April 27, 2010 – The Amendments to the United States Constitution – Cathy Gillespie

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Great discussion today – loved seeing some new names blogging!   Remember to invite your friends to join the conversation – and share this with your children! Encourage them to enter our We The People 9.17 Contest – sign up online ASAP – entries due July 4!  Tell high school students we especially need short films, PSA’s and we are asking middle schoolers and high schoolers to compose cool songs!  Students can enter in teams of two for the songs, short films and PSA’s.  Sign up today!

Tackling the Bill of Rights, and the Amendments in one day was a big job!   As I read through the Amendments, I wondered about the efforts and battles that must have gone into the passage of each.  Reading through the Amendments is like a quick reading of the history of our country.  The Amendments reflect the times and current events in the eras in which they were passed.  We can be proud as Americans that MOST of the Amendments reflect the founding fathers’ principles. (see today’s and yesterday’s blog for lively discussion on some such as the 16th and 17th which many feel do not!)

All of the Amendments have fascinating stories that accompany their passage.  We all know of the stories and have seen photos of the women’s suffrage movement, for example. That battle spanned 50 years before Congress approved the 19th Amendment in 1919 and 3/4 of the States ratified it in 1920. But there is an interesting back story to the passage of the 19th Amendment that I love.  In August of 1920 Tennessee was the final state needed to achieve ratification of the 19th Amendment. The vote in the Tennessee Legislature came down to a young State Representative, Harry Burn, who represented a district bitterly divided on the issue, and who was facing re-election that fall.  Representative Burn had voted previously with the Anti-Amendment forces.  The vote was tied 48-48, and Harry was expected to vote with those opposing the Amendment again.  But Harry carried a letter from his mother in his breast pocket, admonishing him “Don’t forget to be a good boy,” and vote for the Amendment.  Harry surprised everyone by voting yes, and thus on August 18, 1920 Tennessee became the 36th State to ratify the 19th Amendment, and one young 24 year old man empowered millions of women in our country with his brave vote.

Earlier today Rich asked an interesting question about how the 17th Amendment came to be passed, so I pulled two books off my shelf that I recommend to anyone who is interested in the stories and history of the Amendments, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution:

Seth Lipsky’s The Citizen’s Constitution: An Annotated Guide (2009) and the Heritage Foundation’s Guide to the Constitution, edited by Ed Meese, Mathew Spalding and David Forte (2005).

Upon reading about the 17th Amendment’s history in both of the above sources, I found it was passed in reaction to many State legislatures which were deadlocked on the issue of choosing a U.S. Senator, thus leaving their states without representation in the U.S. Senate. The 17th Amendment was passed in the name of enhancing Democracy, yet many feel it has been detrimental to protecting States’ rights, expanding the federal government’s reach.

To me, the most important Amendments to our Constitution were the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery, established citizenship for former slaves, and prohibited restrictions on the right to vote based on color, race or previous condition of servitude.  President Lincoln received pressure from those who thought the 13th Amendment should be ratified only by the Northern States, in order to get it done quickly.  But Lincoln favored 3/4 ratification of the 13th Amendment by all the States, so the Amendment’s legitimacy could not be challenged.  He also believed the ratification process in the Southern States was important to Reconstruction and healing.  Regarding the 14th Amendment, Seth Lipsky writes, “Were the Amendments musical compositions, the fourteenth would be the grand symphony in four movements, full of exciting themes, varied movements, and clashing symbols….” Indeed the 14th did much more than overturn the Dred Scott decision and extend citizenship to former slaves, it contains the State Action, Privileges or Immunities, Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, as well as Section Two, Apportionment of Representatives. The 15th Amendment, the last of the Amendments dealing with Reconstruction, prohibited voting discrimination for former slaves, and any voting discrimination based on race and color.  These three Amendments set the stage for the healing of our country.

It is another testament to the beauty of our Constitution that the Amendments read like a short hand version of the history of the United States.  It is all there, from the the 11th Amendment stemming from States being held accountable for their Revolutionary War Debts, to the 27th Amendment restricting congressional pay raises from taking effect until after an election. Interestingly the 27th Amendment was first proposed in 1789 and finally ratifed in 1992!

What will our next Amendment be?   Let us pray it will reflect the founding fathers’ principles as so many of our great Amendments have.  The only thing that is certain, though is that fascinating stories and struggles will accompany its passage, and it will add to the historical narrative of our country which is embodied in the United States Constitution.

Posted in Constitutional Essays by Cathy, The Amendments to the United States Constitution | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “April 272010 – the Amendments to the United States Constitution – Cathy Gillespie

  1. Susan says:

    We were trying to place the amendments in the context of history by guessing what was going on at the time they were enacted without peeking at the date. Amazingly, we were pretty close.

