Happy birthday, 20th and 24th Amendments

A poll tax receipt from Louisiana. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout 2012, we’ll be celebrating the 225th anniversary of the Constitution. But the Constitution drafted and signed in 1787 was just the beginning–since then, we, the people have amended the Constitution 27 times.

Today we celebrate the ratification of not one, but two constitutional amendments: the 20th Amendment (ratified Jan. 23, 1933) and the 24th Amendment (ratified Jan. 23, 1964). Here’s what you need to know.

The 20th Amendment

What it did

It reduced by several months the time between the election and inauguration of the president and vice president, and clarified who should act as president if the president-elect dies or hasn’t been chosen yet.

Why it was added

Originally the president and vice president were not inaugurated until Mar. 4. This gap in time allowed the president-elect to get his affairs in order and make the sometimes burdensome cross-country journey to the capital. Later, as transportation and technology advanced, this gap proved to be burdensome on government efficacy, with the so-called “lame duck” presidency and Congress languishing in the lengthy interim.

Word-for-word

Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

Section 2. The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

Section 3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

Section 4. The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.

Section 5. Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.

Section 6. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.

The 24th Amendment

What it did

It prohibited the use of poll taxes in federal elections.

Why it was added

Following Reconstruction, poll taxes were used throughout the South to attempt to prevent African Americans from voting.

Word-for-word

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

For the full text of the Constitution, visit the Interactive Constitution here.

Holly Munson is Assistant Editor of Constitution Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center.

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