The U.S. Constitution: Amendments XI to XXVII and what they mean

This is the final in a series of essays about the U.S. Constitution.

A previous essay covered the Bill of Rights - the first 10 Amendments to our Constitution. This essay provides information about the remaining 17 Amendments. I have decided to group them.

Executive branch

The first grouping involves changes related to the Executive Branch.

For the first two presidential elections, George Washington was the unanimous choice of the electors. But the 1796 election resulted in a president (Adams) and vice president (Jefferson) from different parties. And in the 1800 election, the candidates were nominated on party tickets for the first time, but there was a tie involving the two Democratic-Republicans candidates (Jefferson and Burr). After the debacles of the third and fourth presidential elections, Congress decided to adopt a new process to elect the president and vice president in Amendment XII (1804).

Amendment XX (1933) covers the measures to take if the elected president dies or "fails to qualify" before taking office, and it reduced the "lame-duck" period, moving Inauguration Day from March 4 to Jan. 20.

Amendment XXII (1951) sets term limits for our president at two.

Amendment XXV (1967) involves the absence of the president because of illness, death or inability. The vice president will become acting president if the president is so ill or incapacitated (surgery) that the job cannot be performed. If the vice president and a majority of the president's Cabinet declares the president unable to fulfill the duties, the vice president will becomes acting president. If the president objects, both Houses of Congress, by a 2/3rds vote, can remove him/her.

Judicial branch

Amendment XI (1791) came about after John Jay's Supreme Court ruled in 1793 that a citizen could sue a state and the Supreme Court could hear the appeal. Many states were upset. Congress immediately wrote, passed, and asked for ratification for an amendment to declare states sovereign in lawsuit cases so federal courts could not hear those cases.

Congressional branch

In 1913, two amendments were ratified. Amendment XVI allowed Congress to tax incomes of Americans, and with Amendment XVII, senators were directly elected by voters instead of appointed by the state legislature.

The latest amendment to our Constitution (1971, Amendment XXVII) states that the Congress cannot give itself a raise unless it takes place after the next House election.

Reconstruction Amendments

The Reconstruction Amendments were adopted after the Civil War to guarantee the freedom of former slaves and grant them certain civil rights. In the late 19th century, Jim Crow laws and Supreme Court decisions began weakening the impact of these amendments until Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

These amendments have since been used as precedents for many other laws designed to protect civil rights.

Amendment XIII (1865) did away with slavery and involuntary servitude unless the service was included as punishment by a court.

In Amendment XIV (1868), the 3/5ths clause was revoked; all people born in our country were given due process and equal protection of the law. All citizens over the age of 21 could vote except for "Indians" who did not pay taxes. (Congress later passed a law in 1924 granting full U.S. citizenship to Indigenous peoples.)

Any person who swore an oath to the U.S. Constitution and then engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the U.S. government was not eligible for state or federal office unless both Houses of Congress, with a 2/3rds vote, individually removed the barrier.

No debt incurred by insurrectionists would be assumed by state or federal entities, and no one could claim the loss of their slaves.

The last Reconstruction Amendment (XV-1870) said "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any other State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."


Two amendments cover the sale of alcohol. The XVIII Amendment (1919) prohibited the manufacture, sale, import or export liquor. The amendment was repealed by Amendment XXI in 1933.

Bruce Simmons

Expanding the franchise

In 1920 women were given the right to vote in all federal and state elections in Amendment XIX. Some states had already given women the right to vote.

Amendment XXIII (1961) lets residents of the District of Columbia vote on electors for the Electoral College.

Amendment XXIV (1964) removes the poll tax from federal elections.

Amendment XXVI (1971) lowered the voting age to 18.

This is the final essay about the history and meaning of our Constitution.

When asked by a citizen what kind of government had been established by the document, Ben Franklin volunteered, "A Republic, if you can keep it."

All Americans can do that by voting.

• Bruce Simmons of Aurora is a former teacher with more than 25 years' experience teaching social studies and humanities. This is one in a series of essays describing the history and meaning of the U.S. Constitution.

The Framers: Delegates at the Constitutional Convention

Former social studies teacher explains the Constitution

Examining the Constitution: Compromise in Article I

The Constitution: Article I, Powers of the Congress

The Constitution: Article II — The Executive Branch, the presidency

The Constitution: Executive Branch responsibilities, powers

The Constitution Article I: Rules for the Legislative Branch

The U.S. Constitution: The Supreme Court and its powers

The U.S. Constitution Article IV: Congress created a set of rules for the states

The U.S. Constitution: Articles V, VI and VII — amendments, slavery, supremacy, ratification

The U.S. Constitution: Amendments 1 to 10: Meaning of the Bill of Rights

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.