The Constitution has been changed only 17 more times after 1791. Many of the amendments in the 19th and 20th centuries have permitted more people to vote, including African Americans, women and 18-year-olds.
The Thirteenth Amendment made slavery illegal. The Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal protection under the laws, has been used in more modern court cases than any other.
Americans also often remember the Eighteenth and Twenty-first Amendments: one made selling alcoholic drinks illegal, and the other made selling them legal again.
|What do the rest of the amendments say?|
|What do the rest of the amendments mean?|
AMENDMENT XI: Lawsuits Against States (1795)The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
Chisholm v. Georgia, 1793; Hans v. Louisiana, 1890
In 1793, the Supreme Court ordered the state of Georgia to pay a debt to two people who lived in another state.
The decision was not popular -- especially with people concerned about reserving power for the states.
In answer, Congress passed and a majority of states approved the Eleventh Amendment.
AMENDMENT XII: Choosing the Executive (1804)The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; -- The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; -- The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.-- The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
Elections of 1796, 1800
The original Constitution said the person who received the most electoral votes became president. The person who received the second most electoral votes became vice president. But the situation caused problems.
In the election of 1796, two political rivals received the most electoral votes. John Adams became president and Thomas Jefferson became vice president. But the two men had very different political ideas.
The following election, in 1800, Thomas Jefferson became president. But he had to fight a close race with his own running mate.
Even though they belonged to the same political party, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr struggled over who would win the top position.
AMENDMENT XIII: Abolishing Slavery (1865)
SECTION. 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
SECTION. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Civil Rights Act, 1866
After the U.S. Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment made slavery illegal everywhere in the country. The family pictured above had been slaves for five generations in South Carolina.
Less than a year after the Thirteenth Amendment was approved, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
The Act gave black people the same rights as white people in every state to make contracts; sue; inherit, buy, sell and transfer property; as well as other rights related to protecting themselves and their property.
AMENDMENT XIV: Equal Protection Under the Laws (1868)
SECTION. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
SECTION. 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
SECTION. 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
SECTION. 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
SECTION. 5. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
The Fourteenth Amendment was part of the federal government's plan for Reconstruction after the Civil War -- the process of uniting the Northern and Southern states again. Southern states had to ratify the amendment in order to re-join the Union.
The amendment aimed, in part, to protect the rights of newly freed slaves. One way was to ensure that African Americans were legal citizens of both the nation and the states where they lived.
AMENDMENT XV: Right to Vote for Black Men (1870)
SECTION. 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
SECTION. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Harper's Magazine in 1867 shows African American men voting for the first time. The picture, called "The first vote," was drawn by A.R. Waud.
But some states still restricted many people's right to vote by requiring them to pay a tax at the polls or to pass a test.
Many of those restrictions were not made illegal until almost 100 years after the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited literacy tests, permitted federal officials to monitor voter registration, and required some states to get approval from the federal government before making changes to their election laws.
AMENDMENT XVI: Income Taxes (1913)The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
Progressive Era Reforms, 1890s-1920s
The 20th century brought many social changes and several legal changes to American life. One related to income taxes.
The Constitution said direct taxes had to be divided proportionally among the states. But during the Civil War, Congress had established an income tax on individuals.
The Supreme Court first upheld the income tax. Then, in 1895, it ruled in a case called Pollock v. Farmers Loan & Trust Co. that an income tax was a kind of direct tax.
Congress believed figuring out how to divide an income tax proportionally among the states would be too complicated. So, it passed the Sixteenth Amendment to permit taxes on individual's incomes and increase the amount of money the federal government took in. The amendment was ratified four years later.
AMENDMENT XVII: Direct Election of Senators, 1913
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
Progressive Era Reforms, 1890s-1920s
Another change in the Progressive Era permitted the people to select U.S. senators. Under the Constitution, state legislatures chose senators.
People who supported the Seventeenth Amendment hoped to avoid corruption. They said too many senators were millionaires supported by corporations and political networks.
AMENDMENT XVIII: Prohibition, 1919
SECTION. 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
SECTION. 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
SECTION. 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
Progressive Era Reforms, 1890s-1920s
|In this image from about 1921, police officials seize alcohol and pour it into the sewer. Many activists supported the Eighteenth Amendment because they argued that alcoholic drinks created health problems, increased crime and made family life difficult. |
But prohibiting the sale of alcohol created other problems. People often did not follow the law or respect the police. An illegal market grew. Fourteen years later, the Twenty-first Amendment repealed -- or, canceled -- Prohibition.
|What do the rest of the amendments say?|
|What do the rest of the amendments mean?|
AMENDMENT XIX: Right to Vote for Women (1920)
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Progressive Era Reforms, 1890s-1920s
In the picture above, Dr. Anna Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, who founded the League of Women Voters, lead about 20,000 supporters in a march for women's suffrage in New York in 1915.
