise, your representative could skip session every day to play video games instead of voting on your behalf. No taxation without representation!


If a member of the House or Senate misbehaves, they can be punished. If they’re really bad (and if ⅔ of the House or Senate agrees), the troublemaker can be fired.


Both the House and Senate must write down what they say and do each day, and print it out for everyone to see, unless it’s super-top-secret stuff. Votes are recorded only if ⅕ of the members agree (this is called a roll call vote, and everyone answers alphabetically).

BACKGROUND BIT C-SPAN records the House and Senate meetings. You can watch votes happening live on television! There are also websites online and daily journals that detail the votes.


While in session, neither the House nor the Senate can break for more than 3 days, nor meet anywhere else without the other’s permission (unless it’s for a snack in the Capitol, but no tropical weekend getaways).


“Capitol” with an “o” is the building. “Capital” with an “a” is the city. Here’s a trick: When you see the “o,” think of the dome of the Capitol building.



Members of Congress are paid by the people for their jobs, and they decide how much! Also, they have immunity. During a debate, they can’t get in trouble for things they say (unless they threaten to kill the president or steal money from the U.S. Treasury for that tropical vacation). Basically, unless it’s “treason, felony, or breach of peace,” they get a free pass to speak their mind without fear of arrest while debating. They also can’t be questioned about their talks in Congress either.

BACKGROUND BIT The Framers were worried for a reason. Their old king in Britain used to arrest members for saying things he didn’t like, so this clause made sure the president or police couldn’t harass them. It gave them freedom of speech while they did their jobs, which we all know is important!


Members of Congress can’t suddenly quit and take a newly made job in government, or one with a bigger paycheck. They also can’t have 2 jobs in government at the same time (except for the vice president, but more on that later!).

BACKGROUND BIT This is a small but important point, because it happened all the time. Representatives would vote to increase a pay raise for a job and then, after their term was up, take the higher-paying job. For example, in 1909, President William Taft nominated Senator Philander Chase Knox to a new job in his Cabinet. But Knox had just voted to raise the salary, so he couldn’t accept it until Congress lowered the salary again. The very same thing happened with Hillary Clinton in 2008 when President Barack Obama asked her to be in his Cabinet.



All bills having to do with taxes must start in the House. The Senate can make amendments to them before sending them to the president to sign. (You can track a bill as it goes through Congress on Congress.gov to see how it changes and where it is in the process. Think of it like a pizza tracker. A bill gets prepped in committee, baked in either the House or the Senate, inspected in the other chamber, sometimes reinspected in both, and finally sent for delivery to the president, just like a pepperoni pizza with extra anchovies.)


Most bills start in committees and even smaller subcommittees where everyone hashes out the details before being voted on by the House or the Senate. Both the House and the Senate must agree on the final bill before it goes to the president. Nothing can differ—not even a comma.


The first 4 words of any bill before it becomes a law are “Be it hereby enacted…”


Every bill that has been approved by both chambers gets sent to the president. The president then has a few options:

1. Sign the bill. Yay, it’s a law!

2. Reject the bill and send it back to Congress with notes.

3. Sit on the bill.


On Sale
Sep 28, 2021
Page Count
176 pages

Ben Sheehan, author of OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say?

Ben Sheehan

About the Author

Ben Sheehan is a former award-winning executive producer at Funny Or Die. He founded OMG WTF (Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida) to teach voters about state executive races during the 2018 midterms. The Hollywood Reporter listed him as one of entertainment’s 35 Rising Executives Under 35 and OMG WTF’s Gerrymander Jewelry was a finalist for Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas 2019. In 2016, he helped register 50,000 voters through digital videos as the executive director of Save the Day. The projects he’s been involved with have received over a billion views.

En Espanol:
Ben Sheehan es un premiado ex productor ejecutivo en Funny Or Die. Fundó OMG WTF (Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida) para enseñar a los votantes sobre las carreras estatales a la rama ejecutiva durante la votación de la legislatura de 2018. El The Hollywood Reporter lo enumeró como uno de los 35 Ejecutivos Emergentes Menores de 35 años de la industria del entretenimiento, y Gerrymander Jewelry de OMG WTF fue seleccionado como finalista para World Changing Ideas 2019 de Fast Company.

Learn more about this author

Mary Kate McDevitt

About the Illustrator

Mary Kate McDevitt, a letterer and illustrator based in Philadelphia, finds inspiration in making up motivational phrases for herself. She hand-lettered the very phrases that she used to inspire herself to start an online shop, promote her work, and get stuff done. She is the author of Hand-Lettering Ledger.

Learn more about this illustrator