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Amendments to the US Constitution
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This description is taken from a NARA descriptive pamphlet, available at Fold3, beginning here, including a transcription of the entire US Constitution beginning on page vii. You can download a brief, three-page description here.
An Amendment to the Constitution may be proposed in a joint or concurrent resolution of Congress approved by two-thirds of each House. The resolution is sent to the States without the signature of the President. (Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the proposed 13th amendment, his signature was considered unnecessary, and the Senate adopted a resolution to that effect shortly thereafter.) The second method for proposing an amendment is for the legislatures of two-thirds of the States to request Congress to call a Constitutional Convention.
Certified copies of a proposed amendment are sent to the State Governors, who in turn send the proposed amendment to their legislatures for consideration. The State legislatures may approve or reject a proposed amendment, or not act on it at all. The Governor is responsible for keeping the Federal Government informed of the status of the proposed amendment. Congress may request, as an alternative, as it did when proposing the 21st amendment, that the States convene special conventions to ratify the proposed amendment.
With either of these methods, the proposed amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the States before in can become part of the Constitution. No time limit on proposed amendments is specified in the Constitution; for example, Amendment 27 was proposed on Sept. 25, 1789, and took 203 years to complete the ratification process. Amendments are considered pending unless a time limit has been placed on them by Congress in its instructions to the States. The 18th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd amendments contained these instructions within the language of the proposed amendment. Beginning with the 23rd amendment, the time limit has been placed within the resolution proposing the amendment, not within the text of the amendment.
According to Article V of the US Constitution:
The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several states, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one of the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress….
Publication M1518, reproduces records relating to Ratified Amendments XI-XXVII of the United States Constitution, which are part of General Records of the United States Government, Record Group 11.
Records relating to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publication M338, along with the materials submitted by the original 13 states relating to their ratification.
Which amendments are they?
The Bill of Rights includes the first ten amendments to the US Constitution (I-X). Subsequent amendments (XI-XXVII) are included in this publication (NARA M1518). Below is a list, in simple terms, of what each of these amendments provided for, and the year of ratification.
Click on an amendment number, below, to view the amendment and the process by which each state ratified that particular amendment. Click on the arrow above the images to the right to browse through images of each amendment within Fold3's American Milestone Documents collection.
- 11th Amendment (XI): Immunity of states to foreign suits, 1795.
- 12th Amendment (XII): Revision of presidential election procedures requiring electors to cast distinct votes for President and Vice President, 1804.
- 13th Amendment (XIII): Abolition of slavery, 1865.
- 14th Amendment (XIV): Refers to citizenship and includes clauses for due process and equal protection, 1868.
- 15th Amendment (XV): Voting rights for male citizens of all races, 1870.
- 16th Amendment (XVI): Authorizing federal income tax, 1913.
- 17th Amendment (XVII): Direct election of senators by the people of a state, 1913.
- 18th Amendment (XVIII): Prohibition, 1919.
- 19th Amendment (XIX): Voting rights for women, 1920.
- 20th Amendment (XX): "Lame Duck Amendment" to reduce time between election and service of elected officials, 1933.
- 21st Amendment (XXI): End of prohibition, repealed the 18th amendment, the only time an amendment has been repealed, 1933.
- 22nd Amendment (XXII): Set the term limit for presidents, 1951.
- 23rd Amendment (XXIII): The District of Columbia given electoral votes, 1961.
- 24th Amendment (XXIV): Prohibits requiring poll taxes for right to vote, 1964.
- 25th Amendment (XXV): Clarifies procedures regarding succession of president and vice president upon death or inability to serve, 1967.
- 26th Amendment (XXVI): Established 18 as the minimum legal voting age, 1971.
- 27th Amendment (XXVII): Allowed changes in salary for members of Congress to occur only after a general election (initially submitted in 1789), 1992.
Explore the entire collection here.
Using the collection
In the browse hierarchy, you'll see a listing for each amendment which includes its number, the title of the amendment, and the year it was ratified. Some titles are long and moving your cursor over the title will show more of it. In some cases, you will need to click on the title to view its name in its entirety.
After selecting an amendment, a list of states will appear in the browse box to the right in the order in which the states ratified that particular amendment. Clicking on the state name will take you to the pages of that state's ratification documents.
Records relating to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publication M338, along with the materials submitted by the original Thirteen States relating to their ratification.
Explore this title
Search or browse Ratified Amendments XI-XXVII of the United States Constitution here.