Thursday, May 18, 2006

27th Amendment

When I was teaching the Constitution in my American History class to 7th and 8th graders in the fall of 1992, I was very interested to come across (in the World Almanac) the 27th Amendment which reads:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

The most interesting thing was a little footnote that read:

"Proposed by Congress September 25, 1789; ratified May 7, 1992".

No other information was given. I went to the library to search for new articles on the topic. I couldn't find anything at my local library. When I went to a larger one I was able to discover three short articles - two tiny boxed paragraphs in Time and a one page story in People! With that introduction, I'd like to present to you the Story of the 27th Amendment - originally part of the Bill of Rights, but not ratified for more than 200 years.

The Amendment was proposed by James Madison and was among 12 amendments considered for the original Bill of Rights. We all know that ten were passed (the remaining proposed amendment related to the apportionment of Representatives). The amendment in question was passed by Congress in 1789 and then sent to the states for ratification. Three quarters of the states must ratifiy an amendment in order for it to take effect. Naturally the required number was much smaller in 1789 than in 1992. Six states had approved the measure before 1792, Ohio ratified it in 1873 and Wyoming in 1978. Thirty states ratified the amendment between 1983 and 1992. The man responsible for the renewed interest was a Texas resident named Gregory Watson, who launched a letter-writing campaign beginning in 1982. After Michigan became the final state to ratify the amendment on May 7, 1992, (and it was certified by U.S. Archivist Don. W. Wilson) the Senate President Pro Tempore, Robert C. Byrd (Democrat, West Virginia) sponsored a resolution preventing other amendments from being revived.

Addendum: When I first put these notes together on the Internet (on, around 1998 or1999, it was one of the few things available online about the remarkable 27th Amendment. Now there are dozens of sites with such information. Here are just a few examples (with further links on each site) - You can read more about Gregory Watson on Wikipedia. More on the 27th Amendment here.

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