September 25, 2010

An Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Begins its 74,003-day Journey to Adoption – 1789

On this day in 1789, twelve constitutional amendments were passed by the new United States Congress and sent to the states to be ratified (approved).

These amendments were called the Bill of Rights. The second one concerned paying Congress: any law that increases or decreases payment to Congressmen and women cannot take effect until the next set of terms for Representatives begins.

However, only the first 10 amendments were ratified in the late 1700s, and it is those that we consider the Bill of Rights. (The second amendment thus became the right to keep and bear arms.) The original second amendment—the one about Congressional salaries—wasn't ratified for more than 202 years!!! Yes, it took more than 74 THOUSAND days for it to become the law of the land! It was finally ratified in 1992 and became the 27th Amendment.

In other words, one of the very first amendments suggested became the last amendment to become part of the Constitution (at least so far).

Did you know...?

  • There are still four amendments that are pending (waiting to be ratified) before state lawmakers. One of these was part of the twelve original passed on September 25, 1789.

  • One of the supposedly "pending" amendments specifically preserves slavery! It was passed by Congress in 1861 as a last-ditch effort to prevent the Civil War, and three northern states actually ratified it! (Seven southern states had already decided to secede from the nation and didn't bother to ratify.) Of course, even though it was passed without a time limit, the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlaws slavery, makes it moot.

  • Two amendments that passed Congress but weren't ratified by the states have apparently expired. One of these was an amendment that ensures equal rights to women, and the other would have provided full voting rights to people in the District of Columbia. It seems kind of strange that we can't get two-thirds of the states to approve those particular items, but it is probably a very good thing that amending the Constitution isn't super easy.

Here's the path this amendment took:

1789 – passed Congress, sent to the states for ratification

1791 – the sixth state (out of ten then required) ratifies the amendment

1873 – Ohio ratifies it in protest of Congress's “Salary Grab Act”

1978 – Wyoming ratifies it in protest of Congress giving itself a raise

1982 – a college student wrote a paper on the languishing amendment 
             and began a letter-writing campaign to state legislators

1992 – enough states ratified the amendment that it finally became law

Learn more about the U.S. Constitution and its amendments here

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