Signed in convention September 17, 1787. Ratified June 21, 1788.
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.
Realizing that over time the nation may want to make changes to the Constitution, Article V establishes the amendment process. But unlike laws and regulations, which can be passed or amended by a simple majority of those voting in Congress, the Constitution is difficult to change. An amendment can be offered in one of two ways: when two-thirds of the Senate (67 of 100 senators) and two-thirds of the House of Representatives (290 of 435 representatives) call for a change to be made; or when two-thirds of the states (34 of 50 states) call for a national constitutional convention (a gathering of representatives of each state) to make a change.
Once the amendment is proposed, three-fourths of the state legislatures or state conventions (38 of 50 states) must vote to approve (ratify) the change. An amendment becomes effective when the necessary states have ratified it.
The article also forbids three specific amendments: that would deny a state its votes in the Senate, that before 1808 would enable Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves and that before 1808 would allow direct taxation except as based on the system of enumeration set out in Article I, Section 2. As a result, the three-fifths compromise contained in Article I, Section 9 remained in place until 1808 when Congress banned the international slave trade.
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One of the difficulties under the Articles of Confederation was that any amendments had to be approved unanimously by the states. That made change virtually impossible. Not a single amendment was ratified under the Articles. However, according to the Declaration of Independence, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish” a government that does not secure their rights. Through the amendment process, the Constitution made a bloody revolution less necessary because it made peaceful change possible. And without the promise that a bill of rights could be added under Article V, the states might not have ratified the Constitution at all.
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.