List of 27 Amendments – What Protects the Rights of Americans

In today’s article, we are going to talk about the list of 27 amendments and explain each one and what it represents for the people of the United States. Twenty-five of these twenty-seven constitutional amendments are active to this day, and the eighteenth (prohibition) as well as twenty-first (repeal of prohibition) are no longer active in the constitution.

These amendments range from personal rights to procedural laws, and we will go through them all, as well as touch on their history and the impact they have had on the history of the United States. They are the ultimate symbol of the protection of the rights of Americans, thus, bear enormous significance, which is why every citizen should know and understand them. We are here to help with that, so let us begin without further delay.

1st Amendment

1st Amendment (1791)

“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.”

This amendment is widely known even for non-Americans as it famously protects freedom of speech. It represents five basic freedoms – freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the freedom to petition the government.

The reason this amendment is so important is that it ensures that all citizens are allowed to think, speak, and act without any fear. It is arguably one of the most important amendments but is, to this day, a center of political debates and many popular topics that question whether or not it is being violated.

The 2nd Amendment

The 2nd 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.”

The right to own firearms refers to the right of citizens to keep a loaded gun for self-defense. In modern times, it refers to the continued right to own firearms and protect property according to the law.

The exact words of this amendment created confusion in the past, as many were not clear on whether the Constitution’s farmers only had in mind the militia’s use of guns or whether any citizen had that right.

Due to this confusion, in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that US citizens have a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense, which cleared the confusion, and was seen as a win for those who believed the amendment referred to every individual’s right to bear arms.

The 3rd Amendment

The 3rd 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.”

By the rules of this amendment, the government is prohibited from forcing citizens to give lodging to soldiers in their homes without permission. The reason why this was important is that before the Revolutionary War, Americans had to provide food and accommodations to British soldiers as part of the 1765 Quartering Act.

According to the sources, the Third Amendment was the least prosecuted in the Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has never decided a case based on it.

The 4th Amendment

The 4th 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.”

This Amendment is also one of the very famous ones, even for non-Americans, as it prevents the government and police from searching or seizing the homes, belongings, or bodies of citizens without probable cause or a warrant. It is one of the most important amendments that protect the rights of US citizens.

The 5th Amendment

The 5th 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 offence 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.”

“The Fifth” provides all people accused of crimes different rights and protections, including the right to grand jury indictment for felony offenses in federal court, the restriction on double jeopardy, protection against forced self-incrimination, the guarantee of due process of law, and the prevention of the government taking private property for public use without proper compensation.

The 6th Amendment

The 6th 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 defense.”

The sixth is highly important as it guarantees people accused of a crime receive fair and accurate criminal proceedings. Even though criminal institutions in the United States have changed since 1791, and “speedy trials” would take a very long time in today’s court system, this amendment is a cornerstone for justice and criminal proceedings in America.

The 7th Amendment

The 7th 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, then according to the rules of the common law.”

This Amendment grants the right to a jury and trial for civil cases that are connected to property worth more than 20 USD. It is very important since criminal cases that end up on trial always have juries, but civil cases rarely do.

Jury trials for civil cases are essential as they are meant to protect against biased or corrupt judges.

The 8th Amendment

The 8th Amendment

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

The Eighth Amendment is there to prevent the federal government from imposing excessive bail or inflicting some cruel and unusual punishments on criminal defendants. Some argue that the death penalty is a violation of this amendment, but it is still legal in 24 states, while 3 states have a moratorium on the death penalty.

The 9th Amendment

The 9th Amendment

“The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

The Ninth is Amendment that basically clarifies that although the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution named certain rights, it does not mean that people do not have other rights that were specifically included in the Constitution.

The 10th Amendment

The 10th 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.”

This Amendment clarifies that any powers that are not specifically assigned to the federal government are left to each state or to the people. Essentially, this protects the people against the possibility of the national government assuming the powers that were not already assigned to it.

The 11th Amendment

The 11th 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.”

To put it in simple terms, this Amendment prevents federal courts from hearing lawsuits against the states. It is the notion that the right of the citizens to sue the state only applies to residents of the given state. In other words, New Yorkers cannot sue the State of New Mexico.

The 12th Amendment

The 12th Amendment

The exact quote of the 12th Amendment is a bit long, so we are going to skip them and try to summarize them. Essentially, this Amendment was passed by congress in 1803 and ratified in 1804. It changed the presidential election process and fixed several problems that came up due to the development of political parties and how that affected the electoral college.

This Amendment was passed in response to a tie vote in the 1800 election between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.

The 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment

Section 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.”

Section 2

“Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This amendment abolished slavery and superseded the part of the Constitution which set out that fugitive slaves be returned to their owners. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves from the Confederate states that had seceded, but the 13th Amendment was able to free all slaves throughout the country.

The 14th Amendment

The 14th Amendment

As everyone realized that the 13th Amendment did not go far enough, the 14th was a type of extension to it and was passed by Congress in 1866 and got ratified in 1868.

The Amendment is divided into five sections and includes defining citizenship rights, apportionment of representatives, denying public office to those who have participated in insurrection, invalidating Confederate debt, and giving the power to Congress to enforce the amendment.

Out of these five, the first is the most important since it grants former slaves citizenship in the United States and provides them with equal protection and due process.

The 15th Amendment

The 15th Amendment

Section 1

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Section 2

“The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This Amendment was passed by Congress in 1869 and was ratified in 1870. It basically guarantees the right to vote and guarantees that right cannot be denied in any way based on race.

