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Almost 12,000 amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been proposed since it first came into force in 1789, but only 27 have been ratified. John Yoo, Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, helps break them down in a new PragerU video.
Yoo described the first 10 as “the most famous amendments,” known as the Bill of Rights, ratified by the 1st Congress in 1791. These amendments restrain the federal government’s power and, among other things, guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, freedom from unwarranted search and seizures, and the right to a speedy and public trial.
Another batch of major constitutional reforms would come after the Civil War: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments would be passed by a Republican-controlled Congress between 1865 and 1870 and are collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments. The 13th Amendment formally abolished slavery, while the 14th Amendment extended citizenship to former slaves and all other people born on American soil and extended equal protection under the law to all people. The 15th Amendment gave former slaves the right to vote and made it unconstitutional to deny citizens the franchise “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”
Beyond these generally accepted historical groupings, Yoo further subcategorized the others under three broad umbrellas: “Those that expanded the franchise, those that extended the federal government’s power, and those that fixed issues relating to the office of the presidency.”
Yoo groups the 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th Amendments together as expansions of the franchise. The 16th and 18th Amendments gave the federal government expansive new powers, and the 20th, 22nd, and 25th Amendments made various revisions to the election and removal of the president.
Apart from a handful of areas that have been subject to repeated revisions, much of the American Constitution remains in its original form.
“The Constitution has proven to be remarkably durable,” Yoo concluded. “Just as the framers intended.”