Where it Makes Changes
The [Amended] U. S. Constitution
What some of the changes look like in color
The "Amended Constitution" excerpt below is the first two sections of Article I of the Constitution with the amendments inserted where they would have been if they had been included in the original Constitution. When you read the words in black and red type, you are reading the original 1787 Constitution. However, when you read the words in black and blue type, you are reading the Constitution as it has been amended. It is this latter reading that is the basis of current interpretation of the Constitution by Congress and the federal courts. The words in purple were added by an amendment, but then superseded by a later one. What can be learned from reading this short excerpt?
What can be learned from reading this short excerpt of Article I? The first section addresses the most basic question of any government: who shall govern? In twenty-eight words, legislative authority for the federal government is vested in a bi-cameral (two house) Congress. The second section, in the original document establishes in 215 words, four criteria for membership in the House of Representatives: they shall be chosen every two years, be at least 25 years of age, seven years a United States citizen, and an inhabitant of the state from which they were elected. None of these criteria has been altered. In the middle of this brief 87 words, was the criteria for those who are eligible to vote: “the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature”: which means that it was the states' that were to set the rules for how their Congressional representatives should be chosen.
But that was radically changed by six amendments beginning after the Civil War in which Congress began altering what had been states’ control of election procedures. It began immediately after the Civil War with amendments 13-15. The 13th, passed in 1865, prohibited slavery which eliminated the 3/5 clause, thereby reducing the South's numerical advantage in the House of Representatives and reducing the Southern advantage in the electoral college which chose the President. The 15th amendment prohibited the states from using "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" as a means of excluding the right of citizens of any state to vote in federal elections. The 19th Amendment, adopted in 1920, prohibited the states from denying the right to vote based on sex. The 24th Amendment, in 1964, prohibited states from enforcing poll tax laws, which were used to deny the right to vote in some states. The 26th Amendment, in 1971, further prohibited states from denying the right to vote to anyone 18 years of age or older.
The 13th Amendment, as the colorized text clearly indicates, was actually a reworking of Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, of the original Constitution. By looking closely at the colors, it can be seen that the changes intended to make it very clear that slavery was now illegal; however, the amendment was really not needed to accomplish the intended effect. With the elimination of slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union victory, the euphemistic phrase "all other persons" (i.e.: slaves) in Section 2, clause 3, became defunct and thus the "other persons" were now included in the first part of the clause among “the whole number of free persons in each State." Ironically, these Civil War amendments began the progressive nationalizing of voting rights at the expense of States' control of their own voting constituencies. As the Supreme Court decision in the 2000 election reminds us, however, states still control how voters are certified as well as how ballots are prepared and counted.
The purpose of the 14th Amendment was to impose a dual federal/state citizenship to impose compliance on the southern states that still refused to grant political or civil rights to their recently emancipated slaves. Thus while this second of the Reconstruction era amendments promised federal protection of due process and equal protection of laws, it added a penalty for continued non-compliance, namely proportionate reduction in white representation in Congress and the Electoral College for each eligible black not permitted to vote by the states in which they resided.
Thus Amendments 13, 14, 15, 19, 24, and 26 which span more than a century, from 1865-1971, radically shifted the determination of who should be eligible to vote from state to federal control. As the colorized version makes clear, these six Amendments, which now make up nearly two-thirds of the revised Article I, Section 2, have profoundly altered the plan of the original document and the way that we determine who shall govern.
We may agree or disagree with the Amendments, the ostensible goals of their authors, and even the historical benefits or consequences of their results. But whether the subsequent use and interpretations were foreseen, desirable, or mistaken attempts to contend with ephemeral issues, they are still part of the Constitution as it is interpreted, whether they are imbedded within the original document (as here) or appended at the end. This excerpt provides an illustration of how we can perhaps contemplate the elusive original meaning of the document, and also evaluate the contextual place of its amended meaning as well. It is a learning tool that should encourage reconsideration of how we interpret it and evaluate it for our generation.