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effective. In sending the proposed amendment to the States for their consent, the Congress may (3) direct that the legislatures of the States shall decide the question; or it (4) may call upon the States to hold special conventions (very like the Constitutional Convention which we studied about in chapter 7), each of which shall be made up of delegates from the people of that State and shall decide for or against the proposed amendment.

There have been 21 amendments in all. In the first 20, the Congress proposed the amendment and the legislatures of the States adopted it. However, in proposing the Twenty-first Amendment, the Congress directed that each State must call together its own convention to vote its decision.

You have already learned that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution made up what is usually called the Bill of Rights. These amendments stated a long list of rights which the people already had and which the National Government was forbidden to take away from them. You will find a full list of these amendments, and of the 11 others which were afterward adopted, together with the 7 original articles of the Constitution, in Figures 19, 20, and 21, on the next 3 pages.


When the Constitution of the United States was adopted in 1789, there were only about 4 million people in the United States. Today there are over 131 million. In 1789 there were no really large cities, no railroads or automobiles, no telephones or telegraphs, and very few factories. As cities, factories, railroads, motor busses, telephones, telegraphs, radio, and many other things developed, the plan of government given us by the Constitution had to be fitted to new national needs many more times than 21 amendments would take care of. The Constitution has had to be explained and interpreted so that it could meet the needs of the times. How has this been done?



The Constitution as it was adopted-1789


Provides for a Congress and defines its power to make laws.

SECOND ARTICLE Provides for the election of a President and Vice President, with clearly defined powers, and for the appointment of other officials.

THIRD ARTICLE Sets up a Supreme Court, authorizes the Congress to set up other courts, and defines their powers.

FOURTH ARTICLE Defines relationships between the Federal Government and the States, and between the States themselves.

Tells how the Constitution may be amended.

SIXTH ARTICLE Accepts responsibility for all debts which the Nation owed before the adoption of the Constitution; declares that the Constitution, constitutional laws, and treaties are the supreme law of the land, and provides that all public officers must take an oath to support the Constitution.

SEVENTH ARTICLE Declares that ratification by nine States will put the Constitution into effect.

Figure 19

The Constitution and Its Growth by Amendments: The Constitution


The Bill of Rights—1791

FIRST AMENDMENT Forbids the Congress to interfere with religion, free speech, a free press, or with the right to assemble peaceably, or to petition the Government.

SECOND AMENDMENT Guarantees to the people the right to have weapons.

THIRD AMENDMENT Guarantees against lodging soldiers in private houses without the consent of the owners.

FOURTH AMENDMENT Provides that there shall be no search or seizure of persons, houses, goods, or papers, without a search warrant.

FIFTH AMENDMENT Declares that there shall be no trial for serious offenses without a grand jury indictment, no repeated trials for the same offense, no condemnation without trial, no one compelled to witness against himself, and no property taken for public use except at a fair price.

SIXTH AMENDMENT Requires a speedy and public trial for criminal offenses in the district where the crime was committed, a fair jury, a plain statement of the accusation, gives the accused the right to be represented by a lawyer and to compel the attendance of his witnesses, and requires all witnesses to testify in the presence of the accused.

SEVENTH AMENDMENT Provides that in lawsuits about anything valued at more than $20, a trial by jury shall be allowed.

EIGHTH AMENDMENT Prohibits too large bail or fines, and cruel or unusual punishments.

NINTH AMENDMENT Declares that rights not stated in the Constitution are not therefore taken away from the people.

TENTH AMENDMENT States that powers not delegated to the United States nor prohibited by the Constitution to the States are reserved to the States or to the people,

Figure 20

The Constitution and Its Growth by Amendments: Amendments 1 to 10


Eleventh to Twenty-first Amendments

ELEVENTH AMENDMENT (1798) Declares that the Judiciary of the United States does not have authority to hear a suit against a State if brought by a citizen of another State or a foreigner.

TWELFTH AMENDMENT (1804) Provides and requires a better way (which is still being used) of electing the President and Vice President.

THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT (1865) Puts an end to slavery.

FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT (1868) Defines citizenship of the United States and of a State, forbids States to take away the rights of citizens unlawfully, defines the basis of representation in the House of Representatives, states certain disqualifications from holding public office, and confirms certain Civil War debts and disclaims others.

FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT (1870) Declares that no citizen shall lose the right to vote because of race, color, or previous slavery.

SIXTEENTH AMENDMENT (1913) Gives Congress power to enact income-tax laws.

SEVENTEENTH AMENDMENT (1913) Provides that United States Senators shall be elected by the people.

EIGHTEENTH AMENDMENT (1919) Prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages. (Repealed in 1933.)

NINETEENTH AMENDMENT (1920) Declares that no citizen shall be refused the right to vote because of being a woman.

TWENTIETH AMENDMENT (1933) Changes the date of the inauguration of the President and of the opening of the Congress, and provides for filling the Presidency and Vice Presidency under certain conditions.

TWENTY-FIRST AMENDMENT (1933) Repeals the 18th Amendment and forbids the carrying of alcoholic liquors into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States in violation of its laws.

Figure 21

The Constitution and Its Growth by Amendments: Amendments 11 to 21



The Congress has passed laws to establish rules for the Federal courts and new courts as they have been needed. The Congress has passed laws creating the Executive Departments of the Federal Government, and also many bureaus and commissions. In this way, the Congress has actually changed and added to the organization of the Government. It has also passed laws determining who should become President if the President and the Vice President should die while in office. Many other details of government organization have been built up on the foundation of the Constitution by laws passed by the Congress.


Our relations with other nations are under the joint control of the President and the Senate. The Constitution provides that the President,

“shall have power, by and with the advice and
consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided

two-thirds of the Senators present concur. When the President and Senate together agree with a foreign nation upon a treaty this often helps to develop the meaning of the Constitution. The Constitution does not say whether aliens living in this country can own land, so you might think that the States would decide this matter. But the President and the Senate have made treaties with foreign governments in which the right to own land in the United States was granted to the citizens of the foreign countries. Again, the Constitution gives the Congress the power to “provide and maintaina Navy. The Congress has usually decided how large the Navy should be by controlling the amount of money spent for it. But we have made treaties with foreign nations in which we agreed to limit the size of our Navy. Many more examples could be given to show how treaties help to develop the meaning of the Constitution.

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