Media Resource

The Amendments Project

Crowd of women holding "ERA yes" and "stop ERA" signs
Photo caption

Demonstrators in the halls of the Florida Legislature supporting and opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, 1982.

The U.S. Constitution was made to be amended, yet political polarization has made it significantly more difficult to amend the Constitution than the framers intended. Although only 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been ratified, thousands of proposed amendments have been introduced in Congress or circulated in public petitions. It is important to learn about these failed amendments to understand not only America's legal and political history but also the ongoing efforts to reform the Constitution and America’s political system.

Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and led by Harvard professor Dr. Jill Lepore, the Amendments Project (TAP) is essentially an archive of failures. By compiling, classifying, and analyzing efforts to revise the Constitution, the project seeks “to recover a lost tradition of constitutional tinkering and to rekindle Americans’ constitutional imagination.”

TAP features a searchable database of more than 11,000 amendments proposed in Congress between 1789 and 2022; more than 9,000 petitions introduced in Congress between 1789 and 1949 that propose, support, or oppose constitutional amendment; and thousands of other proposed amendments that never made it to Congress. It also features stories analyzing some of these failed attempts to amend the Constitution, from the Child Labor Amendment to proposals requiring a balanced federal budget.

In addition to providing an overview of constitutional history and the amendment process, the site enables advanced search and filtering of the amendments database, making it an effective hands-on introduction to using search tools for research. The questions below encourage discussion and comprehension of the site’s content as well as the search tools.

Discussion and Comprehension Questions

Discussion questions before exploring the site:

  • What is the U.S. Constitution?
  • What is a constitutional amendment?
  • What do you know about the process of amending the Constitution? How does an amendment get ratified?
  • How many constitutional amendments do you think there are?
  • How many constitutional amendments do you think have ever been proposed in Congress?
  • What is a database? Can you think of examples of databases you have used? (note that the internet and internet search engines are not databases)

Comprehension questions while exploring the site:

View the printable worksheet (and corresponding answer key) for these questions.

  • Visit the About page (under the Resources menu) and answer the following:
    • What records make up the Amendments Project database?
    • About how many amendments have been proposed in Congress?
    • How many amendments to the Constitution have been ratified?
    • Other than by the ratification of an amendment, how else can the Constitution be altered?
  • From the Stories page, read the Child Labor Amendment and answer the following:
    • How many amendments have been approved by Congress but not yet ratified by enough states?
    • Why was the Child Labor Amendment not ratified in the 1920s?
    • When and why did the Child Labor Amendment become obsolete?
    • Why was United States v. Darby important? 
    • If the Child Labor Amendment has been “informally adopted,” why is child labor on the rise in the United States?
  • From the Stories page, choose a second story to read and answer the following:
    • What trends or other information stand out from the graph/s in the story?
    • What is something you learned about why an amendment might be proposed or why a proposed amendment might fail?
    • What remaining questions do you have after reading this story?
  • Using the search tools on the Search page, answer the following:
    • What is one bill related to the story you just read?
    • How many online petitions related to campaign financing are in the database?
    • In what year was the first bill to use the term “environment” in the text of a proposed amendment introduced?
    • Since 1980, who has more bills affiliated with their party, Democrats or Republicans?
    • During which decade were the most bills introduced related to the apportionment of seats in the legislature? (hint: use the Timeline view on the results page)
    • How many bills include the words “currency” and “God” in the text of the proposed amendment?
    • How many bills include the word “currency” but not “God” in the text of the proposed amendment?
    • What is one amendment advocated for by a member of the Populist party that has since been added to the Constitution?
    • What is one Populist amendment idea that has not been added to the Constitution?

Discussion questions after exploring the site:

Content Questions

  • What did you learn that surprised you?
  • Why are proposed amendments, including those formally introduced by members of Congress, so unlikely to be added to the Constitution?
  • Why do you think only two amendments have been ratified since the 1960s?
  • What can we learn from the history of failed amendments?
  • Do you believe it should be easier to amend the Constitution? Why or why not?
Search fields and filtering options on a webpage
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The Amendments Project search page

Database Questions

  • What did you learn about using databases or developing search strategies?
  • What are the advantages of organizing all of these different types of proposed amendments in a single database?
  • Metadata is data about data. To create the Amendments Project database, the project team completed metadata fields such as topics, type, date, and sponsor for each proposed amendment. Why is metadata important for efficient and effective research? Consider what it would be like using a database with only a single text field.
  • What are some open-ended research questions you could attempt to answer using the Amendments Project database?
Related EDSITEment Resources

Introduce the history and content of the U.S. Constitution with the lesson plan A Day for the Constitution (grades 6-12). Dive deeper into the Constitution and find related resources with the teacher's guide Commemorating Constitution Day.

Additional resources include:

About the Amendments Project

Led by Project Director Dr. Jill Lepore, the Amendments Project (TAP) aims to categorize and analyze every proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, from 1787 to the present. The project received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Harvard Data Science Initiative, and Harvard's Inequality in America Initiative. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this web resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Learn more at the Amendments Project website.