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.
- 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.
- 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:
Here are the rest
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Amendment 21 — December 5 1933 Prohibition repealed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.
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.
Here is a very limited list (no ERA) of some of those proposed amendments that never left the halls of Congress:
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.
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?