Our Amendments

Let’s continue with our lesson on the US Constitution. (Here’s last week’s We the People post in case you missed it. )

(Yes, I’m on my bi-annual Grandma Janet road tour and this is just easier. Bear with me, please).

We have the twenty-seven Amendments.  Twenty-five changes, if you don’t count the prohibition ones!

On September 17, 1787 representatives from 12 state delegations approved the Constitution. Thirty-nine of the forty-two delegates signed it, and the Convention formally adjourned. Now the really hard work would begin — to get the document ratified by enough state (aka colonial) legislatures

Two things happened that made that possible.

  1. The Federalist Papers were printed.  A series of 85  articles written at various times by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, they were published in newspapers across the Colonies. These are actually easy to read and quite illuminating if this era is of interest to you.
  2. Two years later, on September 25, 1789, the first ten Amendments were written and passed by the Congress that existed at that time. We now call these the Bill of Rights and they enabled certain States that had refused otherwise to ratify to come on board. They were ratified on December 15, 1791,

Here are those 27 Amendments.  First, the first ten:

Thanks to Quora for the image.
[learn_more caption=”Here are the rest”] Amendment 11 — February 7, 1795

Amendment 12 — June 15, 1804

Amendment 13 — December 6, 1865  Abolition of slavery

Amendment 14 — July 9, 1868               Civil Rights

Amendment 15 — February 3, 1870     Black Suffrage  (men)

Amendment 16 — February 3, 1913     Income Taxes

Amendment 17 — April 8, 1913

Amendment 18 — January 16, 1919       Prohibition

Amendment 19 — August 18, 1920         Suffrage for women

Amendment 20 — January 23, 1933

Amendment 21 — December 5 1933         Prohibition repealed

Amendment 22 — February 27, 1951       Terms limits on the Presidency

Amendment 23 — March 29, 1961              Suffrage in DC

Amendment 24 — January 23, 1964          Suffrage — no poll tax

Amendment 25 — February 10, 1967        Removal of President from office

Amendment 26 — July 1, 1971                      Suffrage 18 year olds

Amendment 27 —  May 7, 1992                    Congressional salaries

This one was first proposed on September 25, 1789.[/learn_more]


Some of these Amendments were procedural (e.g., how the President and Vice President are elected — 12th — then a change in how Senators are elected — 17th — and one prohibiting a Congress raising its own salary — the last one) but many in between were life changing: the abolition of slavery, the various civil rights guarantees, and the extension of suffrage (voting rights) to different populations.

What this list reminds me of is that our democracy moves slowly, by degrees and not linearly. It has weathered storms before — read anything of the South in the years following the Civil War and you’ll know just how bad some of those storms were — and we will undoubtedly weather them again.

But it will be immeasurably easier to weather them if we know the basic framework of our own Constitution. How does a new bill become a law? What is the procedure to follow to get a law changed? What is the power of one individual?


A more interesting list involves those Amendments that never made it.

According to the Constitution Facts website, “there have been close to 10,000 amendments proposed in Congress since 1789.


Thanks to SlideShare.com for the image.


[learn_more caption=”Here is a very limited list (no ERA) of some of those proposed amendments that never left the halls of Congress:”]The success rate of an amendment to become part of the Constitution is less than 1%.”

1876: an attempt to abolish the United States Senate

1876: the forbidding of religious leaders from occupying a governmental office or receiving federal funding

1878: an Executive Council of Three should replace the office of President

1893: renaming this nation the “United States of the Earth”

1893: abolishing the United States Army and Navy

1894: acknowledging that the Constitution recognizes God and Jesus Christ as the supreme authorities in human affairs.

1912: making marriage between races illegal

1914: finding divorce to be illegal

1916: all acts of war should be put to a national vote. Anyone voting yes had to register as a volunteer for service in the United States Army

1933: an attempt to limit the personal wealth to $1 million

1936: an attempt to allow the American people to vote on whether or not the United States should go to war

1938: the forbidding of drunkenness in the United States and all of its territories

1947: the income tax maximum for an individual should not exceed 25%

1948: the right of citizens to segregate themselves from others

1971: American citizens should have the alienable right to an environment free of pollution. [/learn_more]

Some of these are laughable; some are anything but. Still, I found this list helped me see in a fresh way just how diverse this country is in its values, its beliefs in right and wrong, and in its hope for tomorrow.

How about you? Is there an Amendment you’d like to see?  How about one of the changes that never made it — which one jumped out at you? 


18 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Two thoughts from your fascinating post, Janet: I believe I could have learned the first ten amendments with words and pictures in the illustration I see here.

