February 7, 1795: What Are Amendments to the Constitution?

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A Brief History

On February 7, 1795, the 12th state need to ratify the 11th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (North Carolina) voted to ratify the Amendment, thus making it part of the law of the land. The 11th Amendment was the first Amendment to be ratified since the adoption of the Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10).

Digging Deeper

The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of our nation, and all other laws and court decisions must be in accordance with the Constitution. It is the job of the Supreme Court of the US to decide how such compliance is enforced. In order to change any part of the Constitution or to make an amendment, Congress must vote for a proposed amendment by a 2/3 majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The amendment is then put to the states for ratification, and 2/3 of the states must ratify the measure for it to be adopted. An alternative method is for Congress to convene a Constitutional Convention, and again, proposed new amendments must be ratified by 2/3 of the states. (With 50 states currently in the union, this rule means at least 34 states must pass the measure.)

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States

Since the Bill of Rights (First 10 Amendments) was ratified in 1791, there have been 23 proposed amendments given to the states to ratify, and of those 17 have been ratified and added to the list of Constitutional Amendments. For an amendment to be repealed, the same process must take place that is used to pass one in the first place. So far the only amendment repealed is the 18th Amendment (Alcohol Prohibition), ratified in 1919 and repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. The most recent amendment, the 27th Amendment, ratified in 1992, requires a delay in instituting a Congressional pay raise until the next election of representatives takes place, so that Congress cannot give itself an immediate pay raise.

Some other notable amendments since the Bill of Rights (discussed in our October 2, 1789 article titled “What Really is the Bill of Rights”) include the 14th (definition of citizenship, 1868), 15th (voting rights regardless of race, creed, or previous condition of servitude, thus allowing former slaves and African Americans to vote, 1870), the 16th (establishing the income tax, 1913), and the 22nd (limiting the President to 2 terms, 1951).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, pictured in August 1944, was elected to both a third and fourth term, the only president to serve more than eight years.

Of those measures that failed to become amendments, notable efforts include the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment (would have guaranteed equal rights regardless of sex, failed ratification in 1979 and again in 1982 after an extension in ratification period) and the Corwin Amendment which would have made state laws allowing slavery immune to Federal laws made to supersede those state laws (pending since March 2, 1861, unlikely to be brought up again).

Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio, author and namesake of the amendment.

Question for students (and subscribers): What proposed amendments would you like to see the United States adopt? Please share your nominations with your fellow readers in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Vile, John R. Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1789-2010, 2-Volume Set. ABC-CLIO, 2010.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.