The American Constitution

I’m from the UK, and so my knowledge of the American constitution is lacking, I have a few questions which I would like answered, if that is OK:

  • How many ammendments are there to the constitution? What was the latest ammendment to be added?

  • What rights did each ammendment give to Americans (in essence, what was the purpose of each ammendment?).

  • What was the original wording of the constitution? Has the wording changed over time to refeclt changes in language, or does it remain the same?

  • What process must be carried out to add an ammendment? What is there, say, to stop a president (or the relevant authority, if it isn’t the president who decides) from adding an ammendment that allows persecution of a minority group? What would happen if something like that ever came to pass?

Thanks in advance.

The text of the Constitution of the United States

The President himself cannot add amendments to the Constitution. He may propose amendments but Congress has to pass them. Then when that happens a supermajority of the state legislatures must approve the amendment within (typically) 7 years (though that’s been overruled from time to time).

The wording of the Constitution has remained the same over time.

The Amendments:

  1. Defines the right to freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly.

  2. Gun ownership (subject to intense debate)

  3. The government can’t quarter soldier in private homes without permission or legal ruling.

  4. Protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

  5. Right to protection from double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same crime), right to not testify against oneself.

  6. Right to speedy, public jury trials.

  7. In civil cases over $20 (HA!) one has the right to a jury trial.

  8. No excessive bail nor cruel nor unusual punishments meted out.

  9. Just because we’ve spelled these rights out doesn’t mean there aren’t others so don’t get all carried away.

  10. Anything not spelled out as a federal power or proscribed against federal power is left to the states or the people.

  11. Limits the power of the judiciary across state and international borders.

  12. Details the electoral college system for electing Presidents and Vice Presidents and lays out ground rules should said electors not get the job done.

  13. Eliminates slavery (other than servitude as criminal punishments).

  14. Extended citizenship (and the rights thereof) to all American’s regardless of race (bearing in mind that woman hadn’t yet been discovered as ‘Americans’). Also detailed representative apportionment of Congress (excluding those in rebellion against the USA). Also excluded those once in rebellion from holding office. Also confirmed that the national debt was real and would be paid back but that debts incurred by the rebelling states were null and void.

  15. Reaffirmed that the right to vote could not be denied based upon color, race, or previous enslaved status.

  16. Congress may tax…get used to it.

  17. Got down in righting the system for electing and replacing senators in Congress.

  18. Prohited the sale and manufacture of ‘intoxicating liqours’.

  19. Finally realized that women should count as voters.

  20. Defined presidential replacement system, the Presidential and Congressional terms.

  21. Gave up on Amendment 18 as a bad job all around.

  22. Limited the President to two terms (or no more than 1.51 terms if replacing a sitting President).

  23. Extended the electoral college to include the nation’s capital.

  24. No poll taxes for primary voters.

  25. Provided for president succession just in case.

  26. Lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

  27. Limited the ability of Congress to give themselves pay raises.


And the above is the Constitution with all the Amendments in full text.

I played fast with the amendments. We have some damn fine scholars around here who can give you far more detail.

Here’s a copy of the US Constitution, seperated by section. We don’t integrate the amendments into the Constitution, but list them seperately, so the wording of the Constitution is as it was written.

There are 27 amendments, and the most recent was added in 1993.

Here’s what they do, briefly (and sometimes oversimplified)

