Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Constitution: Article Five

Article Five is unique because it only has one section.  It also has only one job: To explain how we can alter the constitution.

To change the constitution to suit the evolving needs of its citizenship, Congress can pass Amendments.  Amendments must be passed by two-thirds majority of both houses, and then present it to the legislatures of the states.  It must be ratified by 3/4ths of the states before it can be accepted into law.

There are currently 27 Amendments that have been ratified as part of the constitution.  Several amendments have been proposed but not voted on, others have been voted on and not quite made the cut vote wise.  There are even a few amendments that missed ratification due to a time limit and lack of state ratifications.

Some examples of failed or still pending Amendments include:

  • The Equal Rights Amendment
    First introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul, this amendment keeps poping up as society seems reluctant to catch up with equal rights in reality rather then theory.  It got as far as being ratfied by 35 states, falling short by 3 by the deadline of the 1972 edition.  It has still come up for a vote in Congress in recent years
  • The “First” Amendment.
    When the Bill of rights was proposed, there were actually 12 amendments, not 10. 11 of those Amendments have been ratitifed as Amendments 1-10, and 27 (which took the longest of any amendment to be ratified). It dealt with the size of congress, and basically deals in thousands when we have millions of citizens now so it doesn’t really fit the current needs of the population.
  • The Nobility Amendment
    This is still on the books to be ratified, but doesn’t really come up often.  It was a restriction on American’s ability to hold international nobility titles.  Basically it came down to Americans could not receive any gifts, income, title from a foreign government without the permission of Congress. Otherwise they must surrender their citizenship to the US
  • The Corwin Amendment
    While James Buchanan was president, an amendment came up that actually protects slavery, and would have made it unconstitutional to do away with slavery.  Its still technically out there to be ratified despite the 13th Amendment which makes it moot and unconstitutional.  Its one of two Amendments that the President actually signed (again, Presidents really have no input in Amendments offically).  The other is the 13th, which was signed by Buchanan’s successor Abraham Lincoln.
  • Child Labor Amendment
    This Amendment would have regulated child labor and made it a federal issue, removing the power from the States.  It has been ratified by 28 states.
  • District of Columbia Amendment
    This amendment would have granted DC representation in Congress.  It wasn’t ratified before the 7 year limit posed on it was reached.
  • 1876 – Anti-Congress Amendment
    As you can well imagine, this one never passed Congress.  The Amendment would have abolished the Senate.

Most Amendment proposals don’t make it out of their respective house.  The last amendment to be ratified was the 27th, which was one of the original 12 amendments made in  1789. It was ratified in 1992, 203 years later.

Further Reading

The Amendment Series

Constitution Center – Top Ten Amendments that haven’t made it (Yet)

US – Failed Amendments

Lexis Nexis – Failed Amendments


Posted in American History, history, Politics

The Constitution: Article Two (Part One)

So as Article One created the Legislative Branch, Article Two creates the executive branch.  Notably this branch contains the President and Vice President, but it also contains the cabinet and their departments as well as a few other smaller government offices.

Section One

This section sets up the Presidency.  Who it is, how long he/she is in there, and how they are elected. Continue reading “The Constitution: Article Two (Part One)”

Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Constitution: Impeachments

When I first started this essay series, I really had no real understanding of what an Impeachment meant.   I assumed that it was akin to governmental criminal trial, that you weren’t “impeached” till they found you guilty.  And that it was only for Presidents.

Most of that was wrong.  Reading the mentions in Article One’s sections 2 & 3 had me doing some research into what exactly is an impeachment and what is the result of it.  Turns out it was a lot different then the image I had in my head.

Impeachments are basically administrative reviews in our government.  This is one of the many governmental transfers from our time as a colony of Great Britian, where impeachment was a power of Parliament. A committee is formed in the House to look into and investigate claims that are impeachable offenses (which honestly tend to be a little vague and on occasion partisan).  After the investigation, the House can either decide there isn’t any evidence (or perhaps not enough) or they feel there is enough and Impeach the person in question.  So basically being ‘impeached’ is being accused of doing something that goes against the office you hold, or laws.

Once the House impeaches the officer, it then goes over to the Senate.  Impeachments are supposed to be high priority over any other business the Senate might be looking into, and they prepare to hear the evidence on the impeachment.  In order to be found guilty, the Senate must vote with a 2/3 majority.

There have been several impeachments over the years, the most known are probably the 2 presidential impeachments:  Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton. Also within the Watergate Scandal, Impeachment was implied.

