ArtV.1 Article V: Historical Background

Article V:

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.

In the Convention, much controversy surrounded the issue of the process by which the document then being drawn should be amended. At first, it was voted that provision ought to be made for the amendment [of the Constitution] whensoever it shall seem necessary without the agency of Congress being at all involved.1 Acting upon this instruction, the Committee on Detail submitted a section providing that upon the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states Congress was to call a convention for purpose of amending the Constitution.2 Adopted,3 the section was soon reconsidered on the motion of Framers of quite different points of view. Some worried that the provision would allow two-thirds of the states to subvert the others,4 and some thought that Congress would be the first to perceive the need for amendment and that to leave the matter to the discretion of the states would mean that no alterations but those increasing the powers of the states would ever be proposed.5 Madison's proposal was adopted, empowering Congress to propose amendments either on its own initiative or upon application by the legislatures of two-thirds of the states.6 When this provision came back from the Committee on Style, however, Gouverneur Morris and Gerry succeeded in inserting the language providing for a convention upon the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states.7

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-11 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 22, 202–03, 237 (Max Farrand ed., 1937); 2 id. at 85.
  2.  Jump to essay-2Id. at 188.
  3.  Jump to essay-3Id. at 467–68.
  4.  Jump to essay-4Id. at 557–58 (Gerry).
  5.  Jump to essay-5Id. at 558 (Hamilton).
  6.  Jump to essay-6Id. at 559.
  7.  Jump to essay-7Id. at 629–30. Mr. Madison did not see why Congress would not be as much bound to propose amendments applied for by two-thirds of the state as to call a Convention on the like application. He saw no objection however against providing for a Convention for the purpose of amendments, except only that difficulties might arise as to the form, the quorum etc. which in Constitutional regulations ought to be as much as possible avoided.