History of the American Nation by William J. Jackman, Vol. 9 - The Courts and the Constitution

Contents:
Author: William James Jackman

Chapter 3:
The Amendment of the Constitution

The men who sat in the Convention of 1787 were not sanguine enough, like some of the legislating sages of antiquity, or like such imperial codifiers as the Emperor Justinian, to suppose that their work could stand unaltered for all time to come. They provided that "Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode may be prescribed by Congress."

There are therefore two methods of framing and proposing amendments.

(A) Congress may itself, by a two-thirds vote in each House, prepare and propose amendments.

(B) The legislatures of two-thirds of the States may require Congress to summon a Constitutional Convention. Congress shall thereupon do so, having no option to refuse; and the Convention when called shall draft and submit amendments. No provision is made as to the election and composition of the Convention, matters which would therefore appear to be left to the discretion of Congress.

There are also two methods of enacting amendments framed and proposed in either of the foregoing ways. It is left to Congress to prescribe one or the other methods as Congress may think fit.

(X) The legislatures of three-fourths of the States may ratify any amendments submitted to them.

(Y) Conventions may be called in the several States, and three fourths of these conventions may ratify.

On all the occasions on which the amending power has been exercised, method A has been employed for proposing and method X for ratifying—i.e., no drafting conventions of the whole Union or ratifying conventions in the several States have ever been summoned. The preference of the action of Congress and the State legislatures may be ascribed to the fact that it has never been desired to remodel the whole Constitution, but only to make changes or additions on special points. Moreover, the procedure by National and State conventions might be slower, and would involve controversy over the method of electing those bodies. The consent of the President is not required to a constitutional amendment. A two-thirds majority in Congress can override his veto of a bill, and at least that majority is needed to bring a constitutional amendment before the people.

There is only one provision of the Constitution which cannot be changed by this process. It is that which secures to each and every State equal representation in one branch of the legislature. "No State without its consent shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate." It will be observed that this provision does not require unanimity on the part of the States to a change diminishing or extinguishing State representation in the Senate, but merely gives any particular State proposed to be affected an absolute veto on the proposal. If a State were to consent to surrender its rights, and three-fourths of the whole number to concur, the resistance of the remaining fourth would not prevent the amendment from taking effect.

The amendments made by the above process (A+X) to the Constitution have been, in all, fifteen in number. These have been made on four occasions, and fall into four groups, two of which consist of one amendment each. The first group, including ten amendments made immediately after the adoption of the Constitution, ought to be regarded as a supplement or postscript to it, rather than as changing it. They constitute what the Americans, following the English precedent, call a Bill of Rights, securing the individual citizen and the States against the encroachments of Federal power. The second and third groups, if a single amendment can be properly called a group (viz., amendments xi. and xii.) are corrections of minor defects which had disclosed themselves in the working of the Constitution. The fourth group is the only one which marked a political crisis and registered a political victory. It comprises three amendments (xiii., xiv., xv.) which forbid slavery, define citizenship, secure the suffrage of citizens against attempts by States to descriminate to the injury of particular classes, and extend Federal protection to those citizens who may suffer from the operation of certain kinds of unjust State laws. These three amendments are the outcome of the War of Secession, and were needed in order to confirm and secure for the future its results. The requisite majority of States was obtained under conditions altogether abnormal, some of the lately conquered States ratifying while actually controlled by the northern armies, others are the price which they were obliged to pay for the readmission to Congress of their senators and representatives.

Many amendments to the Constitution have been at various times suggested to Congress by Presidents, or brought forward in Congress by members, but very few of these have ever obtained the requisite two-thirds vote of both Houses.

The moral of these facts is not far to seek. Although it has long been the habit of the Americans to talk of their Constitution with almost superstitious reverence, there have often been times when leading statesmen, perhaps even political parties, would have materially altered it if they could have done so. There have, moreover, been some alterations suggested in it, which the impartial good sense of the wise would have approved, but which have never been submitted to the States, because it was known they could not be carried by the requisite majority. If, therefore, comparatively little use has been made of the provisions for amendment, this has been due, not solely to the excellence of the original instrument, but also to the difficulties which surround the process of change. Alterations, though perhaps not large alterations, have been needed, to cure admitted faults or to supply dangerous omissions, but the process has been so difficult that it has never been successfully applied, except either to matters of minor consequence involving no party interests (Amendments xi. and xii.), or in the course of a revolutionary movement which had dislocated the Union itself (Amendments xiii., xiv., xv.)

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Chicago: William James Jackman, "Chapter 3: The Amendment of the Constitution," History of the American Nation by William J. Jackman, Vol. 9 - The Courts and the Constitution in William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.2855-2860 Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD2UCSHMDJHGMF7.

MLA: Jackman, William James. "Chapter 3: The Amendment of the Constitution." History of the American Nation by William J. Jackman, Vol. 9 - The Courts and the Constitution, in William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.2855-2860, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD2UCSHMDJHGMF7.

Harvard: Jackman, WJ, 'Chapter 3: The Amendment of the Constitution' in History of the American Nation by William J. Jackman, Vol. 9 - The Courts and the Constitution. cited in , William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.2855-2860. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD2UCSHMDJHGMF7.