Article 5 of the Constitution Summary

Article 5 of the Constitution Summary
Article 5 of the US Constitution Explains the Amendment Process

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Article 5 of the Constitution
“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

Article 5 of the Constitution summarizes how the United States Constitution can be changed or amended from its original wording.

The Constitutional Amendment Process Was Built Into the Constitution

A way to change the Constitution was needed because the writers of the Constitution knew that they had not created a finished document. It was important to allow for further changes.

Stencil of President James Madison
James Madison is often called the ‘Father of the Constitution.’

Several important constitutional amendments needed to be passed right away for the Constitution to get ratified, as some states vowed not to ratify the Constitution without these amendments.

Article 5 of the United States Constitution explains the Amendment Process.

These first amendments – ten in all – are collectively called the Bill of Rights.

Writers of the Constitution Allowed Change in the Future

Why did the framers of the Constitution include the amendment process?

Knowing that the country would change over time, the framers wanted the Constitution to change with the country’s times and needs.

To enable these changes, they wrote an amendment process into the Constitution. This amendment process is described in Article 5 of the Constitution.

Image of the original Article 5
Photo of the original constitution showing Article 5.

Under the procedures specified in Article 5, the United States Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times.

The Bill of Rights and the 27th Amendment

The first ten were adopted in 1791 as the Bill of Rights. The other seventeen amendments were adopted between 1795 and 1992.

The 27th Amendment prohibits Congress from changing its salary compensation until after the mid-term election.

The Amendment Process

There are two ways to amend the Constitution. The first method is that an amendment can be proposed when two-thirds of both Houses deem it necessary, and it is sent to the state legislatures for approval.

US Capitol Building
Two-thirds of Congress must deem a proposal necessary for it to be sent to state legislatures for approval.

The second method is for a state or states to call for a constitutional convention

Both Houses need to approve these proposals in Congress.

How many states must ratify an amendment?

In either case, an amendment proposal must pass in both the House and Senate by a two-thirds majority and then be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures (this would currently require ratification by 38 states).

New Hampshire state legislature
Three-quarters of state legislatures must ratify a proposed constitutional amendment for it to become law.

Ratification is the process by which the states approve an amendment or a constitution to become law.

The 3rd and 4th Ways To Amend the Constitution.

However, looking deeper, there are four ways to propose amendments to the US Constitution. Here are the four ways the Constitution can be amended:

  1. A proposal by Congress with ratification by state legislatures.
  2. A proposal by a convention of states with ratification by state conventions.
  3. A proposal by a convention of states with ratification by state legislatures.
  4. A proposal by Congress with ratification by state conventions.

The first is the method used for all but one of the amendments.

The fourth method was used for the 21st Amendment (which repealed the 18th Amendment, ending Prohibition).

Crate of bottles
Prohibition was introduced by the 18th Amendment and ended by the 21st Amendment.

Methods two and three have never been used to pass a constitutional amendment.

Another version of method three is that the states can call on Congress to convene a constitutional convention.

Usually, a time limit is imposed in the amendment’s writing (typically seven years) so that the process will not be dragged out indefinitely.

If the time limit expires before the required three-fourths majority ratifies the amendment, the amendment fails to become law.

The Difficult Process of Amending the Constitution

The four methods to amend the Constitution are tedious and challenging to achieve. The requirement to work through both houses of Congress and the state governments’ legislatures is a significant obstacle to overcome.

A considerable number of legislators in each legislature need to agree on the need for and wording of the proposed constitutional amendment.

Hammer and gavel
Passing a Constitutional Amendment is a mammoth task.

A two-thirds majority must be reached in the federal government legislature in both the House and Senate, and at least three-quarters of the states must ratify it. Otherwise, the proposed amendment will be defeated.

There are numerous places in this adoption process where it can go awry. For an amendment to succeed in being adopted, there must be a high degree of bipartisan cooperation.

Maintaining the Stability of the Federal Government

Why did the framers make changing the Constitution so difficult in Article 5?

One reason was that the framers needed to lock in the political deals made to get the Constitution ratified. Several states said they would not vote in favor of the Constitution if certain rights were not guaranteed.

Even as the Constitution’s merits were being debated in the state legislatures, the framers worked on the first twelve amendments to be adopted immediately.

Two of those amendments were rejected, but ten were ratified (the Bill of Rights) soon after the Constitution was adopted. As a result, Article V was created to allow amendments to be adopted to the Constitution.

Article 5 was visionary.

The more important reason for making the amendment process difficult was a more visionary idea. The framers, like James Madison and Founding Father George Washington, felt duty-bound to make changing the Constitution a lengthy and difficult process in order to help maintain the stability of the nation’s laws.

Sculpture of George Washington at Mount Rushmore
Founding Fathers such as George Washington recognized the need to make amending the Constitution an arduous task to maintain the nation’s stability.

They did not want it to be possible for arbitrary changes to be made to the Constitution, yet if changes were needed, the difficulty would guarantee that the change was needed and well thought out.

Article 5 References Article 1, Section 9

Another safeguard to keep the nation’s ruling document stable is that Article V stipulates that no amendment may change the 1st and 4th clauses in the Ninth Section of Article 1.

Moreover, Article 5 says no amendment can deprive a state of its full representation in the United States Senate.

Article 5 also says that the US President has no role in any part of the formal amendment process.

Article 5, Part of a Well-Crafted Document

In Article 5, the US Constitution writers carefully crafted a document to ensure the new country’s strength and stability. As a result, the Constitution has helped maintain the United States federal government’s stability for well over 200 years.

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4 Responses

    1. No, we don’t. That’s what people say who do not understand government accounting.

      Remember President Bush? Set us up with a 3 trillion dollar debt for two wars, and we just managed to lose the earlier one in 2001. 3 trillion dollars, didn’t hear you bitching about that.

  1. Article 5 .. a number of States can call a Convention of States and amend the Constitution. Like, when Comey says using a hammer on disk drives .. no one would prosecute?? We need to reign in DC’s power and return it to the States. FDR needed the Senior Vote so Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid from LBJ kept them in office even after JFK shot in Dallas.
    So, we have a federal police force. They are called Marshals and they are Constitutional. End DEA, FBI, and all the agencies in DC. Our States are nations unto themselves and can pass any law that is Constitutional. Ergo, things like Prohibition and Drug laws only enrich the sellers and destroy our youth for $$$.

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