Amending the Constitution

Since the Constitution's adoption in 1791 with the ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights, the original document has been changed only 17 times. Six of those amendments deal with the structure of government. With the exception of Prohibition and its revocation, the other amendments have been to protect or expand the rights already guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

There have been many proposals to alter the Constitution, but its authors intentionally made that difficult. Amendments must follow one of two paths. All amendments to date have followed the same path: two-thirds majorities of each house of Congress vote their approval and three-quarters of the state legislatures then ratify the amendment. Under the second path, two-thirds of the states may vote to call a constitutional convention, whose proposed amendments must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

The first ten amendments were added in 1791 and the next amendment was in 1793. The Supreme Court angered states by accepting jurisdiction in a case where an individual sued the state of Georgia. To ensure that did not happen again, Congress and the states added the 11th Amendment (1798).

The 12th Amendment (1804) had electors vote separately for president and vice president. Until then, the candidate with the most Electoral College votes became president, and the runner up became vice president.

Slavery generated four amendments. The 13th Amendment (1865) abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment (1868) protected the civil rights of former slaves. It granted citizenship to all people born in the United States. Two years later, the 15th Amendment declared that the right to vote shall not be abridged due to race or previous condition of servitude.

The 16th Amendment (1913) authorized an income tax, which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional in 1895.

The 17th Amendment required direct election of senators.

The 18th Amendment (1919) prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. In 1933, Congress proposed an amendment to repeal Prohibition. The 21st Amendment was ratified in just 286 days.

The 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.

The 20th Amendment reduced the time between the election of national officials and their taking office.

The 22nd Amendment (1951) limited presidential terms to two terms.

The 23rd Amendment (1961) allowed residents of the District of Columbia to vote in presidential elections.

The 24th Amendment (1964) prohibited a poll tax in federal elections.

The 25th Amendment (1967) provided a system for selecting a new vice president after the death or resignation of a president. It also dealt with the possibility that a president might become disabled.

The 26th Amendment (1971) extended the vote to 18-year-olds.

The 27th Amendment (1992) prevents Congress from giving itself an immediate pay increase. A change in pay can only go into effect after the next congressional election.

Source: Amending the Constitution
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