The Bill of Rights
The most famous of the 27 amendments to the Constitution are the first ten, known as the Bill of Rights went into effect December 15, 1791. They protect God-given natural rights, such as freedom of religion, press, speech, and the right to assemble. They guarantee the right to bear arms, property rights, and the rights of the accused. Follow this link for a full summary of the Bill of Rights.
The amendments below were all proposed and later ratified after the initial Constitution (1787) and Bill of Rights (1791). The date after the amendment is the ratification date.
Amendment XI (February 7,1795) - This and the remainder of the amendments can be accessed from Archives.gov.
The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.
Explanation - A citizen cannot sue a state if he or she is not a resident of that state. It also prohibits citizens of foreign countries from suing the United States or any state.
Amendment XII (July 27, 1804)
Explanation - The twelfth amendment retains the electoral college and changes the process for electing the President and Vice President. According to the twelfth amendment, each electoral college voter must cast a distinct ballot for both president and vice president. The two may not live in the same state. If the electoral college vote does not produce a majority then the House of Representatives chooses a president. If the electoral college does not produce a majority vote for Vice President, the Senate chooses one.
Amendment XIII (December 6, 1865)
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Explanation - Slavery is not allowed.
Amendment XIV (July 9, 1868)
Explanation- The 14th amendment broadens the definition of citizenship to include former slaves. It prohibits states from denying United States citizens rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The fourteenth amendment prohibits Confederate officials from holding public office, repealable by a 2/3 vote in each house of Congress. The fourteenth amendment prohibits financial restitution to Confederate soldiers and slaveholders.
Amendment XV (February 3, 1870)
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Explanation: The fifteenth amendment makes it illegal to deny someone the right to vote based on race or color. It also prevents states from denying the right to vote to freed slaves.
Amendment XVI (February 3, 1913)
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
Explanation - Congress has the right to levy federal income taxes.
Amendment XVII (April 8, 1913)
Explanation - The seventeenth amendment changes the method of electing United States senators. Senators are no longer chosen by state legislatures; they are now elected by popular vote. The amendment also sets forth the process for replacing senators who cannot fulfil their term: the governor of the state will call for an election and may, with approval from the state legislature, appoint a temporary replacement.
Amendment XVIII (January 16, 1919) - Repealed December 5, 1933
Explanation - The eighteenth amendment bans the sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States.
Amendment XIX (August 18,1920)
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Explanation: Women cannot be denied the right to vote in federal or state elections.
Amendment XX (January 23,1933)
Explanation - After an election, the president of the United States will assume office on January 20; U.S. senators and representatives will assume office on January 3. Congress shall meet at least once per year.
Amendment XXI (December 5, 1933)
The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
Explanation - The sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States is no longer illegal.
Amendment XXII (February 27, 1951)
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.
Explanation - The twenty-second amendment limits the president of the United States to two terms. Those assuming office may be elected twice only if they serve in the capacity of president for less than two years as the replacement president.
Amendments 23 -27
Amendment XXIII (March 29, 1961)
The District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct.
Explanation - Washington D.C. is allotted the right to send electors to the electoral college for the election of the president of the United States according to the same rules that apply to individual states.
Amendment XXIV (January 23, 1964)
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
Explanation - The twenty-fourth amendment abolishes the poll tax, a tax paid for the right to vote.
Amendment XXV (February 10, 1967)
Explanation - The twenty-fifth amendment establishes the chain of authority if the president is unable to perform his duties.
Amendment XXVI (July 1, 1971)
The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.
Explanation - The twenty-sixth amendment lowers the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.
Amendment XXVII (May 7, 1992)
No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
Explanation - This amendment was actually proposed by the founding fathers in the Bill of Rights in 1789 but was not ratified until 1992! It ensures that congressional pay raises will not take effect until an election is held after the raise has been approved.
The founding fathers wrote the United States Constitution to govern human nature. They understood the natural inclination of rulers to want more power. As the federal government grows larger by the day, it’s imperative that citizens of the United States demand their elected officials return to the Constitution for guidance.
This post is part of the series: The United States Constitution Study Guide
The first step in holding elected officials accountable to the Constitution–we must learn what’s in it.
- Summary of the United States Constitution: Article I - The Legislative Branch
- Explanation of the United States Constitution: Article II, The Executive Branch
- Summary of Article 3 of the United States Constitution: The Judicial Branch
- Summary and Analysis of the United States Constitution: Articles IV-VII of the United States Constitution
- Summary of the 27 Amendments to the United States Constitution