In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House for breaking the Tenure of Office Act, which had been passed the year before overriding Johnson’s veto.  The law restricted the President’s ability to remove office holders (like cabinet members) from office without the okay  of Congress. This was also part of an ongoing feud between him and congress over the reconstruction plan for the south.  The President wanted to accept all the states back immediately while Congress preferred to wait and have them under military law till they proved they could be loyal.  (personally, I side with Johnson on this).  Johnson wanted to remove his Secretary of War, who was a Republican and indicted under Lincoln’s tenure.  When he did, the House began to investigate him for breaking the law. This law would later be thrown out by the Supreme Court and later Congress in 1887 itself for being unconstitutional.  He ended up being acquitted and going on to serve as Senator before his death in 1885.

Bill Clinton’s Impeachment trial is probably more familiar to more of us, as it happened only recently in history.  Clinton was impeached by the House on December 18, 1998 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice brought on by an investigation by Ken Starr into the President’s behavior during a recent sex assault trial brought by one of Clinton’s former employees.. The trial was hotly debated and Clinton ended up being acquitted by a single vote.

Richard Nixon was never impeached, although it is considered that had he not resigned and turned over the office to Gerald Ford (who pardoned him) he would have had to go through an impeachment trial.  So in effect, his presidency was ended by the threat of impeachment rather then the impeachment itself.

So that explains why I knew of it as being a way to remove a President from office.  But it turns out its a way to remove other governmental officials from office. There have been 19 federal impeachments.  The Majority of those impeached by the House of Representatives were judges.   Only four were not.  These were the aforementioned Presidents, a Cabinet Secretary and a US Senator.  Only 8 of the 19 were convicted, the rest were acquitted.

Notable impeachments include:

  • William Blount, a US Senator  in 1799.  He was the first person tried by the Senate on impeachment and was acquitted as the Senate decided that they didn;t have jurisdiction in this matter as members of the house and Senate did not classify as officers and also because both houses had the option to remove members of their own house by 2/3rds vote.
  • John Pickering, a judge in 1804.  He was the second impeachment, and the first to be found guilty of the charges and removed from office.
  • William Belknap, a former Secratary of War in 1876.  Was acquitted because the Senate believed that due to his retirement, they did not have jurisdiction.
  • Alcee Hastings, a judge in 1989.   Hastings was found guilty  of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for taking a 150,000 bribe for reducing the sentencing of people who came before him in court.  Earlier these charges had been put against him in criminal court and he was acquitted of them.  However the House wasn’t as sure, and impeached him with over 17 articles of impeachment.  He was removed from office.  However, he was not banned from public office and later served as a representative.  Ironically, he was able to vote in Clinton’s impeachment trial during his time in the Senate.
  • G. Thomas Porteous, Jr.  A judge in 2010.  Porteous was the most recent Impeachment by the Senate.  He was found guilty of taking bribes form lawyers while overseeing their cases.  He was removed from office.

An impeachment trial does not end up like a criminal case does.  They are only given the power to remove a person from their position in the government and disqualify them from future office, not to sentence them for their crimes, which would have to be seen to under a civilian criminal court.

During most cases, the Vice President resides over the trial as leader of the Senate.  However, during Presidential impeachments it is left to the Chief Justice. The prosecutors are members of the House, choose to represent them in the case.  The Senate acts like the jury.

The House has looked into over 60 impeachments, but only 19 have actually been passed on to the Senate.

Further Reading/Sources

The Impeachment of Bill Clinton (Wikipedia)

Impeachment in the United States (Wikipedia)

The Impeachment Trial of Alcee L. Hastings (

Briefing on Impeachment (

Complete list of Impeachment trials by Federal Senate ( (same link as above, only more specific)

Impeachment:  US House of Representatives  (

Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Constitution: Article One (Part Two)

In our previous post, I talked about Article One’s second section, which developed the House of Representatives.  The third section likewise develops another branch of the government

Section Three:  The Senate

In the Articles of Confederation, our original constitution, there was only a single body legislative branch.  It gave each state one vote, with the ability to have a delegation team making said vote.  Many people wanted to keep this when they sat down to revise and come up with a new Constitution.  The Senate is inspired by the Ancient Roman equivalent, which each region had  Senator representing them.  These were meant to be wise statesmen who had the best interests of their people at heart.

Well, in compromise with those who wanted more democracy and less republic, they made two.  The House of Representative which contains representation by population, and the Senate which has representation by set amount.

