Congress has tried to get Constitutional bans on dueling, divorce, multimillionaires, drunkenness and more.
There hasn’t been a Constitutional amendment since 1992 — the “if Congress voted themselves a pay raise, it doesn’t take effect until the next Congress takes over, which affects the tiny percentage of you who can’t figure out how to get reelected over and over” amendment. There also hasn’t been a viable Color Me Badd album since 1992 but for now, let’s focus on the Constitution thing.
There have only been 27 Constitutional amendments passed by Congress and ratified by the states in U.S. history (and only 17 since the Bill of Rights). There have been (approximately) 11,539 proposed. 27 out of 11,539 means 0.2 percent of all proposed amendments actually get added to the Constitution. You’ve got a better chance of turning on the radio right now and hearing I Wanna Sex You Up.
I dug through the Library of Congress website and a few older books on failed Constitutional amendments to put together this list of 11 strange proposed amendments that couldn’t quite get the votes. (How many votes? Consult your local Schoolhouse Rock song for that answer.)
1 | Nationwide dueling ban (1838)
The most famous duel in U.S. history was when Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804… but that certainly wasn’t the end of American dueling. In 1838, a Rep. Jonathan Cilley (D-Maine) was killed in a duel by another Congressman, William Graves (Whig-Kentucky). That inspired Congress — at least, the members of Congress who hadn’t just died from dueling — to try to ban dueling in the Constitution. That failed, but states slowly started passing their own ban and, apparently, realizing that “dueling” was a euphemism for “murdering.” It was finally phased out by the 1900s.
2 | Limiting personal wealth to $1 million (1933)
This proposed amendment was part of the aggressive Great Depression backlash. (I’m not fully certain of the rationale, but it feels a little Animal Farm-y.) It failed, but Congress did get a consolation prize with the Securities Act of 1933 — which feels a little more on-the-nose as Great Depression backlash.
3 | Abolishing Army/Navy (1893)
This wasn’t talking about banning the so-so football game that happens at the end of college football season every year — it literally sought to dissolve the Armed Forces. It had been three decades since the Civil War without a major war, which naturally meant world peace had arrived.
4 | One six-year term for a president with no reelection (1977)
This bill was proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), which means millions of people will knee-jerk hate it — even if it really would be cool if presidents didn’t have to spend the majority of their first term in office campaigning for a second term. Of course, there’s a Modest Proposal aspect to this bill — Helms was a five-term, 30-year senator so clearly he wasn’t against everyone taking time out of their elected work to campaign.
5 | Put all wars to a vote… and if you vote yes, you’re enlisted (1916)
The “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” amendment. I actually love this one. You want war? That’s cool. Go fight it then. It would’ve been a fascinating sociological study to see what would’ve happened if this amendment had actually passed. We still probably enter World War Two… but is there any other war that the majority of Americans are so passionate about that they want to fight it themselves?
6 | Ban interracial marriage (1912)
Obviously, we’ve moved on as a society from amendments about racial discrimination — but God forbid we move on from ALL discrimination. There have been numerous attempts in recent years at constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage. When my great-grandson is writing his own version of this list on 11 Points in 2116, I look forward to seeing how he mocks today’s adventures in bigotry. I’m also curious who people will be discriminating against then. Someone quick, misinterpret a Bible!
7 | Making divorce illegal (1884)
Members of Congress have desperately been trying to control our marriages and divorces for centuries, and, naturally, have always failed miserably. They’re really, really good at agreeing on names for post offices though.
8 | A ban on drunkenness (1938)
This bill was proposed by Rep. Gomer Smith (D-Oklahoma). He’d only become a Congressman when another Congressman a few months earlier, so maybe he wasn’t paying attention when Congress repealed Prohibition in 1933. When Gomer’s half-term ended, the party didn’t nominate him to run again. Don’t mess with booze.
9 | Instead of one president, three presidents (1878)
This amendment called for the executive branch to be three people instead of one person. Why is it that when I picture that, I picture a three-headed hydra like the one from Super Mario Bros. 2 and not three unique individuals? I think my subconscious is more cynical than I realized.
10 | Ban on pollution (1971)
This would’ve been a lovely amendment but never stood a chance. It’s also quite a statement on modern posturing culture that we know so much more about the damage we’re doing to the environment now than people did in 1971… yet this amendment would have even less of a chance of passing today.
11 | Renaming the country “United States of the Earth” (1893)
This amendment was proposed by Rep. Lucas Miller (D-Wisconsin)… as he apparently was either geared up for us to meet aliens or do some alienatin’.