This post has gotten a lot of hits, I’m guessing from students researching the same topic. I hope that you find some useful ideas that you can use in writing your own paper. Just don’t try to copy and submit this work as your own — it’s in the system as my work, you’ll get a high similarity score, and you’ll get caught.
The United States Constitution is the foundation of Federal law. Therefore, all Amendments to the Constitution alter the authority the Federal government has to act on certain subjects and in certain areas. This paper will examine four Amendments to the Constitution made between 1865 and 1967, and examine how they resulted in an expansion of Federal authority.
The Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 abolished slavery and authorized Congress to enforce abolition through legislation. President Abraham Lincoln had already presented the Emancipation Proclamation as an executive order, but did not want it perceived as only a wartime measure. The Thirteenth Amendment made it the law of the land.
As political structure, it is the second part of the Amendment, granting Congress the power to enforce through legislation that is most important. In 1857 the Supreme Court had ruled that Congress had no authority to regulate slavery. In giving Congress that power, this Amendment allowed them to take additional action against the 10 Confederate States already in rebellion at the time, and paved the way for the introduction and passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments which further expanded the rights of freed slaves (Guminski, A. 2009).
Social structures showed that full civil rights were still a long way off. The law and public opinion are not always in alignment. While by law freed slaves and their descendants were citizens and had the same rights as whites, there were still treated differently. Segregation became institutionalized, under “Jim Crow” laws. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century brought violence against African Americans. “Separate but Equal” was the norm until the civil right movement.
Economic structures naturally changed. Without slave labor, the way agricultural business ran had to be changed, and profit margins sank until the market compensated. Wages were poor, but African Americans were free to set up their own businesses, and to travel to other regions to find work.
The Sixteenth Amendment in 1913 authorized unapportioned Federal taxes on income. This means that the Federal government got to keep the taxes levied, rather than distributing them out to the states as presented in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution.
In terms of political structures, this once again was a response to a Supreme Court ruling stating specifically that the Federal government did not have authority in a particular area. (Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. 157 U. S. 429, 1895). The amendment granted that power. The Internal Revenue Service, which originated in 1861, doubled its staff following the ratification of the Amendment, and has continued to grow in size and power ever since.
Social structures changed as people sought ways to avoid paying taxes. They changed their spending habits, and begin seeking ways to shelter their money. Movements arose to question how the government was spending the money, and to question the need for an ongoing income tax. At the same time, Federal tax money goes to education, public works projects, and social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The improvement in quality of life for many citizens reflects would not be possible without the Sixteenth Amendment.
Economic structures changed as banking laws were introduced, allowing people to legally shelter their money in retirement accounts, medical savings accounts, and government bonds. Large corporations began sheltering their money offshore in foreign banks, and lobbying to be exempt from taxes for various reasons.
The Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 prohibited the manufacturing, importing, and exporting of alcoholic beverages. It was later repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933.
There are many possible examples of the Federal government assuming the power to restrict trade. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assures the quality of food and pharmaceuticals, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works to insure clean air and waters by restricting the use of toxic material in manufacturing processes, and the Drug Enforcement Agency restricts trafficking of illegal narcotics. The Eighteenth amendment in many ways laid the groundwork for them all, providing a template for increasing law enforcement, investigating, and prosecuting violators of the law (Hamm, R. F. 1995).
Social structures changed to work around the law. The demand for liquor continued, and was filled by a black market. This led to an increase in organize crime, who manufactured or imported liquor, and provided places where people could gather to consume the illegal alcohol. Prohibition, and peoples’ feelings toward it, was the subject of books, radio shows, and popular music.
As for economic structures, two things happened. First, breweries and distilleries either went out of business or shifted into something else. Anheuser-Busch, for example sold yeast, malt extract, ice cream, and non-alcoholic malt beverages, which were not as profitable but allowed the company to survive (Rhodes, C. P. 1995). Second, an underground economy sprang into existence, flowing through the black market liquor business. Gangster Al Capone, as depicted in popular culture, was convicted not of racketing and bootlegging but for tax evasion by not reporting and paying taxes on his Prohibition-fueled income.
The Twentieth and Twenty-Fifth Amendments
These two Amendments, in 1933 and 1967, each changed the terms of presidential succession. Among other things, such as the date and time a newly elected President takes office, the Twentieth Amendment grants the House of Representatives the power to select the President in the event of death, when no line of succession is clear. It also grants the Senate the power to appoint the Vice President under the same circumstances. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment provides Congress with the power to decide to permanently remove the President from office, should he become disabled and unable to perform his duties, and declare the Vice President to be not just the acting President pro tempore but officially the President.
The political ramifications of this are not so much applicable to overall Federal power, but to the power of separate political parties. If the President is the minority party, and the House majority is controlled by the opposing party, this could grant that party a great deal of power contrary to the will of the voters.
The impact on social and economic structures remains largely hypothetical. It would depend on the party makeup of Congress, the issues at stake, and how the American people and America’s allies and enemies felt about the situation. Legislation that would have been vetoed gets passed, and vice-versa. The only example that we have is from after the civil rights movement, during the Richard M. Nixon administration. In 1973 Vice President Spirow Agnew resigned and Representative Gerald Ford, then Speaker of the House, was installed as Vice President. In 1974, Nixon resigned and Ford became President (Cannon, J. 2006). At the time, the Republicans held the majority in Congress. What if the Democrats had held the House instead? Within a year, the Presidency would have been held by a party other than the one the majority had voted for. This could lead to civil unrest, a lack of confidence from our economic trade partners, and other consequences.
The issue with these Amendments, for all their good intentions to insure the continuity of government, lies in their potential to give position and thus power to those not elected to hold it.
- Guminski, A. (2009) The Constitutional Rights, Privileges, and Immunities of the American People, 241
- Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. 157 U. S. 429 (1895) Retrieved from http://supreme.justia.com/us/157/429/case.html
- Hamm, R. F. (1995) Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment: temperance reform, legal culture, and the polity, 1880-1920. UNC Press Books. 228.
- Rhodes, C. P. (1995) The Encyclopedia of Beer, 49-53. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
- Cannon, J. (2006) Gerald R. Ford. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/character/essays/ford.html