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President Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. Courtesy National Archives.
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ABH Travel Tip
If you've never been there, or it's been awhile since you've taken a trip to Washington, D.C., the nation's capitol is a treat for anyone interested in the USA and its history. From the spectacular museums of the Smithsonian, to the recent addition of the Holocaust museum and the Newseum, too, there's so much to see and do. One of the best new attractions is the World War II Memorial. It will make you wonder what took them so long and just why there was any controversy about adding this museum to the space between the Washington Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.
President Bush with Gulf War troops. Courtesy National Archives. Right: New York Stock Exchange in 1921 by Irving Underhill, Courtesy Library of Congress.
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1992 - Detail
May 7, 1992 - The 27th Amendment to the Constitution is passed two hundred and two years after its initial proposal. It bars the United States Congress from giving itself a midterm or retroactive pay raise. This amendment had been originally proposed by James Madison in 1789, as part of twelve amendments, of which ten would become the original Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791.
The Amendment's Beginning
It only took two hundred and two years, seven months, and ten days. What was the hurry? Why didn't it pass in the first place? Basically, what took so long? First off, the 27th amendment was part of twelve bills submitted to be in the original Bill of Rights on September 25, 1789, then submitted to the states for ratification. It stated that members of Congress could not raise their own salaries, that any salary increase could not take effect until the next Congress was seated.
"No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened," was its original reading.
The original Bill of Rights was not even the first time this issue had been raised, as three states proposed a similar amendment when ratifying the original Constitution in 1798; North Carolina, New York, and Virginia. So it should not have come as much surprise when James Madison, U.S. Representative from Virginia, proposed the amendment again on June 8, 1789. It passed for inclusion by the House in August, then in September by the U.S. Senate, made part of an original twelve articles of amendment for state consideration. It was listed as Amendment #2. Amendments #3-12 were ratified within fifteen months and became the Bill of Rights.
Why Didn't It Pass?
Good question. Six states immediately did so; Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Vermont, and Virginia. But there had been an ongoing argument in the state legislatures and federal legislatures whether the federal government should be paying for state representatives to the U.S. Congress. Some states did not like the idea of the U.S. Treasury and Congress deciding how much; others didn't like that Congress could decide how much they would pay themselves. Congress did not like that sometimes they didn't get paid. Thus the compensation argument continued even after the Twelve Amendments, the supposed original Bill of Rights, were sent to the states for ratification. Subsequent decades proved the point of the compensation argument. In 1873, Congress gave themselves a retroactive pay raise of 50%. But it would still take over one hundred years for the amendment to pass.
What Made It Come to Light Again in 1982?
Gregory Watson, a sophomore undergraduate student at the University of Texas and aide to a Texas State Senator, wrote a thesis, in 1982, proposing that Amendment #2 be passed. He got a C on the paper, but continued to propose it, writing legislatures of states that needed to address the issue. Surprisingly, states began to adopt it. Maine, on April 27, 1983, became the first new proponent. When Michigan ratified it on May 7, 1992, the amendment was technically passed. Controversy with the Kentucky ratification in 1792, actually made the Michigan passage one extra in the end. On May 18, 1992, the Archivist of the United States certified its passage. Four states still have not ratified the amendment as of November 16, 2016; Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania. Three of those states are original states to the Union; Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, and have been holding out for over two hundred and twenty-five years.
The Other Unpassed Amendment
It was known as the Congressional Apportionment Amendment, #1 of the twelve proposed Bill of Rights. It read ...
"After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons."
But the amendment did not get enough love to pass into law. It fell one state short of the three quarter number needed by the time the remainder of the Bill of Rights passed. Federalists urged its passage; anti-Federalists did not. As more states entered the Union, the Bill for Congressional Apportionment fell further and further behind. It is technically still on the books waiting for other states to join in. Currently, it would need twenty-seven more states to ratify it.
Photo above: Signing of the U.S. Constitution with George Washington presiding over the Philadelphia Convention. Painting by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, United States Capitol. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Photo below: Engraving of James Madison as President of the United States by David Edwin (Engraver) and Thomas Sully (Artist), circa 1809-1817. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: National Constitution Center; kids.law.com; straightdope.com; Wikipedia Commons.
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