Our dormant Constitution

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Introduction

When we allow our Constitution to become stagnant, it causes political instability – particularly when we go without amendments to restore liberty and justice. The Civil War – the worst political instability in our country's history – came after a dry spell of over 70 years without a significant amendment to our Constitution. Afterwards, we quickly added three of our most effective amendments to improve liberty and justice. When the dust settled and reconstruction was wrapped up, we saw a period of reduced corruption and growing prosperity, capped by the "Gay 90s". Amending the Constitution helped to restore stability. Later however, towards the end of the 19th century after decades without any significant amendments, the country began to fall back into more crime, corruption, economic disparity and political violence.

Finally, after nearly fifty years without a liberty-and-justice amendment, the 17th Amendment (direct Senate elections) was passed and began to take effect, along with the 19th Amendment which further expanded the franchise to women in 1920. The prosperity and good times of the Roaring 20s followed.

The Great Depression and World War II again put the amending process on hold. To respond to the effects of the Depression, the president pressured the Supreme Court into short-circuiting the amendment process with sweeping opinions that shifted power to the Congress and the Executive. By 1960, after another 25 years without a significant amendment, the country had seen a reckless assault on civil liberties from McCarthyism, and was facing rising racial tensions. The 23rd Amendment (Electoral College for Washington, D.C.) and the 24th Amendment (elimination of the poll tax) helped to relieve the tension, but those amendments were narrow and insufficient; and the externalities of the Vietnam War along with continued racial injustices, extended tensions through the 60's and into the 70's. The last significant amendment to the Constitution was in 1971 with the 26th Amendment extending the vote to eighteen-year-olds.

The decades following the 26th Amendment saw mostly growing prosperity and a rapid acceleration in technological innovation. However, after another 25 years without an amendment, political tensions again began to grow. The campaign leading up to the 2000 presidential election was extremely divisive. The Supreme Court hijacked the election, stopped the counting of ballots and selected the president. This cemented the political divisions and destroyed the Court's credibility.

It has now been 45 years since the last significant amendment. The beginning of the 21st century has seen continually growing political instability rivaling that which the country saw during the antebellum. The Supreme Court decisions that were made during the 30s and 40s that shifted power to Congress and the Executive in order to address the immediate problems of the times, have been abused by the leaders who have followed and have been used to suppress political participation. The result is a severe erosion of civil liberties and justice – and a stagnant constitution. The lack of available avenues for civil redress for the grievances of the people is leading the country to failure.

In order to avert this downward spiral, we need to restore liberty and justice by amending the Constitution. The Uniting Amendment is the comprehensive amendment that can provide a foundation to help rebuild the country.

Quantitative analysis

The chart below shows amendments that increased liberty and justice. Amendments that were primarily procedural or that reduced liberty or justice are not shown. (see table for details) The dates indicated for the amendments were the dates the amendments became fully effective, e.g., the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, but its full effect wasn't realized until all Senators had faced the electorate by 1918. For the purposes of this analysis, the Bill of Rights is treated as a single amendment. Included in the chart are significant events representative of domestic political conditions. Externalities such as wars and macroeconomic events are not shown. (The recent oils wars in Iraq and Syria are mentioned because they were almost entirely initiated from the White House. See Causes for details).

The chart shows that, after the dust had settled from each of the amendment processes, the periods following the amendments were politically stable compared to the time immediately before or long after the amendments.

Amendment-analysis-chart.png

Notes: 1) Although the 21st Amendment increased liberty and had significant cultural effects, it was not as significant as most of the others. If it were removed from the chart, the peak constitutional stagnancy around 1961 would have been 41 years rather than the 28 years shown. 2) World War II, while not initiated domestically, had the effect of interrupting the process of the growth in political instability domestically. 3) Externalities associated with the Vietnam War had the effect of stretching out the process of change involving the 23rd, 24th and 26th Amendments.

List of amendments

In the following table, amendments indicated as the type, "Liberty and Justice", were restorative to political stability.

