REWRITING THE CONSTITUTION
The U.S. Constitution, drafted in 1787, was written to be amended. In the 1770s and 1780s, Americans framing state constitutions demanded that they be changeable, “to rectify the errors that will creep in through lapse of time, or alteration of situation,” as one town meeting put it. Without Article V, the provision for amendment, it is unlikely the Constitution would have been ratified. The amendability of the frame of government devised in Philadelphia in 1787 was the triumph of the convention. As Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson wrote, the fact that the people “may change their constitution and government whenever they please, is not a principle of discord, rancor, or war: it is a principle of melioration, contentment, and peace.” The framers did not anticipate judicial supremacy (or, rather, they designed a system they believed would avert it). Without amendment, they thought, there would be nothing but revolution: everlasting insurrection. The amendment provision is second only to the peaceful transfer of power in the signal contributions of American political history.
And yet, amendment became far more difficult than the framers ever intended. Of more than twelve thousand constitutional amendments proposed on the floor of Congress and many thousands more proposed by the public, only twenty-seven have ever been ratified. Since the late 1960s, chiefly due to widening political polarization, the Constitution has become effectively un-amendable. Like the peaceful transfer of power, a tradition that was nearly breached in 2020, with the outgoing president’s refusal to accept the results of a free and fair election, and again in 2021, with his supporters’ armed invasion of the U.S. Capitol, the ability to revise the Constitution lies in a state of profound jeopardy. The stakes are far greater than the durability of American democracy because a United States in the throes of a constitutional crisis has not and cannot in any substantial or sustainable way address the climate and extinction crises that risk the future of humanity and of life on earth itself.
The Amend Project aims to compile, classify, and analyze the text of every significant attempt to revise the U.S. Constitution, from 1787 to the present, to recover a lost tradition of constitutional tinkering and to rekindle Americans’ constitutional imagination.