Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.
On Monday, September 10, 1787, the Constitutional Convention was fixated on fractions.
After four months of debate and compromise, the delegates knew they were nearing a final document. With the end in sight, they turned their attention to the future. There were two central questions they needed to answer.
First, how would the nation throw the switch to shut down the old government and start up the new government? Getting one-half of the states to agree to be governed by the Constitution seemed a little light, but three-fourths seemed a little heavy. The delegates finally settled on two-thirds; the Constitution would become effective once it was ratified by 9 of the 13 states.
Second, how could the new government develop with the nation as both grew and changed? The delegates agreed to include a mechanism by which future statesmen could improve or correct the Constitution. Proposals to amend the Constitution can be made by both two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives, or two-thirds of the state legislatures can propose an amendment. No matter how the amendment is proposed, no amendment goes into effect until three-fourths of the states ratify it.
To date, the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times.