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Archive for '- Constitution'

Amending the Constitution: 100 Days to 200 Years

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 ]

Eight myths about the Constitution

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Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.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 ]

The Real Constitution Day?

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, historian of the National Archives.

June 21, 2013, marks the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution’s ratification. As we prepare for a long, hot summer here in the nation’s capital, I can only imagine what it felt like in 1787, when delegates from 12 states met in Philadelphia’s pre–air conditioning summer heat.

Their original purpose was revising the ineffective Articles of Confederation, the country’s first constitution. The delegates, however, soon decided to abandon the document altogether and start from scratch.

For four months the men worked tirelessly on a document outlining a new form of government. On September 17—now known as Constitution Day—delegates representing 12 states finished and signed the document (Alexander Hamilton signed the document even though New York lacked a quorum to vote in the convention).

Then the delegates passed a resolution to the Continental Congress, recommending that the Constitution be implemented upon approval by nine state conventions rather than by the unanimous approval of all 13 state legislatures as required by the Articles of Confederation.

On December 7, 1787, Delaware’s convention became the first to ratify the Constitution, earning the state its nickname “The First State.” Pennsylvania and New Jersey ratified later in December of 1787; and Georgia and Connecticut in January of 1788.

The remaining ratifications stalled as states argued that the new Constitution created a federal … [ Read all ]

The Papers of the Founding Fathers Are Now Online

Today’s post comes from Keith Donohue, communications director for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives. This post originally appeared on the White House blog.

What was the original intent behind the Constitution and other documents that helped shape the nation? What did the Founders of our country have to say? Those questions persist in the political debates and discussions to this day, and fortunately, we have a tremendous archive left behind by those statesmen who built the government over 200 years ago.

For the past 50 years, teams of editors have been copying documents from historical collections scattered around the world that serve as a record of the Founding Era. They have transcribed hundreds of thousands of documents—letters, diaries, ledgers, and the first drafts of history—and have researched and provided annotation and context to deepen our understanding of these documents.

These papers have been assembled in 242 documentary editions covering the works of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, as well as hundreds of people who corresponded with them. Now for the first time ever, these documents—along with thousands of others that will appear in additional print volumes—will be available to the public.

The Founders Online is a new website at the National Archives that will allow people to search this archive … [ Read all ]

The 17th Amendment Observes Its Centennial

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 ]