Note: This article is the first of a series of educational articles that will present civic and political topics that may be of interest to our readers. This first article is the story of how one man changed the United States Constitution.
Most of you I’m sure have not heard the name Gregory Watson. Therefore let’s meet the man who changed the United States Constitution.
In 1982 Gregory Watson was taking classes at the University of Texas, and was researching proposed constitutional amendments that have never received the approval of three-quarters of the states in order to become ratified. He discovered a proposed amendment that was one of the original 12 which together were called the Bill of Rights. Ten of these were eventually ratified and became the first ten Amendments to our Constitution….this one had only been approved by nine states, and only three since 1800. Its author was Congressman James Madison, who later become our country’s fourth President.
Gregory Watson wrote a paper discussing the virtues of the proposed amendment and why it was still viable in 1982. His paper received a grade of C-, with a note from the instructor that an amendment that was proposed almost two hundred years ago could not pass, and that his arguments were not convincing.
After receiving that grade Gregory Watson set to work. He contacted state legislators around the country championing the proposed amendment. A magazine that is sent to state legislators picked up his crusade and interviewed him. In the next two years Maine and Colorado voted for the proposed amendment; from 1985-1988 it was approved by 11 more states, then an additional 7 in 1989.
Finally, in 1992 the State of New Jersey was all set to become the 38th state to ratify the proposed amendment. However, Michigan gave its approval just a few hours before the New Jersey legislators met and they became the 38th state.
As it turned out, Michigan did not hold that title long. Research discovered that the state of Kentucky in 1792 had passed all 12 of the proposed amendments in the original Bill of Rights package, thus moving Michigan to state number 39….Missouri, whose state legislature approved the proposed amendment just two days before Michigan, was now credited as the 38th state.
So, mainly through the efforts of one man, the United States Constitution was amended for the 27th time (and last to date). The text of the Amendment was simple:
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
James Madison felt that Congress should not have the power to vote itself an immediate increase in pay, and that a vote of the people should take place before such a raise became effective. It took over 202 years to ratify this Amendment (easily the longest ratification period for any Constitutional Amendment), but it is now law, thanks mostly to Gregory Watson.
So, the next time you are asked if one person can make a difference, remember Gregory Watson, the man who almost single handedly amended the United States Constitution.
Note: Gregory Watson has served as a staff member to various members of the Texas Legislature since 1982, and is currently on the staff of a State Representative from Harris County