  1. Guarantees freedom of speech, the press, religion, and assembly
  2. Guarantees the right to keep and bear arms
  3. Forbids the government from quartering troops on private property in peacetime without consent
  4. Prohibits search and siezure of private property without warrant
  5. Requires a grand jury to issue an indictment in a felony case, prohibits people being tried twice for the same crime, and forbids the government from requiring someone to testify against or incriminate himself.
  6. Gives someone accused of a crime the right to a speedy, public, jury trial, to know the charges against him as well as witnesses against him and says that the government must provide him with assistance in finding witnesses in his favor and allow him to be represented by an attorney
  7. In a civil proceeding, all lawsuits involving $20 or more must be decided by a jury, and any matters of fact tried by a jury can’t be reconsidered by another court, except as common law allows
  8. Forbids excessive bail, excessive forfiture, and cruel and unusual punishment
  9. Says that the enumeration of rights in the Constitution is not all inclusive…the people have rights not listed
  10. Powers not delegated to the national government by the Constitution are reserved to the states or the people.
  11. The federal judiciary doesn’t have jurisdiction in a lawsuit filed by people of one state against another state.
  12. Changes the presidential election proceedure by mandating seperate elections for president and vice president (the Constitution said that there would be one election, and the person with the most electoral votes would be president, the one with the secondmost electoral votes would be vice president)
  13. Outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for crimes
  14. Says that all people born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the US and the state in which they reside, and that a state can’t deny rights guaranteed to citizens of the United States, deprive people of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny equal protection of the law to anyone in the state
  15. Says that the government can’t deny the right to vote to people based on race, color, or previous enslavement
  16. Allows the government to tax incomes
  17. Says that Senators will be directly elected by the people of their state (earlier, they were appointed by the state legislatures)
  18. Bans the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages
  19. Says the government can’t deny the right to vote based on sex.
  20. The president-elect will become president in January of the year following the election (before it was March)
  21. Repeals the 18th amendment
  22. No one can be elected president more than twice, and if someone acts as president for more than half of the presidential term, he can only then be elected president once.
  23. The District of Columbia is granted electors in presidential elections
  24. Prohibits the imposition of poll taxes
  25. If the President dies, the Vice President becomes President. Whenever there is no Vice President, the President shall nominate one, to be approved by Congress. If the President is temporarily unable to do his duties, the Vice President becomes acting President
  26. Allows 18 year olds to vote
  27. No law increasing the salaries of Senators or Representatives will take effect until an election of Representatives has intervened.
  1. Mandates that Johnathan Chance and I will simulpost, saying the exact same thing, and citing the exact same website, but he will remember to include the link and I will forget it.

Time between OP and lengthy reply: 23 minutes. That is really impressive, especially given the real content (which doesn’t look like a simple copy and paste job). :slight_smile:

Sorry, nothing intelligent to add, just padding my post count.

  1. Guarantees I can’t spell Jonathan…I just give up…

Just an added note for UK folks - the first 10 are sometimes referred to as the “Bill of Rights”, and were ratified as a block shortly after the original constitution. 11 - 27 are the list that was added over time, and includes one cancelling pair (18 / 21).

Really nice job. Interesting little gimmick in 21, by the way – while the Feds. have exclusive right to regulate all other tade across state lines, the states have that right as regards alcoholic beverages: Florida cannot ban the sale of California oranges, but it can ban the sale of California wines.

And 27 was, intriguingly, a part of the original Bill of Rights as proposed to the states, but didn’t get ratified by the original 13. A then-college student found it and recognized that was still “out there” – proposed by the First Congress and awaiting ratification, and ended up getting 38 states to ratify it.

Just a nitpick. It’s not exactly true that the wording of the basic Constitution - Articles I through VII - has remained the same. Various of the amendments have superseded clauses in the Articles and so caused them to be changed or obsoleted.

Check the Notes in the linked site for examples.

Could anyone explain to me the meaning of Section 1 of the 14th amendment?

From what I’ve learned in this message board and the news, it was due to the 14th that the sodomy laws in Texas and some anti-abortion laws were held unconstitutional. I understand that it has something to do with the common law legal system.

I especially don’t understand the bolded phrases.
Could someone enlighten a continental European not familiar with the common law system.

I didn’t open a new thread because I think it’s quite on topic here. I hope that’s ok.

To expand on yabob’s posting about the Bill of Rights: 10 of the proposed 12 amendments were ratified as a block.

I don’t believe that the Constitution “grants rights.” Some rights are specifically guaranteed by the first 10 ammendments one of which, #9, also guarantees without itemizing all those not named.

I think the idea behind our system is that the people, collectively, have all rights and all powers. Some of those powers, and only those, are specifically granted to a group of elected representatives who act in the name of all as “the government.” Based on experience, some individual rights have to be limited in the interest of the 'general welfare … common defence and securing the blessings of liberty" and so on.

I believe that the idea that the sovereign has title to the rights which are then granted to subjects at the pleasure and convenience of the sovereign was rejected in the establishment of the government although Justice Scalia seems to have missed that part.

