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History >> US Government

United States Government

US Constitution Amendments

An amendment is a change or addition to the Constitution. The first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, only a short time after the Constitution was first ratified. This is because some states only agreed to ratify the Constitution once they knew a Bill of Rights would soon be added.

Over the years additional amendments have been added to the Constitution.

How Amendments Are Made

It takes two steps to add an amendment to the Constitution:

Step 1: Proposal - An amendment can be proposed by either a two-thirds vote in Congress, including both the House of Representatives and the Senate, or a national convention made up of two-thirds of the states. All our current amendments were proposed by Congress.

Step 2: Ratification - Next, the amendment has to be ratified. It can be ratified by either three-fourths of the state legislatures or by state conventions in three-fourths of the states. Only the 21st amendment used the state convention method.

List of Amendments

Today there are 27 total amendments. Below is a brief description of each.

1st through the Tenth - See the Bill of Rights.

11th (February 7, 1795) - This amendment set limits on when a state can be sued. In particular it gave immunity to states from law suits from out-of-state citizens and foreigners not living within the state borders.

12th (June 15, 1804) - Revised the presidential election procedures.

13th (December 6, 1865) - This amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.

14th (July 9, 1868) - Defined what it means to be a US citizen. It prohibits states from reducing the privileges of citizens and ensures each citizen the 'right to due process and the equal protection of the law'.

15th (February 3, 1870) - Gave all men the right to vote regardless of race or color or whether they had been slaves.

16th (February 3, 1913) - Gave the federal government the power to collect income tax.

17th (April 8, 1913) - Established that senators would be directly elected.

18th (January 16, 1919) - Prohibition of alcohol making alcoholic drinks illegal. (It would later be repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment)

19th (August 18, 1920) - The 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. It's also called women's suffrage.

20th (January 23, 1933) - Gave details on the terms of office for Congress and the President.

21st (December 5, 1933) - This amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment.

22nd (February 27, 1951) - Limited the president to a maximum of two terms or 10 years.

23rd (March 29, 1961) - Provided that Washington, DC be allowed representatives in the Electoral College. This way the citizens of Washington DC would have a vote for the president even though they are not officially part of a state.

24th (January 23, 1964) - Said that people don't have to pay a tax, called a poll tax, in order to vote.

25th (February 10, 1967) - This amendment defined the presidential succession if something should happen to the president. The first in line is the Vice-President.

26th (July 1, 1971) - Set the national voting age at 18.

27th (May 5 or 7, 1992) - States that Congressional salary changes can not take effect until the beginning of the next session of Congress.

Take a ten question quiz at the Amendments to the Constitution questions page.


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