WE just posted The Unknown Bill of Rights, so while we’re in off-topic mode we’ll briefly rant about all the subsequent amendments to the Constitution. Perhaps we’ve gone over the edge, but we think some interesting patterns emerge.
To begin, we’ll repeat the first paragraph of the Preamble to the Bill of Rights:
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
By re-arranging some of those Preamble clauses a wee bit, it’s clear that the original Bill of Rights was for the purpose of amending the Constitution to add “further declaratory and restrictive clauses” in order to “prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers,” thereby “extending the ground of public confidence in the Government.”
Fine, but what about the other amendments — those adopted after 1789? There are now 27 amendments, so 17 have been adopted since the first ten. Of those “new” 17, six are what we consider glitch fixes — small refinements and technical clarifications of the original Constitution. That leaves eleven others.
All but one of those eleven add to the powers of Congress, which is quite a turn-around from the intent of the original Bill of Rights. The lone anomaly — the one amendment that isn’t a glitch fix or a power-adding provision — is the repeal of prohibition. That’s the only amendment since the original ten that reduces Congress’ power.
In the glitch-fix category (that’s our own classification, with which others may disagree) are the only two amendments that were adopted in the period between the original Bill of Rights and the end of the Civil War. In all that time — the 76 years from 1789 to 1865 — no amendment increased the federal government’s powers.
Of the ten post-Civil War amendments that added power to the federal government (prohibition being briefly among them), three are known as the Civil War amendments. Those three and some of the others also reduce the powers of the states — particularly their power to determine matters of slavery, citizenship, and voting rights. Those were certainly good changes, but (arguably) bad federalism; and this illustrates the power-shift between the states and the federal government.
After the period of constitutional tranquility — the 76 years from 1789 to 1865 when there were only two glitch fix amendments — we can see activist periods when there was intense amendment activity. The three Civil War amendments (from 1865 to 1870) are one obvious grouping. There are also the four amendments from 1913 to 1920 (income tax, popular vote for Senators, prohibition, and women’s suffrage).
To summarize the later 17 amendments, six are glitch fixes, which leaves eleven others. Ten of those — all after the Civil War — are power-adding amendments, and the eleventh reduces federal power by repealing prohibition. That’s the deal.
We’ve made a brief table of the later amendments which appears below, but you can check things out for yourself. The Constitution and all amendments can be found here: U.S. Constitution Online.
There you are then. Make of it what you will. This blog will now return to The Controversy between evolution and creationism.
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