American History: The Constitution -- Amendments

Figure 1.--

The United States Constitution is the first written Constitution of any real importaance. The authors of the Constitution understood that there would need to be changes and provides for an amendment priocess. This is spelled out in Article V. The authors decided that the amendment orocess should be very difficult. The Bill of Rights or first 10 anemdmets was easy as there was a general agreement that they were needed during the debate over ratificatin of the Constitution itself. After the 11th Amendment which was seen as needed in the Bill of Rights, the difficulty of amending the Constitution became apparent and many amendments resulted from preceived flaws in the Constitution, an asessment that changed over time. The amendment process established in the Constitition set up two alternative tracks. An amendment can be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. here is also a process by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. None of the current 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by constitutional convention they have all come through the Congeressional process whiuch proceeds as a joint resolution. The President has no constitutional role in the amendment process.

Bill of Rights (1789-91)

During the debate over ratification of the Constitution there were critics that compalined that there was no protection of individual rights from a powerful Federal government. These concerns were expressed by severakl of the state legislatures considering ratifcation. Thus the supprters of the Constitution agreed to amendment to secure ratifcation. These guarantees became the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and are commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights. James Madison personally drafted all ten. The Bill of Rights was strongly influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights hich had been written by George Mason. The Bill of Rights is a a compenium of English documents, including Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, and other notable Engish precedents. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties was another Americam precdent of importance. The First Congress of the United States as the supporters of te Constitution committed to approved 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution and sent them to the states for ratification (September 1789). Virginia became the 10th of 14 states to approve 10 of the 12 amendments, thus giving the Bill of Rights the two-thirds majority of state ratification necessary to come into force (December 15, 1791). They list specific prohibitions on governmental power. The First Amendment is widely seen as the most important as is indicated by its primacy. It protects the ability to speak and worship freely as a natural right. It prohibits Congress from making laws establishing religion or abridging freedom of speech. Notice the reference to Congress. At the onset of the Reopublic and through the 19th century, Congress was seen as the core of the Republic. Only in the 20th century did the presidencvy assume its vital modern role. The Second Amnendment guantees the right to bear arms. The Third Amendmet restricts the quartering of soldiers in private homes without the owner's consent, a reactio to the British Quartering Acts during the Revolution. ] The Fourth Amendment guaranteed a citizensí right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion in their homes through the requirement of a warrant. The Fifth Aendment prohibits self incriination. The Sixth Amendment guarantees fair legal procedure. The Sevenh Amedment established the right of trial by jury. The Eighth Amedment deals with defedent rights, including prohibitions on excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment. The Ninth Amedment explicitly states that the Bill of Right did not grant the people only the specific rights enumerated. The Tenth Amedment reserved powers not delegated to the Federal government e reserved for the states and the people.

Reconstruction Amendments: Civil Rights Amendments (1865-70)

The central step taken during Reconstruction, in effect the crown jewels, was the passage of the 13th-15th amendments. These amaendments abolished slavery and guaranted the civil rights, including the freed slaves right to vote, and ensured access to equal protection of the law. The Emancipation Proclamation (1863) was an exective order and open to legal chalenge. It was inevitable that once the former Condereate states were readmitted to the Union that slave owners would sue in the Federal courts for the return of their 'property'. Only incorporating emancipation in the Constitution through an amendment would make emancipation permanent and unasailable. The Republicans decided to go beyond simple emancipation and take the further step of granting citizenship to the freed slaves. The final amendment resulted from Southern efforts to prevent the freed slaves now citizens from voting. White opposition in the South largely undermined the achievement of tee goals invisioned. But enshrined n the Coinstitution, these amendments would evetually a century later make it possible to achieve the goals envisioned.


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Created: 4:42 AM 7/8/2019
Last updated: 4:42 AM 7/8/2019