You’d think that any Constitutional amendment that takes 202 years and seven months to ratify would have to be pretty controversial. Think again. The 27th Amendment states that members of Congress can’t give themselves a raise on demand. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Why did this take two centuries to pass? Here’s the bizarre story of the 27th Amendment.
A reasonable proposal from a reasonable man
James Madison first proposed the 27th Amendment during the first session of Congress in 1789. He called it the “compensation amendment,” and argued that Congress should not be trusted to give themselves raises at will.
Opponents to the proposal claimed that members of Congress were more than capable of responsibly regulating their compensation. Some even argued that lawmakers would reduce their pay to gain favor with the public. Congress approved the amendment, but it failed to win ratification.
The 27th Amendment does the limbo
The 27th Amendment would float in the political ether for over 200 years. Every once in awhile, greedy pay hikes would remind lawmakers that the 27th still needed to be ratified. In 1873, the Ohio state legislature ratified the amendment in response to a congressional pay raise nicknamed the “Salary Grab Act.”
Wyoming and seven other states followed suite. What looked like positive momentum was abrutply cut short when Congress gave themselves a nice little raise in 1977. The country only needed 29 more states to reach the 38 required signatures for ratification.
College Student Stumbles Into History
In 1982, a college student named Gregory D. Watson researched his way into the history books. The 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin was studying for a government class when he ncame across the unratified 27th Amendment. What caught his eye was that it didn’t seem to have an expiration date.
Getting the 27th Amendment passed became his personal mission. He convinced Maine’s senators to help ratify the amendment in 1983. On May 7, 1992, Michigan became the 38th state to ratify. Congress voted the 27th Amendment into law on May 20, 1992.