Since the ratification of the Constitution, thousands of constitutional amendments have been proposed, but only 27 have survived the process of Article V. Out of these, the most well known are the first 10, also known as the Bill of Rights. Interestingly, 12 amendments were originally proposed, including one on congressional compensation. This proposal later became our 27th amendment, which celebrates its 20th anniversary today. This amendment boasts the longest ratification process of any amendment—200 years!
Under the Compensation Clause, Congress has the power to control its own salary. The Anti-Federalists and others at the state-ratifying conventions rightly objected to the danger of allowing this power. In response, James Madison proposed a compensation amendment stating that pay increases would apply only to the next Congress. It read: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”
This change allowed the voters to force Congress to justify their pay increases through an election. Both the House and Senate approved the proposal and sent it (along with 11 other proposed amendments) to the states. The states ratified only 10 of these, now known as the Bill of Rights, but the compensation amendment remained in limbo until the 1980s.
In the early 1980s, a Texas undergraduate student’s term paper renewed the ratification effort. Arguing that the amendment’s ratification was still pending, the student raised support across the country on the amendment’s behalf. At the beginning of his campaign, only seven states had ratified the amendment, but thanks to his efforts, Michigan became the final 38th state to ratify the amendment in 1992. Not only do his efforts illustrate how one citizen can make a difference in the political process, but it also ensures that Congress remains accountable to the people.
Joel Wellum is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/internships-young-leaders/the-heritage-foundation-internship-program