Where did the ideas for changes to the Constitution come from? What kinds of changes were suggested?

Ideas for changes to the Constitution came from delegates, states, and, later on, members of Congress. Ideas can also come from activists and politically conscious citizens.

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Ideas for changes to the Constitution initially came from the delegates and the states. During the spring of 1787, an educated, relatively affluent and privileged group of white men (i.e., the delegates) gathered together in Philadelphia so that they could create a framework for their government. The ideas that were put forward and implemented include the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) and counting slaves as three-fifths of a person in the context of representation and taxation.

For the Constitution to become the law of the land, nine of the thirteen original states had to approve (ratify) it. This is where the power of states to suggest changes comes into play. Massachusetts, for instance, did not initially endorse the Constitution. They were upset that the Constitution did not cover issues like freedom of speech, freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice, and certain press freedoms. To mollify Massachusetts, the delegates agreed to introduce applicable amendments shortly after its ratification.

In 1789, James Madison, now a member of the House of Representatives, suggested changes to the Constitution that dealt with the issues concerning Massachusetts. In 1791, ten of his proposed changes (amendments) were ratified.

Now, changes to the Constitution continue to come from the House of Representatives. In 1971, the House passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which would make it unconstitutional to treat someone unequally or to take away their rights because of their sex.

The original amendment was not written by a member of Congress, but by an activist named Alice Paul. Paul demonstrates that changes to the Constitution can also come from politically involved citizens.

Of course, ideas for changing the Constitution and actually ratifying those ideas are two separate matters. Three-fourths of the states must approve of any change before it can be officially added to the Constitution. Almost fifty years later, three-fourths of the states have still not approved the Equal Rights Amendment.

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