If you’re ever looking at the Constitution of the United States, make sure you look at one that is footnoted, such as this one. It gives the reader a better sense of the trial and error that is the American experience.
For instance, Article I, Section 2, paragraph 3: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.”
“All others” were slaves, who were three-fifths of a person. The matter was altered by Amendment 13.
Article II, Section 1, paragraph 3: “The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President.”
This became unworkable in the election of 1800 when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 electoral votes, and dealing made TJ the Prez and Burr the Veep. The process has been superseded by Amendment 12, with separate ballots for President and Vice-President. This was referred to in the musical Hamilton.
The first 10 amendments are called the Bill of Rights. Amendment 1 is probably best known: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Some legal scholars feel Amendment 4 is particularly under attack: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The post-Bill of Rights amendments often deal with expanding the vote. 15 – regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 19- regardless of “sex.” 24 – regardless of “failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.” 26- allows 18-year-olds to vote, when the age had been 21, generally. Amendment 17 allows for the direct election of US Senators, rather than them being selected by state legislatures.
Two Amendments canceled each other out. The 18th permitted prohibition of alcohol, but the 21st scrubbed the social experiment.
One section I had not noted until recently is Article II, Section 1, paragraph 7: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”
This has been an issue for a few reasons. The new president, Donald J. Trump, has indicated that he would not take a salary for being President. There are Constitutional scholars who believe that not only must he take the payment, but that it is appropriate so that he knows he’s being paid by the people of the United States. George Washington tried to avoid being paid, but was talked out of it.
Also, the Trump organization owns buildings for which the US government is paying rent. This could be considered “other emolument,” and could cause a Constitutional crisis early in his administration.
Amending the Constitution of the United States is very difficult. There has been only one amendment passed since 1971, and that was in the hopper for more than two centuries.