Our constitutional scholars out there are probably screaming at their computer screens, "That's not a failed constitutional amendment!" And they would be right. The proposal to make Congress wait a term after they vote on a pay raise before it takes effect was ratified by the requisite number of states in 1992 and enshrined in the Constitution as the 27th Amendment. But it was a failed amendment for a very, very long time, and the story about how it eventually was ratified makes it one of the weirder proposals to move through the constitutional gauntlet.
The first time this idea was proposed was actually way back in 1789, when James Madison included it in a package of 12 amendments intended to form the original Bill of Rights. It was only ratified by seven states, though, short of the necessary three-fourths majority. Periodically over the next two centuries, Congress would give themselves a pay raise, prompting a congressman to reintroduce the amendment and another state to ratify it: Ohio in 1873 and Wyoming in 1978. Still far short of the necessary states, the amendment got a boost from an unexpected advocate: An undergraduate student at the University of Texas.
The student, Gregory Wilson, wrote a paper about the amendment in 1982, arguing that it could still be ratified. His professor called it "unrealistic" and gave him a C on his paper, so Wilson set out to prove him wrong. He spent $5,000 of his own money to convince state legislatures to ratify the amendment, and, incredibly, he succeeded. The 203-year ratification timeline is by far the longest of any amendment [source: Vile].
Author's Note: 10 Weirdest Failed Constitutional Amendments
When people throw around an idea for a constitutional amendment for this or a constitutional amendment for that, they don't always realize what a high bar they have to clear. It's really hard to get one passed — which is probably why only 27 have ever been tacked on to our founding document. But, after researching some of the 11,000-plus amendments that have been proposed, believe me when I tell you that's probably a good thing.
More Great Links
- Albert, Richard. "The 'Ghost Amendment' That Haunts Lincoln's Legacy." Cognoscenti. Feb. 18, 2013. (Aug. 16, 2016) http://cognoscenti.legacy.wbur.org/2013/02/18/the-other-13th-richard-albert
- Bernstein, Richard B. and Jerome Agel. "Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It." University Press of Kansas. 1995. https://books.google.com/books/about/Amending_America.html?id=A8wJAAAACAAJ
- History.com staff. "The Fight for Women's Suffrage." History.com. 2009. (Aug. 24, 2016) http://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/the-fight-for-womens-suffrage
- House Judiciary Committee. "H.J. Res. 661." April 21, 1938. (Aug. 17, 2016) https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24824208
- Musmanno, Michael Angelo. "Proposed Amendments to the Constitution." U.S. Government Printing Office. 1929. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b3639821;view=1up;seq=5
- National Archives. "The Constitutional Amendment Process." 2016. (Aug. 17, 2016) https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/constitution/
- National Archives. "US National Archives Exhibit." 2016. (Aug. 16, 2016) http://usnatarchivesexhibits.tumblr.com/post/148048717491/widows-and-spinsters-before-the-19th-amendment
- Special to The New York Times. "Letters to Congress: Amend the Constitution? Let Us Count the Ways." The New York Times. Aug. 3, 1987. (Aug. 15, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/1987/08/03/us/washinton-talk-letters-to-congress-amend-the-constitution-let-us-count-the-ways.html
- United States House of Representatives. "Journal of the House." U.S. Government Printing Office. 1888.
- United States Senate. "House Member Introduces Resolution to Abolish the Senate." 2016. (Aug. 15, 2016) http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/House_Member_Introduces_Resolution_To_Abolish_the_Senate.htm
- Vile, John R. "Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1789-1995." ABC-CLIO. 1996. https://books.google.com/books/about/Encyclopedia_of_Constitutional_Amendment.html?id=rMZsAAAAIAAJ
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