    Secondly, the failed amendment of 1878 jumped out at me, an Executive Council of Three replacing the Office of President. Now that’s a concept to ponder these days!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, that one jumped out at me too, as did a few others. 😉 If I weren’t traveling this past week, I’d thought of reworking it to only focus on a few of those “never passed” amendments. They tell a certain story I think. And what’s that old saying, a picture is worth …. I’m glad I found that one. Of course, many amendments (like the First) have LOTS of rights included. So it’s a condensed version, for sure. But then so is this entire post.

      I’m enjoying my days here in Ohio; spent today at a two-day workshop on group facilitation. Then, visiting with the family in the evening. I’m sorry I’m getting to these great comments so late. Thanks, as always for your support, Marian.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our AmendmentsMy Profile

  2. Merril D. Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Janet. I nice review of the amendments. I think too many people have no idea of what is in the Constitution or how our government works (including the present occupant of the White House).

    Those are some interesting failed amendments! 🙂
    Merril D. Smith recently posted…Safe HarborsMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Aren’t they though. I was sorry to not have time to rework them into their own, stand alone post. Glad though you got the gist of them. there are more!

      As for how well we know our Constitution, I was talking to someone at lunch today about just that. I think if I hadn’t been in the doctoral program in poli sci, I’d also know very little. We don’t get refresher courses in this stuff; it’s taught in elementary school in a way suited only to easy testing, and our media certainly doesn’t take the time or have the inclination to offer much background. Heck, I’m not sure how much journalists really know about the constitution, never mind the average citizen. It’s quite appalling, especially when we see where that ignorance leads us.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our AmendmentsMy Profile

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — Like Marian, the failed amendment of 1878 caught my eye. I think it could come in quite handy.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      There’s a debate going on now about whether the Amendment process is too cumbersome. It “should” be easier, some say, to amend our Constitution. “No,” holler others; we need it to stay as intended. I actually enjoy stuff like that. No right answers really. But makes folks think.

      Thanks for weighing in, Laurie.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our AmendmentsMy Profile

  4. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    What a great over-review of the amendments, Janet. I too find the failed amendments to be interesting , especially the one from 1878. The way things are going these days, it sounds like a reasonable plan.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      So interesting how you all picked up on that same amendment! Maybe next year, I’ll do one on just those failed amendments. We’ll know more about which direction this country is heading by then. I hope. Thanks for stopping, Kathy.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our AmendmentsMy Profile

  5. Clive
    | Reply

    Very interesting and informative. It’s revealing to see how some of the freedoms your country now enjoys came about, and when. I think many of us are looking towards the 25th at present 😉

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You’ve got some excitement over on your side of the pond these days too, huh Clive? Think Brexit will get revisited?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our AmendmentsMy Profile

  6. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, I’ve felt it should be difficult to amend the Constitution, and looking at some of history’s failed amendments only confirms this view (however tempting it might be right now to abolish the United States Senate). Warm regards from the 43rd “State of the Earth” 🙂

    • Tim Fearnside
      | Reply

      Meant to add, we’re long past due for a good equal rights amendment

      • Janet Givens
        | Reply

        I’d love to see someone organize those 10,000 + failed amendments to see just how many had to do with perpetuating male dominance. But, specifically to the ERA, and because you are an attorney, I ask:

        I had read somewhere, after its defeat, that given the TIMES, if the ERA had passed, many traditional women (who had never worked outside the home) would be denied their husbands social security when they died. So, we needed to wait a generation or two. Not so?
        Janet Givens recently posted…Our AmendmentsMy Profile

        • Tim Fearnside
          | Reply

          Janet, to be completely honest, I’m not sure if that’s true. I know that, historically, there was some opposition on multiple sides, with some groups contending that they either required extra protection under the law (i.e., not merely “equal”), or that it would otherwise have some adverse impact upon them. Perhaps this is one reason why. As a general proposition, though, it seems we should have constitutional protection for the notion of equality, and that we should be able to pass a thoughtful amendment to that effect…

          • Janet Givens

            I think, Tim, as I think about this anew, that if I had to choose, I’d be more likely to work towards equal pay legislation than an equal rights amendment. I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.
            Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Warm regards taken. Thanks, Tim.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our AmendmentsMy Profile

  7. Traxon Rachell
    | Reply

    Oh Bless you Janet for your post. For me the amendments reflect the frailty and imperfection of our leadership and institutions. They have served to make a better Union, but still leave us with the question of why were so many of them ever necessary in the first place. It shows how our perspectives, beliefs and yes even dogma can veer us off course at times. Gratefully we have the amendments to try to right the ship, even the ones that did not make as amendments I believe serve to enlighten. Thank you again!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      And Bless you, Traxon, for stopping by and leaving a comment. I really appreciate your support here. I like how you say the amendments “try to right the ship.” And that ship is sailing once again on stormy seas.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Our Inner MonarchMy Profile

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