Under Section Three, the senate gives each state two votes.  This has not changed.  We continue to have 2 Senators per state admitted to the union (So the first Senate had 26 Senators.  much smaller room then the 100 Senators we have now.)

Each Senator had to abide by a few guidelines.  They had to be over 30,  been a US citizen for at least 9 years.  This was important because when the nation first started, there were no technical “naturally born” US Citizens as the country hadn’t existed at the time.  Now, it allows for immigrants to be a part of their new country’s government.  

Term limits were given at 6 years per term to provide them an ability to avoid being caught up in short term trends and fads on the political scene.  Starting during the first congress in 1789, they began a three class rota of elections (Class A would be elected the first 2 year election, Class B would be at 4 years, class C would be at 6 years, this making sure that every six years we didn’t end up with all our Senators running for re-election.

Section three also talks about the Senate leadership.  The House of Representatives chooses their own head, known as the Speaker of the House.  The Senate on the other hand does not, instead the Vice President (and Section 3 is the first to mention the post) is the lead officer.  There are various other leadership positions that are elected by their fellow senators but the Vice President presides over the Senate, only voting when there is a tie.

When it was originally written, the constitution supplied Senators by appointment rather then public elections. They were voted on by the state legislatures.  However in 1913, this was changed to public elections with the 17th Amendment, which we still hold. It also allowed for the Governor to have a election to fill the spot if there was a vacancy for some reason during a non election year.  Originally they could only fill the vacancy until the next meeting of the legislature who when then choose who would fill in.

The Senate also has the power to try all impeachments made by the House of Representatives.   I have decided that because it would take up a lot of space to do a separate post on Impeachment.  In summary however, the basic process is the House makes the charge, and then the Senate is the jury/judge.  

The Senate convened for the first time, according to their website, on March 4, 1789 in New York City’s Federal Hall. It had to wait till April 6 to complete business, as that required that half +1 of the elected were present.  (Currently that would be 51 people).  Their first act was to elect a doorkeeper, who kept the public out till the Senate was open for public viewing in 1790, and afterwards kept the galleries in order as well as make sure any shipment of Senate materials be kept in order as the Capital changed.

That position still exists, actually.  Currently it is held by Frank J. Larkin.  The position is elected by the Senate and serves as an officer of the law, protocol enforcement, and administrative managing.

Further Reading/Sources

The US Senate: Origins and Development (

Senators of the 114th Congress ( – You can find contact information for your senator here.  They have it available to filter by class, state or last name.

Office of the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper (or the dude who does everything but sit and vote) (

The Constitution (2007 Edition,

The Articles of Confederation (Yale Law School: Lillian Goldman Law Library)


Posted in history

Happy Canada Day

This is a week for National birthdays, apparently.  Today is Canada’s “birthday”.

Canada was originally a bunch of seperate colonies, but on July 1, 1867, the Consitiution Act/British North America Act united three of them into a single country within the British Empire.  It was called Dominion Day until 1982, when it was officially renamed Canada Day.

The three colonies joined together were Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Providence of Canada.  The Providece of Canada was then divided up into more providences (Ontario and Quebec). Since then the country has changed both in shape of the providence (there are now 10), and their governmental relations with the British Empire (They still are under the Queen, but the UK parliment has no say in their government anymore)

The actual day as a holiday was not started until 1879, but only as a day for local communities to celebrate.  Official celebrations started in 1958, although not popularized till the 1980s.  It is held on July 1, unless it is a sunday then the legal holiday will be held the following Monday.

So here’s wishing all my Canadian friends a happy Canada Day.   Thank you for being a good neighbor.

Canadian Flag
National Flag of Canada (of sorts)
Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Amendements: The Unratifieds

There are several amendments that have not passed congress.  There are amendments that passed but failed to ratify before their time was up.  And there is even one or two that are still floating around timeless from the 1700s.

Since there are several of them, I’m going to put them under a read more due to length.

Continue reading “The Amendements: The Unratifieds”

Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics

The Amendments: Twenty-Seven

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.


This amendment is interesting.  It is the last amendment passed, yet it was one of the first suggested.  It was originally proposed in 1789.  That was 227 years ago.  It was only ratified in 1992, which was only 24 years ago.  James Madison proposed it, yet somehow it took (according to wiki) 202 years, 7 months, and 12 days to ratify.   Seven states ratified it by 1792 (almost half the states in the nation at that time).  However, the ratification process seemed to lag just behind the increase of states, requiring it to need more and more states.

There are currently only 4 states that have never ratified it.   Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania.  Not that they really need to – its already law.