People had been fighting for women's political and legal rights since Americans became independent and created a new set of laws. They held a women's right convention in 1848, fought to gain the right to vote along with African American men in the 1860s and 1870s, and filed lawsuits to extend the Fourteenth Amendment to include women's right to vote.
Even though some states permitted women to vote earlier, women did not achieve the right to vote nationwide until 1920.
AMENDMENT XX: Lame Ducks, 1933
SECTION. 1. The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
SECTION. 2. The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.
SECTION. 3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.
SECTION. 4. The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.
SECTION. 5. Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
SECTION. 6. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
Great Depression, 1929-39
In this picture, a duck swims in front of the U.S. Capitol building, where Congress meets. A "lame duck" is an expression that relates to officials who have not been re-elected but are still holding office until the next term begins.
Lame ducks usually are not able to be very effective in their jobs. So, the Twentieth Amendment tried to shorten the time lame ducks remain in office by reducing the time between elections and the beginning of a new term.
Reducing the time between elections was especially important during the economic crisis of the Great Depression.
AMENDMENT XXI: Repealing Prohibition (1933)
SECTION. 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
SECTION. 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
SECTION. 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
Great Depression, 1929-39
The Twenty-first Amendment repealed -- or, canceled -- the Eighteenth Amendment.
Many Americans believed prohibiting alcohol caused too much lawbreaking and corruption. Some also believed that making and selling alcohol again would permit more people to have jobs during the economic crisis of the Great Depression.
AMENDMENT XXII: Term Limits for Presidents (1951)
SECTION. 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.
SECTION. 2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.
Great Depression, 1929-1939; World War II 1939-1945
The country's first president, George Washington, established the tradition that a president would seek only two terms in office.
But during the crises of the Great Depression and World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected four times.
After he died shortly into his fourth term, Congress proposed a Constitutional limit on how long someone could be president. In most cases, the Twenty-second Amendment restricts a president to being elected to the office twice.
AMENDMENT XXIII: Electoral Votes for Washington, DC (1961)SECTION. 1. The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct:
A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment. SECTION. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Civil Rights Era, 1954-1968
The Constitution established a federal district to be the nation's capital. But, it did not say whether residents of the district were permitted to vote.
For many years people debated the political rights of residents of Washington, DC. The Twenty-third Amendment permitted eligible voters in DC to vote for president; however, it does not permit them official representation in the House or Senate.
When the amendment was ratified in 1961, a majority of DC residents were African American. The arguments about and passage of the amendment raised racial justice and civil rights issues.
The district can have no more votes in the electoral college than the state with the smallest population has -- even though Washington, DC has a bigger population than many states.
AMENDMENT XXIV: Banning the Poll Tax (1964)SECTION. 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax. SECTION. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Civil Rights Era, 1954-1968
At the time of the Twenty-fourth Amendment, only a few states still used a poll tax. The tax -- a charge to register to vote -- often served to prohibit some people from voting.
Congress aimed to eliminate the poll tax across the country by using a constitutional amendment.
AMENDMENT XXV: Presidential Succession and Disability (1967)SECTION. 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President. SECTION. 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress. SECTION. 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President. SECTION. 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 1963
The Constitution does not clearly say what happens if the president dies: whether the vice president becomes president or just acts as president.
After President John F. Kennedy was killed in office, the Twenty-fifth Amendment aimed to make questions about presidential succession clearer.
AMENDMENT XXVI, Voting Rights for Young People, 1971SECTION. 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
SECTION. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Vietnam War Era, 1961-1975
Historically, most states limited voting rights to people who were age 21 or older. But during World War II, the president lowered the age when people could be drafted to fight to 18. As a result, many people argued to lower the voting age as well.
During the Vietnam War era, when young people were again drafted to fight, the argument to lower the voting age intensified. Congress passed the Twenty-sixth Amendment extending the vote to people who were 18 or older. The states quickly ratified it.
AMENDMENT XXVII, Limiting Pay Raises for Congress (1992)No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.
Representative John Boehner holds a copy of the Constitution on May 7, 1992, as Senator Don Nickles looks on. The men are celebrating the ratification of the Twenty-seventh Amendment, which requires members of Congress to wait until the next election before they can receive a pay raise.
James Madison originally introduced the amendment to Congress in 1789. But two-thirds of the states did not ratify it for over 200 years.