# Description Date passed by Congress Date ratified Type Context/effect
1 No establishment of religion; freedom of religion, speech, and assembly; right to petition for redress of grievances. September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice The United States Constitution is the shortest constitution in history and therefore is rather vague. When it went into effect, it enumerated many powers of the federal government and recognized some rights guaranteed to the people, however, there was ambiguity about the powers and rights that were not mentioned in the document. Many people were worried that the federal government would take all the powers not mentioned in the Constitution and infringe the people's rights that were not specified in the document. The Bill of Rights cleared up some of that ambiguity by specifying rights that could not be violated by Congress and indicated that all powers not mentioned in the Constitution belonged to the states. It was passed by Congress just six months after the Constitution went into force and was ratified two years later. The Bill of Rights helped to unify the new union of states and kept the country together for more than 60 years.
2 Protects the right to keep and bear arms. September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice
3 Prohibits soldiers from staying in private homes without the owner's consent (during peacetime). September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice
4 Prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures; requires probable cause for warrants. September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice
5 Right to due process; no self-incrimination or double jeopardy; rules for grand jury and eminent domain September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice
6 Fair, speedy and public trial; trial by jury; notification of accusations; right to confront the accuser and obtain witnesses; counsel. September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice
7 Right to jury trial for civil cases over $20; follow common law in any reexamination of facts. September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice
8 Prohibits excessive fines, excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment. September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice
9 Unenumerated rights that are retained by the people are not abridged when the Constitution recognizes other rights. September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice
10 Powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution belong to the States or the people. September 25, 1789 December 15, 1791 Liberty and justice; State sovereignty
11 States are immune from suits from out-of-state citizens and foreigners. March 4, 1794 February 7, 1795 Procedural;
State sovereignty
This amendment plugged a loophole in the Constitution that would allow the federal government to supersede state sovereignty when someone from outside the state tried to sue the state. It was in response to the Supreme Court case, Chisholm v. Georgia, and reversed that decision.
12 Update Electoral College procedures. December 9, 1803 June 15, 1804 Procedural Problems with the presidential elections in 1796 and 1800 prompted this amendment to tweak the electoral college process.
13 Abolished slavery. January 31, 1865 December 6, 1865 Liberty and justice If the country could have come to agreement on these three amendments a decade earlier, we could have avoided the Civil War and saved the lives of 600,000 Americans.
14 Defined citizenship; Extended the protection of the people's rights against State power (Privileges and Immunities Clause, Due Process Clause, Equal Protection Clause); Reconstruction. June 13, 1866 July 9, 1868 Liberty and justice
15 Black suffrage. Because of Jim Crow laws, it would be nearly 100 years before this amendment was in full effect. (Mississippi held its congressional elections in December 1, 1869, so this amendment didn't effect blacks in Mississippi until subsequent elections.) February 26, 1869 February 3, 1870 Liberty and justice
16 Income tax. July 12, 1909 February 3, 1913 Power grab Supported by the Socialist Labor Party, the Populist Party, and the Democratic Party during the first years of the 20th century, the 13th Amendment was passed in response to Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. It has produced one of the largest, most byzantine bureaucracies ever seen and has been responsible for many governmental abuses of power and disparity of wealth.
17 Direct election of Senators. Because of the staggered elections for the three classes of Senators, this amendment didn't effect all Citizens until the elections in 1918. May 13, 1912 April 8, 1913 Liberty and justice Direct election of Senators was considered when the Constitution was drafted, but because at that time the federal government was viewed more as a kind of permanent treaty organization between sovereign states than as a single country, it was rejected. Support for the idea gradually grew over time and many states independently instituted popular elections for their two Senators. Several attempts at amending the Constitution were tried over the years and finally an amendment was passed and quickly ratified which insured suffrage for the people of each state.
18 Prohibition of alcohol. Took effect in 1920 December 18, 1917 January 16, 1919 Power grab Some people got confused about the difference between protecting people from each other and protecting people from themselves. Force may be used for the former, but only persuasion and education should be used for the latter.
19 Women's suffrage. June 4, 1919 August 18, 1920 Liberty and justice As part of the broader women's rights movement, support for women's suffrage began to grow concurrently with black suffrage during the Civil War. However, proposed amendments could not make it through Congress. Support continued to grow over the decades until the amendment was finally passed by Congress and ratified relatively quickly by the States.
20 Changed the dates of the start of the terms of the President and Vice President. The first presidential term effected by the amendment started on January 20, 1937. March 2, 1932 January 23, 1933 Procedural This amendment is significant because it is the first constitutional amendment to respond to technological changes. Originally, there was a long gap of about four months between the time a president was elected and the start of the new term of office. This was needed because of the slow transportation and communication of the time, however, it meant that the lame duck government was largely ineffective during that period. In 1933, with modern transportation and communication, that long transition was no longer necessary so the start dates of the terms were moved up to have a shorter lame duck period.
21 Repealed Prohibition. February 20, 1933 December 5, 1933 Liberty and justice Oops!
22 Term limits for President. March 24, 1947 February 27, 1951 Procedural A lot of people got freaked out when FDR decided to ignore tradition and stay in office past the historical two terms. This amendment was ratified to help prevent a dictator from taking power.
23 Electoral College for Washington, D.C. First used in the 1964 election. June 16, 1960 March 29, 1961 Liberty and justice It didn't seem fair that the people who lived in D.C. didn't get to participate in the presidential election (because only states had electors). First proposed in 1890, it took 70 years for the country to come together on ratifying an amendment to give D.C. citizens three electoral votes.
24 Eliminates the poll tax. September 14, 1962 January 23, 1964 Liberty and justice Poll taxes were used to prevent poor people from voting, especially blacks. This amendment was ratified during the height of the civil rights movement in the 60s.
25 Update procedures for presidential succession. July 6, 1965 February 10, 1967 Procedural The assassination of JFK brought to light problems with the procedures of presidential succession and this amendment addressed those issues.
26 Right to vote for eighteen-year-olds. March 23, 1971 July 1, 1971 Liberty and justice During the Vietnam War (an unpopular war among many people in the U.S.), young men were forced to join the military and were shipped overseas to fight the war. The voting age at the time for federal elections was 21 years of age. Most of the conscripts were too young to vote and this was seen as an injustice. This amendment was quickly ratified to correct that. Today the effect of the 26th amendment has largely been wiped out by systematic educational and cultural influence to discourage the youth vote.
27 Raises for representatives don't take effect until after a Congressional election. September 25, 1789 May 7, 1992 Procedural This amendment was part of the original 12 amendments passed by Congress for the Bill of Rights, but two of those -- including this one -- were not ratified by the states. It was long forgotten until 1982, when a student named Gregory Watson discovered the forgotten amendment while researching a paper on the Equal Rights Amendment. He decided to do his paper on this amendment instead. Then he decided to try to get it ratified. After a long campaign of letter-writing to legislators the amendment was finally ratified ten years later and 202 years after it was passed by Congress.
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