It was a bit of a controversy when it finally became ratified, as Congress had never dealt with a 200 year old amendement.  Some wanted it reviewed for validity.  However the Supreme Court held that any amendment not given a ratification deadline can be ratified at any point.



Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics, Television shows

The Amendments: Twenty Six

This is a relatively easy amendment to talk about as it simply is that people, ages 18 years or older, are allowed to vote.


The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.


The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The amendments spend quite a few words on reminding us that we have the right to vote.  Previous amendments have added that it doesn’t matter what our race, gender, or ability to pay fees are, we have the right to vote if we are an American Citizen.  This Amendment adds that as long as an American citizen is of age (18), they have the right to vote.

This is important, because for many 18 year olds this year, their first opportunity will be to vote.  If you are 18 (or new to voting) and wondering how to register and/or vote, here are a few links to help you out:

Register to Vote (USA.Gov)

This website can help answer your questions (including about Absentee Ballots, which may be important if you are going to college away from your polling area and can’t get back to vote on election day).

The link takes you to their page on registering, but it also has many informative pages on voting and elections. 

This website allows you search and find out if you are registered to vote.  I tried it out and it sent me to my state’s services which told me I am registered (although apparently not to the party I thought I was.

The Voting Information Project 

This website is put together by a group of organizations including Google, and state governments to help gather information to help voters inform themselves on items they find on their ballots.

You can also google your state and voting information to find out information that specific to your states.   Remember that some states (like my own) have Voter ID laws and other such specifications on how you register and/or verify your vote.

The first step to changing the way your government does things is to participate in voting.  On average, only 60% of eligible voters actually participate during Presidential elections.  Its even less during midterm elections (about 40%) and even less than that when you are in between those two election years.  We can’t complain about not being heard when we don’t take advantage of what is already there to hear us.

Please register to vote and take advantage of your right to participate in your government.

And you can always listen to Martin Sheen:

Posted in American History, essay, history, Politics, Television shows

The Amendments: Twenty-Five

For those of you who watched  West Wing (or you are up on your amendments), you may know what the 25th amendment is set up to do.  Several episodes of the television series mentions the amendment.  For those of you aren’t aware, The Twenty-fifth amendment deals with Presidential succession.


In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.


Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.


Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.


Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.



Before this amendment was passed by Congress in 1965 (and ratified in 1967), the succession to president had been vague as far as the constitution went.  There were of course precedent since by this time 8 Presidents had died in office, and several times the Vice Presidency was vacant.

However, before this amendment it wasn’t known what the exact line was.  Article 1, Section II, Clause 6 specifies that the Vice President will recieve the duties, and if there isn’t a Vice President, then Congress had the duty of selecting an Acting President.

When William Henry Harrison became the first President to die in office, people debated if the Vice President was really a President, or just an Acting President.  John Tyler took the oath of office, making the “Tyler Precedent” for Vice Presidents becoming full fledged presidents upon assuming the powers of their predecessor.

The Twenty-Fifth amendment clarifies the line of secession, and what Congress can do should something happen.

Section One reiterates that should a President die, resign or be removed from office for some reason, the Vice President should assume the title and duties of the Presidency.  This was also stated in the 12th amendment

Section Two clarifies that should a vacancy appear in the Vice Presidency, the President must present Congress with a nomination for them to confirm.

Section Three and Four  get a little more involved.  The example in the West Wing is that Jed Bartlet’s daughter had recently been kidnapped.  Reasonably, Jed was overwealmed and decided he could not be a worried father and a President at the same time right then and drafted a notice to Congress that he felt unfit to uphold his duties.

However, right before this event they had been without a Vice President for awhile as Bartlet’s first Vice President had resigned after a sex-scandal.  Thus the job went to the Speaker of the House, Glenn Walken.

Basically this section of the amendment lists what should happen if over the course of the Presidents term he feels he can not hold up his job.  It could be something like Bartlet’s emotional tormirl or perhaps a serious surgery that might keep him out of work for an extended time period.  If this happens, the President can write in to Congress and temporary the Vice President will assume the role of Acting President till it is determined that the President can resume, by either writing another note to Congress.

The Vice President and the President’s senior officers can also write to congress and claim he is unfit for duty.  At this point the Vice President would become Acting President.  The President could refute this and Congress would then have a month or so to review and make a decision on whether the President really is ready to resume his duties.

Other sources:

Article 1, Section II, Clause 6 (WIKI)

Presidential Sucession Acts (WIKI)

Presidential Sucession Act of 1941 (Senate)