Proposition One


the Article of Change

[Second of three papers by
Joseph Vigorito]

Article V spells out the procedure for amending the Constitution. Amendment was designed to be difficult. The founding fathers, believing that the Constitution should not be subject to whims of popular beliefs, designed a system that has withstood the test of time. Were it not for this "difficulty," simple majorities might have run roughshod over protected freedoms and rights.

Text of Article V

History of Article V

Article V is the point where social change meets legal procedure to form law, and thereby implement that social change. Some of the most fundamental changes in American history have vented through this Article.

Issues such as the right of a woman to vote and the right not to be enslaved are changes so basic and all-encompassing that only an amendment to the basic law of the land would suffice. Indeed, it is the Article of change.

One of the most interesting stories of this Article is that of the 21st Amendment which, ratified on December 5, 1933, repealed the 18th (Prohibition) Amendment of 1919. Much of the mandate for FDR's New Deal came from voters empowered by this, the first successful initiative to amend the Constitution. In the process, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democrats swept into the Presidency.

On December 5, 1932, the 76th Congress reconvened for the first time after the November 1932 general election. The gallery was raucus. The speaker had to suspend argument a number of times throughout the day to quiet what was more atune to a party than a legislative session.

There was a sense of urgency in the House that day. Years before the Republican party had created the 18th Amendment, which made alcohol illegal. In 1932 the people in all the states with initiative procedures had placed on their ballots a measure to repeal the 18th Amendment. The Republicans, President Hoover's party, in their platform had held their position to keep Prohibition.

Immediately after the opening prayer, under a "motion to suspend the rules of the House," with no committee hearings and limiting all debate to 20 minutes for the "wets," 20 minutes for the "dries," they voted 287-117 for the 21st Amendment. Within a matter of days a House/Senate joint resolution was passed to order the Constitutional Convention in the states to begin.

Thirty-six million people voted on the initiative. Twenty-six million voted to overturn the 18th Amendment. As the Democratic platform endorsed the 21st Amendment (repeal), half of the House and almost a third of the Senate was turned out of office around the issue. The President was soundly defeated.

The 21st Amendment was the only amendment to the Constitution which was ratified by convention.