The purpose of the first 10 ammendments: the Bill of Rights, was to enable the states to form a country, a federal government.

If no Bill of Rights, then no country.

The first 10 ammendments were the Bill of Rights, and for the most part, they did not “give” anything to americans, they simply “guaranteed” existing unalienable rights, and forever limited government power in this country.

Eg. the second ammendment did not “give” americans the right to bear arms, it merely “protected” an existing right and “guaranted” americans the right to bear arms. Thus, repealing the second ammendment would/could not eliminate the “right” of americans to bear arms.

If the Bill of Rights had not been included guaranteeing individual rights, then there would not even be a United States, because the 13 states refused to form a country unless the Bill of Rights was adopted.

Furthermore, since the existance of the country entirely depended/depends on the Bill of Rights, IMO elimination of any one of the original 10, is akin to nulifying the enitire contract.

Interesting interpretation. I wouldn’t advise you try it in court.

One thing non-Americans (and a lot of Americans, too) might not understand about this discussion is the federal system. At the time the Constitution was adopted, the states, all of which were and are sovereign themselves, had and continue to have their own laws. In fact for many years it was contended that the United States, as a political entity, could not be sovereign because the states were. The American Civil War had to be fought to resolve this issue, and now we accept the notion of dual sovereignty.

The Constitution’s primary purpose was to explain what the powers of the federal government were, as opposed to the states, which could pretty much pass any laws they wanted. The federal government’s powers are enumerated in the Constitution, and theoretically the federal government cannot pass laws unless they fall under one of the enumerated powers. Occasionally (very occasionally), the courts will invalidate a federal law because it doesn’t come under an enumerated federal power.

There’s a lot more, but jeez, you can spend a couple of semesters on this.

The U.S. Constitution was ratified by 9 states in 1788, and went into effect even without the Bill of Rights. So the nation does not depend on the Bill of Rights to exist. (I personally hope this nation never tries to get rid of them, but the fact is that the present system of government was already in effect before the Bill of Rights was ratified.) Susanann is mistaken.

P.S. I wish people would learn how to spell the word “amendment” right.

It is often said that the first 8 amendments constitute the “Bill of Rights,” since the 9th merely states that any inherent right not included is also protected and the 10th does not impose any limitations on the federal government except to state that it doesn’t have any right not specifically granted to it (until such time as SCOTUS rules otherwise. :))

Altho the 11th seems to state that a citizen of any other state or country can sue a state only in a state court, SCOTUS has held that this also precludes a citizen of the same state from suing his or her state in the federal court.


First you must understand that the Bill of Rights was enacted to protect the People and the individual States from abuse by the Federal Government. Those amendments are limitations upon the federal government only, and not upon the individual States. The 14th was enacted to extend some of those rights of the People vis a vis the State. The legislative history shows that it was debated whether all of the rights in the Bill of Rights should be included, but it was decided to word it generally as shown above, up to the semicolon. This section is called “substantive due process.” The idea is that any right in the Bill of Rights that is inherent to the individual should be included, and that SCOTUS will determine which of the Bill of Rights should also be a limitation upon the individual States. Most of them have been, but the second (which is of so much controversy lately) has not, and IMO it is not an inherent right in the People. Several others have not been incorporated into the 14th either.

The latter portion of the 14th Amendment means that everyone must be treated equally, which was a factor in the Texas sodomy case, since that law applied to homosexuals only. But the decision appeared to be based upon an implied inherent right of a person to have sex in private with any consenting adult, which would be part of the former portion. I say “appeared” since the majority decision was really not specific, any a concurring opinion did not base it upon that reason, but upon equal protection.

*Lawrence v. Texas *

the complete decision

For the OP, we have mentioned that the president can’t pass amendments, but I don’t think we’ve spelled out the process beyond a link to the constitution itself.

There are two routes for proposal of an amendment - 2/3 of both houses of Congress or through a consitutional convention called by 2/3 of the state legislatures. The latter route has never actually been taken, and it is not clear how such a convention would be convened.

In either case, 3/4 of the states have to ratify, and the amendment may specify that the state legislatures or a state convention has the power to do so. Only the 21st specified conventions.