- People in the US wanted to make sure that they could trust the government by adding additional rules and restrictions to the Constitution.
- The creators of the US Constitution knew that it would need to be changed in the future. They made it so people could change it, but not too easily.
- Since the Constitution was ratified in 1789, over 200,000 bills have been introduced. But only 27 amendments have been made to the Constitution.
The US Constitution was written in 1787 by 55 delegates. It is a document for the 13 states that were freed from Britain. The purpose was to create a stronger document than the Articles of Confederation.
The Constitution needs to be changed to change the law. Amendments to the Constitution have changed how America’s legal system works.
When the US Constitution was approved, the new Congress members took up the issue of changing the Constitution. They were responding to people who wanted changes in the Constitution.
People from Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York (among others) wanted changes because they thought it was important for individual rights to be protected by the highest law in the land.
The change can happen in two ways. Congress needs a two-thirds vote. This is hard because not many people want to work together.
The other way happens when state legislatures vote for it with a two-thirds majority. Then three-quarters of the states need to agree and it becomes part of the Constitution.
States may ask Congress to call a constitutional convention if two-thirds of state legislatures agree. States have passed many resolutions asking for a constitutional convention on different issues.
The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights is the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. It is a list of rights for people and what they can do.
The Bill of Rights constitutes protections for people accused of crimes. It has become a symbol of American ideals. They stand as the foundation of freedom, limited government, and rule of law.
The Bill of Rights was created in response to fears that the Constitution would allow an oppressive government. These amendments helped create support for the new national government.
The Bill of Rights is designed to protect people from abuse. Originally, the protections were only meant for the federal government.
But in 1868, a new amendment says that each state cannot deprive its citizens of these protections. This means that they protect your rights as an individual and not just the federal government’s rights. The Supreme Court has not agreed if the Bill of Rights should be applied to the levels of government.
The Bill of Rights is still an important part of the Constitution today. Even though some parts are hard to follow, it is still a major law and it is still debated.
First Amendment (ratified 1791)
To show that the Constitution would not take too much power from states, James Madison agreed to draft a list of rights for people. This was during the first meeting of Congress.
The First Amendment is the most famous and important one. It says that Congress can’t make laws that stop you from practicing your religion, speaking out, writing articles, or doing anything else you want. These rights are at the core of the US’s idea of a democratic government.
Second Amendment (ratified 1791)
The Second Amendment says that people have the right to protect themselves. The Revolutionary War was a long time ago. People banded together to protect their communities, towns, colonies, and eventually states during the Revolutionary War era.
Some people think that the Second Amendment means that people have a right to guns. Some people think it means only members of the army should have guns. The Supreme Court said that it protects a person’s right to have guns for self-protection.
Third Amendment (ratified 1791)
This amendment says that the government cannot make people let soldiers stay in their homes in peacetime or during a war. This is a reaction to laws from before where British soldiers could sleep in colonists’ homes whenever they wanted.
The Supreme Court has not decided on any cases about this amendment. Nevertheless, it has mentioned it when talking about property and privacy rights.
Fourth Amendment (ratified 1791)
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects people’s right to be safe and free from unreasonable searches. The Founding Fathers had this in mind when they wrote it, because, before the Revolutionary War, British authorities made use of general warrants. With a general warrant, government officials could search with no restrictions.
Fifth Amendment (ratified 1791)
The Fifth Amendment gives people other rights in criminal proceedings. These include the right not to testify against themselves and the protection of not getting tried for the same crime twice.
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution also means that the Federal Government must pay you money for taking your private property. They cannot take away your rights without giving you a good reason, and they cannot hurt you.
Sixth Amendment (ratified 1791)
The Six Amendment protects the rights of people against possible violations by the criminal justice system. It ensures that they have a public trial without a significant delay and it gives them the right to hear what they are being charged with, call witnesses for themselves, and retain a lawyer to defend them in court.
According to the modern interpretation of the amendment, when someone cannot afford a lawyer and they are accused of a crime, the state must provide them with one.
Seventh Amendment (ratified 1791)
The Seventh Amendment says that you can have a jury trial for civil cases, not just criminal ones. This means that cases like car accidents, property disputes, and discrimination lawsuits are decided by a jury instead of by judges. It also prevents federal judges from overturning verdicts based on anything besides what the law says.
Eighth Amendment (ratified 1791)
The Eighth Amendment is for the same thing as the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. It says that you can’t have too much bail or fines and you can’t have cruel punishments.
The exact interpretation of these terms is unclear so people can continue to argue about them. One example is what constitutes cruel punishment. People can disagree on whether capital punishment is considered cruel or not.
Ninth Amendment (ratified 1791)
The framers of the Constitution wanted to make sure that people knew that they were not taking away any other rights by listing fundamental rights in the Constitution. The 9th Amendment states that, even if these are the only rights listed, there are still other non-enumerated rights that people have.
Lawyers and the courts have been debating the meaning of the Ninth Amendment for a long time. They disagree about whether it provides a foundation to certain rights, like privacy or reproductive rights.
10th Amendment (ratified 1791)
The 10th Amendment is the last in the Bill of Rights. It was made to reassure people who were not happy about the US Constitution.
The 10th Amendment says that the federal government can do only those things that are written in the Constitution, and everything else is up to states or citizens. People have been arguing for a long time about what powers belong to states or to citizens.
Other important amendments
Since 1789, there have been 17 more amendments. These amendments were made by either a two-thirds vote in Congress or a national convention of two-thirds of the states.
13th Amendment (ratified 1865)
It took more than six decades for the 12th and 13th Amendments to be ratified. This was because no one wanted to make a potentially divisive amendment.
But after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves behind enemy lines, people wanted an amendment that would end slavery across America. The 13th Amendment finally made this happen. Slavery or involuntary servitude is not allowed in the United States.
15th Amendment (ratified 1870)
After Congress gave black men the right to vote in the South, it wanted to make sure that this right was protected in the Constitution. The 15th Amendment forbids discrimination against people who are voting because of their race or color.
Nevertheless, after Reconstruction ended in 1877, Southern states found ways to keep black people from voting. They did this by requiring a poll tax if someone wanted to vote. They also made people take a test about the Constitution and the history of America before they could vote.
19th Amendment (ratified 1920)
Women’s suffrage activists were disappointed that they could not vote in the Civil War. But after, Congress said that they could not use gender as a reason to deny voting rights.
Activists decided to focus on getting states to vote for women’s suffrage. They did this slowly by changing state laws and having people support them.
Women got the right to vote in some states in 1920. Women who were not white still couldn’t vote, but that changed in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed.