What Makes an Amendment?
Amazing Amendments Student Reproducible (PDF), Internet access
- Amazing Amendments NEW! (PDF)
1. Remind students that Article 5 of the Constitution allows for the document to be amended. Write the word amendment on the board. Ask students to define the word. Guide them to define it as "a change or addition to a constitution."
2. Distribute Amazing Amendments. Direct students to look at the chart at the top of the page. Tell students that Article 5 explains the two ways to make amendments to the Constitution. The first way is through Congress. Two thirds of Congress (made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate) can propose, or ask for, an amendment. The second way is through the states. Two thirds of the state legislatures can call for an official meeting to propose an amendment. When the meeting is called, the amendment is then presented. Once an amendment receives the required number of votes in either Congress or by the states, it must then be ratified (approved) by three fourths of all state legislatures or three fourths of special state conventions. That means that 38 states would have to accept the amendment once it is proposed in order for it to be added to the Constitution. Have students answer the questions on the handout as a class.
Answers to Student Reproducible 6:
1. The Legislative branch (Congress)
2. 50 states x 3/4 majority = 38 states needed
3. Get 2/3 of all state legislature to ask for a meeting to propose the amendment, call a special convention and propose the amendment, get 3/4 of all state legislatures or special state conventions to ratify the amendment.
3. Help students better understand the amendment process by using the following example: The Sixth Amendment (right to a jury trial in criminal cases) and Seventh Amendment (right to a jury trial in civil cases) are both part of the Bill of Rights. James Madison wrote the first draft of the Bill of Rights, including the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, in 1789. His draft included a total of 12 amendments, not just the ten we are familiar with today. Madison proposed these amendments to Congress in June 1789. A few months later, the House of Representatives and the Senate both voted in favor of the amendments. On September 25, 1789, the amendments were proposed to the states. There were 14 states in the U.S. at that time. Ten of the 12 amendments, including the Sixth and Seventh, were ratified by most of the states. In November 1789, New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights. Other states soon followed and, in 1791, 11 out of the 14 states, or 78 percent, had ratified 10 of the 12 amendments. The Bill of Rights was then added to the Constitution. One of the two Bill of Rights Amendments that was not ratified at the time eventually became the Twenty-Seventh Amendment. This amendment limited when members of Congress could change their salaries. Like the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, it was proposed to the states in 1789 but it was not ratified until 1992, more than 200 years later! By 1791, six states had approved the amendment, far less than the 11 needed for ratification. By the time it was ratified, over 74,000 days had passed since it was proposed and 36 states had been added to the country. In comparison, the Twenty-Sixth amendment, lowering the voting age to 18, took only 100 days to ratify.
4. Explain to students that thousands of amendments have been proposed since the Constitution was written, but only 27 have been ratified by the states. Ask students whether they think it is good or bad that amendments are so difficult to ratify. Lead a discussion about the pros and cons of the amendment process. Ask students if they think the process should be changed. Encourage students to share their ideas with the class.
5. To demonstrate the difficulties of the amendment process, have students work in groups to get their own amendments ratified. Explain to students that, for homework, they will be working in groups of three to develop their own amendments that the class will vote on. Add up the number of students in your class and determine how many votes will be needed to constitute a three-fourths majority. Inform students that they will need that many votes in order to get their amendments ratified. Tell students that, as they develop their amendments, they should answer the following questions:
- Why is the amendment important to add to the Constitution?
- Who will support the amendment? Why?
- How will the amendment be relevant in the future? Will it be able to last 200 or more years, like the Bill of Rights?
6. Encourage students to develop creative proposals to gain support for their amendment. They can create posters, slogans, songs, etc., to support their amendments, as long as the amendment is beneficial to the United States and its people. You can assign this project for groups to do at home to give students more time to develop their amendments.
7. During the next class period, have each group present their amendment to the class. Encourage students to ask the group questions about their amendment. Instruct students to write down their thoughts about each amendment as it is presented. Once all groups have made their presentations, hand out a ballot with each amendment listed. Have students vote on the amendments and turn them back in without showing anyone else. Tally the votes and see which amendments passed!
8. Wrap Up! Now that students have seen firsthand the process of developing, proposing, and ratifying an amendment, return to your earlier discussion about the amendment process. Ask students why it is important to limit how the Constitution can be changed. Ask students if their opinions about amending the Constitution have changed now that they have tried the process themselves.
Have students research an amendment that was proposed to the states but never ratified. Direct them to write an essay describing what the amendment was, when it was proposed, and why it failed. Encourage students to include their own opinions about the amendment and whether or not they would support it.