Amendments After the Bill of Rights

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.

Amendments to the US Constitution since the Bill of Rights:

11 — Ratified 1795: A glitch fix regarding jurisdiction of Federal courts.

12 — Ratified 1804: Another glitch fix, about the Electoral College.

13 — Ratified 1865: Slavery abolished. Power given to Congress to enforce.

14 — Ratified 1868: Citizenship to persons born in US, etc. Power given to Congress to enforce.

15 — Ratified 1870: Voting rights. Power given to Congress to enforce.

16 — Ratified 1913: Income tax. Power given to Congress to enforce.

17 — Ratified 1913: Popular vote for US Senators (reduces power of state legislatures).

18 — Ratified 1919: Prohibition. Power given to Congress to enforce. [Repealed in 1933.]

19 — Ratified 1920: Women’s Suffrage. Power given to Congress to enforce.

20 — Ratified 1933: Glitch fixes. Start of congressional terms, etc.

21 — Ratified 1933: Repeal of 18th Amendment (prohibition).

22 — Ratified 1951: Glitch fix. Presidential Term Limits.

23 — Ratified 1961: Presidential Vote for District of Columbia. Power given to Congress to enforce.

24 — Ratified 1964: Poll Tax Barred. Power given to Congress to enforce.

25 — Ratified 1967: Glitch fix. Presidential Disability and Succession.

26 — Ratified 1971: Voting Age Set to 18 Years. Power given to Congress to enforce.

27 — Ratified 1992: Glitch fix. Limiting Changes to Congressional Pay. (Original 2nd amendment.)

There you are then. Make of it what you will. This blog will now return to The Controversy between evolution and creationism.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

4 responses to “Amendments After the Bill of Rights

  1. Nice synopsis. Thank you.

  2. retiredsciguy

    I would categorize these amendments differently:

    13 — Ratified 1865: Slavery abolished. Expanded individuals’ rights.

    14 — Ratified 1868: Citizenship to persons born in US, etc. Expanded individuals’ rights.

    15 — Ratified 1870: Voting rights. Expanded individuals’ rights.

    17 — Ratified 1913: Popular vote for US Senators (reduces power of state legislatures), but expanded individuals’ rights.

    19 — Ratified 1920: Women’s Suffrage. Expanded individuals’ rights.

    24 — Ratified 1964: Poll Tax Barred. Expanded individuals’ rights.

    26 — Ratified 1971: Voting Age Set to 18 Years. Expanded individuals’ rights.

    27 — Ratified 1992: Limiting Changes to Congressional Pay. (Original 2nd amendment.) Limited Congressional power.

    Since all officeholders must take an oath to uphold the Constitution, there should be consequences for those who vote for or sign into law an act that is found to be unconstitutional. In other words, Congress and the exectutive branch should police themselves concerning the constitutionality of their laws; it shouldn’t just be up to the Supreme Court.

  3. Thank you retired sci guy– I also think of voting and other such clauses as personal liberty issues, not congressional power issues.

    Curmie, thanks for the table, the preceeding paragraph was rather confusing and left my head spinning a little! 😀

  4. LRA says:

    … the preceding paragraph was rather confusing and left my head spinning a little!

    That’s because I always take the cosmic view of things.