The Constitution hasn’t changed much since it was adopted in 1787.
However, it has been tweaked by 27 amendments—some were ratified in a few months, another took more than two centuries.
The ink on the Constitution had barely dried in 1787 when people discovered what it did not say. It did not spell out adequately, they argued, the individual rights that citizens of the United States had under the Constitution.
So James Madison, the “father of the Constitution” and a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia, went to work.
The result: 12 amendments. They were approved by Congress in late 1789 and sent to the 13 states for ratification, which, then as now under the Constitution, required three-quarters of the state legislatures or constitutional conventions.
Twelve? Yes, but only ten (originally numbers three through 12), known to us all today as the Bill of Rights, were approved. It took 811 days to ratify those ten, and they became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791. Each December 15, we observe Bill of Rights Day.
The proposed first amendment, dealing with congressional apportionment, has never been ratified. The proposed second amendment, dealing with congressional pay, was approved by the Michigan and New Jersey legislatures on the same day in 1992—more than 202 years after Congress submitted it to the 13 states. By 1992, … [ Read all ]
Posted by Jim on September 17, 2013, under - Constitution.
Tags: 27th Amendment, amendments, Congress, Constitution, Constitutional Amendments, Franklin D. Roosevelt, James Madison, John F. Kennedy, John Marshall, legislatures, Presidential term limits, slavery, supreme court
Constitution Day is September 17. We’ve got events, programs, and activities at National Archives locations across the United States.
Pundits, candidates, and party activists like to cite the Constitution of the United States as the moral and legal backing for whatever they’re proposing. Or they say that something an opponent proposes is unconstitutional.
But the Constitution is silent on a lot of things you probably thought it said. Here are eight examples.
The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.
No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.
The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.
Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France … [ Read all ]
Posted by Jim on September 16, 2013, under - Constitution, Myth or History.
Tags: Amendments to the Constitution, Benjamiin Franklin, Constitution, constitutional convention, House, John Marshall, President, Senate, state legislatures, states, supreme court
Today’s post comes from our summer intern Caroline Isleib.
The Battle of Gettysburg raged 150 years ago today, and many lives were lost or forever changed by the Civil War. It was a war that ripped our country apart and, in quite a literal sense, pitted brother against brother.
“This was never more true than in the case of Wesley Culp and Jack Skelly, two young men who grew up together in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,” writes Jay Bellamy in the latest issue of Prologue, the National Archives quarterly magazine.
Both young men chose to enlist when the war began, but these best friends gave their allegiances to different forces. Culp, who had just moved to Virginia, joined the Hamtramck Guards, which became the Second Virginia Infantry in the Confederate army. Skelly joined the Union’s Second Pennsylvania Volunteers and later the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry.
From prisoner of war camps and hospital infirmaries to battlefields, they frequently came into contact with one another throughout the war. In June 1863, Culp visited Skelly as he lay in a Confederate hospital, due to injuries incurred in battle. There, Skelly asked if Culp ever went back to Gettysburg, and, if so, would he pass along a letter to his sweetheart and their childhood friend, Jennie Wade.
“Within just weeks, remarkably, he had the chance,” Bellamy writes, for Culp was part … [ Read all ]
There wasn’t supposed to be a Fourth of July celebration in the vision of John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers and our second President.
But in that Philadelphia summer of 1776, having successfully argued for the Second Continental Congress to declare the United States independent of Great Britain, Adams was excited.
The day after the Congress approved the resolution declaring independence on July 2, Adams penned one of the many letters he wrote home to his wife, Abigail. He wrote, in part:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
Adams got his pomp and parade and his bells and bonfires—and from one end of the continent to the other—but he was off by two days.
The Congress did indeed declare the United States independent on July 2, and Adams played no small part in it. The delegates debated Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration … [ Read all ]
When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas traveled around Illinois in 1858 debating each other while vying for a seat in the U.S. Senate, they weren’t looking for votes from the masses.
They were seeking votes in the Illinois legislature. Douglas was the incumbent senator, and Lincoln, who had served one term in the House in the 1840s, was a railroad attorney.
In the 1850s, U.S. senators were selected by the state legislatures as directed by Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution, which says: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one vote.”
According to the Senate Historical Office, the framers thought that having senators elected by the legislatures would aid senators because they would be less subject to pressure and have more time to do business. And, they felt, direct election would strengthen ties between the national and state governments.
But opposition to this arrangement began long before the Lincoln–Douglas debates. Political problems in states resulted in many seats going empty for long periods. Support grew slowly for popular, or direct, election of senators by voters.
Strong resistance in the Senate to a proposed Constitutional amendment calling for direct elections meant the idea got nowhere for many years.
Finally, in 1911, the Senate … [ Read all ]
Posted by Jim on May 31, 2013, under - Civil War, - Constitution, - Presidents, 17th Amendment.
Tags: 17th Amendment, abraham lincoln, Direct election of senators, Illinois legislature, Lincoln-Douglas debates, Stephen Douglas, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, U.S. Senate vacancies, William Jennings Bryan