  2. Mary Lou Leddy says:

    I want to thank bothCathy and Janine for their blogs on the amendments today. As I have never studied theConstitution, Bill of Rights and the amendments in great detail before ; I must admit it can be very challenging to understand; but your blogs as well as the essays of the guest bloggers have made some things much clearer. Thank you again. I look forward to continuing this great study

  3. Pam says:

    I have been trying to get an answer to this question for about a month. In regards to illegal aliens, George Wills wrote an article stating that our policy of granting citizenship to children born in this country to illegal aliens is a misapplication of the 14th Amendment. That it does not apply to illegal immigrants, because at the time it was written, there were no restrictions on immigration.

    As far as I know, we are the only country that has this policy. Right now (to quote George) the best thing a poor person of any country can do for their children is to have them here. I think that changing our policy in regards to children of illegals would go a long way to stop the flood. Any comments?

  4. Susan Craig says:

    My understanding of the whys and wherefores of the 14th was to clarify the citizenship status of the newly emancipated slaves after the Civil War and its intention was never for transient immigrants who wish to anchor themselves here with all the privileges but not necessarily the duties.

  5. Sandra Rodas says:

    I realize that to keep with the 90 day format, it was necessary to have all the amendments be covered in one day, but it sure would be nice to look at each in a little more depth. Maybe when the 90 day challenge is over, we could revisit them one at a time on the blog.

  6. Martin says:

    With regard to the 14th Amendment. Those who would reinvent the Constitution as a document of positive rights versus a document of negative rights have sought to contort the “privileges and immunities” clause to meet their ends.

    Basically, the Constitution is written as a set of guarantees limiting what government actually has the power to do and in fact, limiting what it can do to it’s citizenry. There is a movement under way to redefine government in terms of what it must do for its people.

    The Slaughter supreme court decisions (right after the Civil War) have defined this narrowly to apply to the states, guaranteeing that the federal government supersedes state governments only in the realm of guaranteed protections specified by the Bill of Rights.

    The folks who promulgate the concept of the Constitution as a “living” document want to overturn this precedent so that more “rights” can be forced down over the objections of the states. These new “rights” would be things like – housing, guaranteed employment, health care, and guaranteed access to the political process. By defining them as obligations or entitlements, the government would have to take steps to ensure that they are fulfilled. This would necessarily entail funding and enforcement.

    The movement doing this is called the Constitution 2020 movement.

    Hillsdale College recently produced a paper documenting their efforts. I’ve written a synopsis at whatwhouldthefoundersthink.com, where I’ve included links to this paper as well links to some of this groups writings.

  7. Kirk John Larson says:

    Greetings and Salutations,

    I wish to address certain issues. The 17th Amendment and the 2020 Movement.

    Cathy pointed out that some have argued that the 17th Amendment hurt States rights, and it did. In passing that amendment, State Governments no longer have true representation in Washington. As a result, the Federal government has infringed upon States issues by mandating how the States spends its tax revenues and what laws to pass lest the Federal government would suspend funding as a form of punishment over the states. This practice works to diminish the role and need for State Governments at all. This has been the plan by progressives since 1913. More over, by stripping the State Governments of authority, the Public role in governance and more over the publics ability to self govern is also eroded.

    As for the Constitution 2020 movement; this effort to impose ‘new rights’ is not to say our rights have been lost or confused but to say that the US Government is the sole granter of “Rights.” This is a secular push toward a more socialized society where in the Government defines and prescribes where you live, how you live, and whether or not you live.

    Housing is a replaceable commodity, (Just ask any tornado.) Employment is a personal choice and on occasion deniable due to the lack of employers. Ultimately, the “Right to Employment” is to destroy the Entrepreneurial Spirit of America. Health Care is a personal responsibility. The effort hear is ultimately establish euthanasia as a legal recourse. Then there is guaranteed access to political process, which is an intent to eradicate responsibility. Today, under the law, criminal conduct suspends your rights to vote or participate in the political process such as serving as a representative in congress. (either house) The idea the progressives have here is Americans should be free from responsibility and consequences for their actions. This is intended to bring more freedom but will actually encourage chaos. As a result, the very idea actually produces the opposite affect as the public cannot be trusted to conduct themselves responsibly, so totalitarian rules must be imposed. The two step process bring greater freedom from responsibility and consequences is to eliminate freedom altogether.

    The left will argue to the contrary but the truth is; the absence of responsibility produces chaos and public endangerment.
    Socialism has failed time and again. It will always fail because it dehumanizes the people into little more than cattle to be processed.

 

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