In honor of the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, the National Archives has opened the Amending America exhibit in D.C. this week. With more than fifty never-before-seen documents, the exhibit should offer a unique window into how the amendment process has allowed the constitution to evolve over the years.
For those who missed that day of Civics class, National Archives' Specialist Christine Blackerby provides a refresher on how the constitution codifies its capacity for change. “What it says is that two-thirds of both houses of Congress have to pass a proposed amendment,” she explained during a preview of the exhibit. “Step two is that proposed amendment by Congress is sent out to the states and three-quarters of the states have to ratify it.”
This procedure, it turns out, makes it extremely difficult to alter the nation's founding document. Of the 11,000 attempts to amend the constitution, only 27 proposals have been ratified. Here's a look at some of the crazier ideas that, for better or worse, didn't make the cut.
Dueling Ban Amendment (1838)
Proposed after Rep. William Graves (Whig-Kentucky) killed another Congressman, Jonathan Cilley (D-Maine) in a duel, this failed amendment would prohibit any person involved in a duel from holding federal office. Though most would be agreeable to the idea today, this was actually quite controversial at the time, and was quickly shot down in Congress. Bonus fact: Before writing The Scarlett Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne would eulogize his lifelong friend Jonathan Cilley in two biographical sketches.
"United States of the Earth" Amendment (1893)
In 1893, a Wisconsin Congressman named Lucas Miller proposed an amendment to change our country's name to "The United States of the Earth." But Miller's proposal was far more ambitious than a simple rebranding—he actually wanted to create a borderless coalition of countries. "It is possible for the Republic to grow through the admission of new States into the Union," he suggested, "until every Nation on Earth has become part of it." Miller was not nominated for a second term.
Voters' Remorse Amendment (1916)
Back in 1916, as the United States geared up to join World War I, a group of Nebraskans collected signatures for a petition that would require a national referendum before Congress could declare war. According to the petition, all those who voted in favor of war would then be forced to enlist. Though the proposal to amend the constitution had broad support among petitioners, it was soon shut down by Congress.
No More Millionaires Amendment (1933)
During the Depression, several proposals were floated out with the intention of redistributing wealth and solving the budget deficit. The most famous of these came from Representative Wesley Lloyd of Washington, whose amendment would prohibit a single individual from accumulating more than $1 million.
Titles of Nobility Amendment (1810-pending)
One of the six amendments to have made it through Congress only to be struck down by the states, this amendment would strip citizenship from any US citizen who accepted a title of nobility from a foreign country. Some have speculated that the amendment was proposed in response to the marriage between Napoleon's brother and Baltimore-resident Betsy Patterson, who wanted aristocratic recognition for their child. There was no time limit set on the amendment's ratification, so it is technically still pending before the states.