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

Ideas for changes to the Constitution came from the Virginia Declaration of Rights as well as the Magna Carta, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, and John Locke's Enlightenment writings about natural rights. The changes suggested were meant to safeguard individual liberties, such as freedom of speech and assembly.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The United States was, in many ways, unprecedented: prior to its creation, democracy on such a scale was seen as untried and unproven. The Framers of the Constitution were aware of the challenges they were facing—in fact, it should be noted that the first attempt at forming a governing structure...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

The United States was, in many ways, unprecedented: prior to its creation, democracy on such a scale was seen as untried and unproven. The Framers of the Constitution were aware of the challenges they were facing—in fact, it should be noted that the first attempt at forming a governing structure for the United States, as represented by the Articles of Confederation, had actually proved unsatisfactory; it was abandoned in favor of the Constitution.

The first ten amendments were added in the context of the Federalist Debates, which were waged over the ratification of the US Constitution. Among the charges levied by the anti-Federalists was that too much power had been concentrated in the federal government and that the Constitution furthermore lacked a Bill of Rights (which would serve as a guarantor of civil liberties). Thus, the first ten amendments served to correct this oversight, drawing from American influences, such as the Virginia Declaration of Rights, as well as older European examples, such as the English Bill of Rights.

Additionally, the ideas and protections that can be found in the Bill of Rights should be understood as reflecting concerns from the Enlightenment Era about absolutism: to give one example, the First Amendment aims to prevent government censorship (both of free speech and the press) while also guaranteeing freedom of religion (thus preventing the rise of State Churches and the intertwining of religion and state power seen back in Europe).

As the country would continue to evolve over time, later amendments would reflect dramatic transformations and turning points. This can be seen in examples such as the Reconstruction Era amendments that followed the Civil War (ending slavery and granting citizenship and voting rights to African Americans), as well as the Progressive Era amendments of the early twentieth century, which saw the introduction of the income tax (sixteenth amendment), the direct election of senators (seventeenth amendment), and the success of the women's suffrage movement (nineteenth amendment).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Delegate George Mason led the battle for adding a Bill of Rights to the new Constitution and threatened to lead a coalition to block ratifying the Constitution if these were not included. Not surprisingly, the ideas for a Bill of Rights came from Mason's own "Virginia Declaration of Rights," as well as the Magna Carta and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. More generally, the idea of the individual rights of the common man lay in the Enlightenment thoughts of philosophers such as John Locke. These philosophers argued that God gave all men (though this was interpreted as white men at the time) "natural rights" to liberty that must not be violated. We have since expanded natural rights to include women and all races.

The changes suggested were meant to explicitly safeguard individual liberties. Mason and the other anti-Federalists feared a that strong federal government would replicate the abuses of the English monarchy and suppress individual freedoms. Changes proposed included stating that speech and the press would remain free and uncensored. People could assemble freely to petition the government about grievances.

The new government would also not be allowed to impose a religious faith on the people, as England had done by establishing the Church of England and discriminating against and persecuting those who did not join it. The new government would also permit due process, following set rules of procedure so that people accused of a crime would get a fair, open, and speedy trial. These and other freedoms, which you can read about in the Bill of Rights, reassured nervous founders that the new country would protect individuals from the state.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When the Constitution was being written, the men writing the document realized it might have to be altered in the future.  Since the document was written in a general format, the delegates realized that as time changed, it might be necessary to change the Constitution.  However, the delegates believed that it should be more difficult to change the Constitution than to change a law.  Thus, they required two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the state governments to agree to change it.

The ideas for making specific changes came from many places. One of the places where people looked for change was in the English Bill of Rights.  This document guaranteed the English citizens certain freedoms. Another area of change came from experiences the colonists had.  Several states were very concerned that certain freedoms that were being violated by the British while we were colonies of Britain were not specifically guaranteed in the Constitution. They demanded that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution to secure its ratification.  (These were the first ten amendments to the Constitution.) Other amendments came from various experiences once the Constitution was enacted.  When the Constitution was written, there were no political parties. The development of political parties created havoc in the Electoral College as candidates from different parties were elected as President and Vice President.  Thus, a change was needed.  The same statement could be made regarding Prohibition.  When people realized it wasn’t working, a change was needed. As times changed, people realized there had to be other changes made to adapt the Constitution to modern times. Giving women the right to vote is an example of this concept.  Therefore, there were many reasons why changes were made to the Constitution. There also were various factors that influenced the desire for these changes to the Constitution.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Article 5 of the Constitution provides two methods for amending the Constitution. The first method requires an amendment to be proposed in Congress and approved by 2/3 of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The second method requires 2/3 of state legislatures to apply for a Constitutional Convention where amendments may be proposed. In either instance, a proposed amendment is submitted to the states and must be ratified by 3/4 of the states in order to become effective.

While Article 5 governs the process, it does not limit the source of ideas for amendments. New amendments are generally the result of political pressure from established movements of interest groups, though political parties may also be the source for some amendments. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were initially developed by many of the same individuals who drafted the initial Constitution. This was done to make ratification of the Constitution easier to obtain. Women were granted the right to vote through an amendment that was largely the result of the Suffragette movement, which identified the right at issue and used political pressure and civil disobedience to persuade Congressmen to propose an amendment. By contrast, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were the result of the Republican Party seeking to consolidate changes that resulted from the surrender of the Confederacy. Ultimately, ideas for amendments can come from anywhere, but the process requires sustained political pressure on Congress, state legislatures, or both.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on