In 1787, a bunch of guys, some of whom were wearing powdered wigs, crowded into a building in Philadelphia during the hot summer months (none of whom were wearing antiperspirant/deodorant) to draft the U.S. Constitution, which still provides the basis for most of the laws in the United States. If you’ve ever taken a high school civics class, taken a U.S. citizenship test – or played a pub trivia game – you’ve probably been asked about amendments to the U.S. Constitution. I’ll be providing the exact wording of the first 11 amendments (which will be denoted in italics), others will be summarized.
1. Freedom of Speech (1791)
Peter Griffin exercises his First Amendment right to establish a church for purposes of worshiping Arthur “Fonz” Fonzarelli on Happy Days.
First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
2. Right To Bear Arms (1791)
Mayor Joe Quimby on The Simpsons realizes that some citizens of Springfield are exercising their Second Amendment rights…
Second Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
3. No Quartering of Soldiers (1791)
The Led Zeppelin song No Quarter does not have anything to do with the Third Amendment. But it does clearly state No Quarter!
Third Amendment: No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
4. No Unreasonable Searches (1791)
Even if you’re totally sure a guy is a creepy serial killer, you still better have a warrant if you’re going to search his house! Here is “Buffalo Bill” from The Silence of the Lambs.
Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
5. No Self-Incrimination, No Double Jeopardy (1791)
The Most Interesting Man In the World makes even the Constitution seem fascinating!
Fifth Amendment: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
6. Right to Speedy Trial (1791)
Trials by jury, such as illustrated in this scene in My Cousin Vinny, are covered under the Sixth Amendment.
Sixth Amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
7. Trial By Jury (1791)
This tenacious paper boy in Better Off Dead would have to go to small claims court!
Seventh Amendment: In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
8. No Cruel/Unusual Punishment, Excessive Bail (1791)
The Eighth Amdendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, such as the guillotine, which was a French favorite. In the U.S., the methods in which prisoners can be put to death include lethal injection, electrocution, lethal gas and firing squad. In New Hampshire, hanging (gallows) is a “backup” method allowed by prisoner’s choice.
Eighth Amendment: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
9. Protection of Non-Enumerated Rights (1791)
The wording of the Ninth Amendment may be confusing if you’re not a Constitutional scholar. Since 1965, the Ninth Amendment has been cited in over a thousand cases. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Griswold v. Connecticut. Which did NOT involve Clark and Ellen Griswold (pictured)! This case declared unconstitutional a Connecticut statute which made it a crime both for a married couple to use contraceptives and a physician to counsel their use. The concurring opinion of Justice Goldberg in Griswold cited the Ninth Amendment as support to declare the statute unconstitutional.
Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
10. State Rights
Each U.S. state has its own laws regarding the sale and distribution of liquor. In Virginia, liquor must be purchased in state-run “ABC stores,” though beer and wine can be sold in grocery stores. This is an example of a state’s individual right to make its own laws, as outlined by the Tenth Amendment.
Tenth Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
11. Sovereign Immunity (1791)
The entire basis of the Eleventh Amendment is a 1793 lawsuit filed by the state of South Carolina against the state of Georgia involving the payment for goods supplied to Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. I am not a Constitutional scholar, but if you want to read more about this Amendment, click here.
Eleventh Amendment: The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
12. Vice President of the United States (1804)
If we didn’t have the Twelfth Amendment, Hillary Clinton would be our vice president! The vice president used to be the “runner up” in the presidential election, now there are clear rules as to how the vice president is picked.
Twelfth Amendment: States that the vice president and president are elected together rather than making the election “runner up” vice president.
13. Prohibition of Slavery (1865)
Jamie Foxx as a slave in Django Unchained.
Thirteenth Amendment: 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
14. Citizenship Rights (1868)
In a Futurama episode, everyone becomes dumb except Fry. Here he is trying to teach them about U.S. presidents, which people applying for U.S. citizenship must also learn to pass a citizenship test.
Fourteenth Amendment: Details Equal Protection Clause, Due Process Clause, Citizenship Clause, and clauses dealing with the Confederacy and its officials.
15. Voter Suffrage (1870)
Up until the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, only white guys could share selfies on social media showing off their “I voted” stickers. Women would not gain the right to vote until 1920.
Fifteenth Amendment: Reserves citizens the suffrage rights regardless of their race, color, or previous slave status.
16. Income Tax (1913)
President Woodrow Wilson was in office when the amendment allowing for income taxes was ratified.
Sixteenth Amendment: Reserves the U.S. government the right to tax income.
17. Election of Senators (1913)
Lyndon Johnson, whom was a U.S senator representing Texas from 1949 to 1961, was one of six U.S. presidents who served as a senator before becoming U.S. president. The others were Warren Harding, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama. Before the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, senators were appointed by the state legislatures.
Seventeenth Amendment: Establishes popular voting as the process under which senators are elected.
18th Amendment – Prohibition (1919)
During Prohibition, people would go to the “speakeasy” to enjoy their illegal hooch.
Eighteenth Amendment: Denies the sale and consumption of alcohol.
19th Amendment – Women’s Suffrage (1920)
A woman attempting to petition the king about voting in 1914 is arrested by police near Buckingham Palace.
Nineteenth Amendment: Reserves women’s suffrage rights.
20. “Lame Duck” Amendment (1933)
Before the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment, U.S. presidents were inaugurated in March instead of January. Here’s a depiction of the inauguration of William Henry Harrison, whom was inaugurated March 4, 1841. He gave a lengthy inauguration speech in the cold, and died about a month later.
Twentieth Amendment: Also known as the “lame duck amendment,” establishes date of term starts for Congress (January 3) & the President (January 20).
21. – Repeal of Prohibition (1922)
What a glorious day this must have been! Prohibition was repealed December 5, 1933.
Twenty First Amendment: Details the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. State laws over alcohol are to remain.
22. Presidential Term Limits (1951)
Since the ratification of the Twenty-second Amendment in 1951, U.S. presidents are limited to no more than two terms. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms as U.S. president, but died in office in 1945.
Twenty-second Amendment: Limit the terms that an individual can be elected as president (at most two terms). Individuals who have served over two years of someone else’s term may not be elected more than once.
23. Electors for Washington D.C. (1961)
The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
Twenty-third Amendment – Reserves the right of citizens residing in the District of Columbia to vote for their own Electors for presidential elections.
24. No Poll Taxes (1964)
Payment of a poll tax was a prerequisite to the registration for voting in a number of states until 1966.
Twenty-fourth Amendment: Citizens cannot be denied the suffrage rights for not paying a poll tax or any other taxes.
25. Presidential Succession (1967)
If a U.S. president dies in office, the vice president becomes president. When Warren G. Harding died in office in 1923, his vice president Calvin Coolidge (seen above on the left) became president. Here he is being sworn by his father, whom was a notary public. Coolidge was one of two U.S. presidents whom were born in Vermont (the other was Chester A. Arthur).
Twenty-fifth Amendment: Establishes the procedures for a successor of a President.
26. Voting Age 18 (1971)
Support for the 26th Amendment gained a good deal of momentum during the Vietnam War.
Twenty-sixth Amendment: Reserves the right for citizens 18 and older to vote.
27. Congressional Salaries (1992)
Denies any laws that vary the salaries of Congress members until the beginning of the next terms of office for Representatives.