However, despite this Amendment, discrimination continued in voting booths to prevent black Americans from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1956. Voter suppression remains a problem to this day, sadly.

The 16th Amendment

The 16th Amendment

“The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

The 16th Amendment grants Congress the power to collect income tax. It was with the promise that this would not be based on the state’s population. The Amendment was ratified on February 3, 1913.

The 17th Amendment

The 17th Amendment

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years, and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.”

The 17th was passed by Congress on May 13, 1912, and ratified on April 8, 1913. Essentially, it lays out the terms of electing senators. It gave the power to the people of the United States to choose their representatives and laid out the terms of office.

The 18th Amendment

18th Amendment (1919)

The 18th Amendment is widely known as the Prohibition Law and was divided into three sections. It prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors. This Amendment is a famous ban on alcohol which led to the Prohibition Era of bootleg and consumption. It was repealed by the 21st Amendment, which we will talk about later.

The 19th Amendment

The 19th Amendment

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This is another highly important Amendment in United States history, as it gave women the right to vote. Nowadays, women make a major difference in the elections and are running for office themselves, which further emphasizes the huge importance of this Amendment.

The 20th Amendment

The 20th Amendment

Divided into six sections, the 20th Amendment set the beginning and end of presidential terms and Congressional sessions. It also laid out the order of presidential succession, which was later altered by the 25th Amendment.

The 21st Amendment

The 21st Amendment

This amendment finally repealed Prohibition. It is divided into three sections, and it is the only Amendment that repeals a previous Amendment. Moreover, it is the only Amendment that was ratified by the state ratifying conventions as opposed to the legislatures of the states.

The 22nd Amendment

The 22nd Amendment

Section 1

“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President, when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.”

Section 2

“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 to the States by the Congress.”

This Amendment was passed in 1947 and ratified in 1951. It limits presidential terms to two. It passed like this mostly due to the fact that George Washington decided to retire after just two terms, and it ultimately set a precedent for the next 150 years of presidents in the United States.

The 23rd Amendment

The 23rd Amendment

Section 1

“The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct: A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State;

They shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.”

Section 2

“The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The 23rd ensures that Washington, DC, has electors in the Electoral College, but only as many as the state with the lowest number. It was meant to ensure that voters there had better representation in the upcoming elections. This Amendment was ratified in 1961.

The 24th Amendment

The 24th Amendment

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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This Amendment was ratified on January 23, 1964, and it abolished poll taxes, which were previously required to vote in elections. When the United States Constitution was first ratified, most states allowed only property owners to vote.

At first, more citizens were able to vote, but poll taxes were brought back as a way to prevent black Americans from voting. Ultimately, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 brought them the right to vote.

The 25th Amendment

The 25th Amendment

Divided into four big sections, this Amendment has only been used three times since it was ratified. Its goal was to relieve presidents from their duties because of their physical health. It was initially passed out of fear of presidential succession after John F. Kennedy got assassinated.

The first use of this Amendment dates back to 1974, when Gerald R. Ford became president after Richard Nixon’s resignation. The second use was in 1985 when Ronald Regan temporarily handed his presidential powers to Vice President George H. W. Bush during a surgery.

The 26th Amendment

The 26th Amendment

Section 1

“The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”

Section 2

“The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

This Amendment allowed 18-year-old United States citizens to vote and automatically modified the 14th Amendment. It is the last Amendment that deals with voting rights protections. Before it was ratified, Americans voted at age 21.

The 27th Amendment

The 27th Amendment

“No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

The last Amendment on the list submits that any changes to the salary of those in Congress should not take effect until the next election of representatives. Given the nature of this Amendment, it does not come as a surprise that it took a long time to reach ratification.

Frequently Asked Questions

List of 27 Amendments

1. Which of these 27 Amendments is the most important?

Although all of them had a huge importance in American history, the First Amendment is widely considered the most important, as it protects the fundamental rights of conscience – the freedom to believe and express different ideas in a variety of ways.

2. Are all Amendments active to this day?

No, they are not. Twenty-five out of twenty-seven Amendments is active. The eighteenth (Prohibition Law) and twenty-first (repeal of Prohibition) are no longer active in the constitution of the United States.

3. What does the 27th Amendment forbid?

It prevents the members of Congress from granting themselves pay raises during the current session. All raises that are adopted must take effect during the next session of Congress.

4. Which Amendment is considered least useful?

The Third Amendment seems to have no direct constitutional relevance nowadays. It is the least litigated Amendment in the Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has never decided a case on its basis.

5. What Amendments cancel each other out?

Eighteenth and twenty-first Amendments cancel each other out, as they are both tied to prohibition. The eighteenth, passed in 1919, brought in Prohibition, while the twenty-first canceled it.

6. Which Amendment is the subject of the most controversies?

Despite its elevated status in society, the First Amendment has always been a subject of controversies in practice. It has been often questioned in various branches, one of the often-mentioned being the judicial ruling that extends the First Amendment’s protection of free speech to pornography and such “expressions” as nude dancing.

Final Words

Even though there are approximately 10.000 Amendments that never made the cut and were rejected, the ones that got ratified are an essential part of the rights of people in the United States and are a huge part of history and a cornerstone of the state.

As such, it is an important list of rights that every American should know since it provides essential guidelines for the United States’ lifestyle.