Skip to Main Content

Twenty-Seventh Amendment: About

Amendment XXVII: 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 Unique Story of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment

The Twenty-Seventh Amendment has one of the most unusual histories of any amendment ever made to the U.S. Constitution. Congress passed the Twenty-Seventh Amendment by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, in 1789, along with eleven other proposed constitutional amendments (the last ten of which were ratified by the states in 1791, becoming the Bill of Rights). The Amendment provides that: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”

During the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, congressional pay was a central topic, one that took up several days of discussion. Benjamin Franklin’s initial speech to the Convention was on the topic of public salaries: he was against them. Public servants should not get paid at all, Franklin argued, or we would get representatives with “bold and the violent” personalities, engaged in “selfish pursuits.” Franklin’s extreme argument did not prevail because the Framers wisely did not want only the wealthy to be able to afford to hold federal offices. This is a very good thing. 

Nonetheless, Franklin’s comments caused the Framers at the Philadelphia Convention to focus on the problem of making sure that people did not go into public office to make a lot of money. In England, at the time, the biggest problem of English democracy was the phenomenon known as “placemen.” Placemen were members of Parliament who the King simultaneously appointed to lucrative executive branch offices to buy their loyalty on votes in Parliament. The King had built up his power by corrupting these office holders, giving them easy and well-paid civil office jobs so that they would support him in Parliament. To prevent this problem, the Framers added Article I, Section 6’s Incompatibility Clause. That Clause says that “no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.” The Framers described the Incompatibility Clause as being “The Cornerstone of the Constitution.” But as to salaries for congressmen themselves, the Constitution simply said those salaries should be provided for by law—in other words, that Congress would set its own pay. This did not sit well with the general public, or with James Madison—it seemed like a big opening for Congress to pay itself too much.

In 1789, Madison proposed twelve amendments to the federal Constitution, the first ten of which were ratified in 1791 and became the federal Bill of Rights. One of the proposed amendments, which was not ratified at that time, was an amendment that became the Twenty-Seventh Amendment and which forbade congressional pay increases from taking effect until there had been an intervening election of members of Congress.  Continue reading from National Constitution Center

Link to The Constitution explained : a guide for every American by David L. Hudson, Jr., J.D in the catalog
Link to America's Constition by Akhil Reed Amar in the catalog
Link to The United States Constitution: A graphic adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey in the catalog
Link to Fault Lines in the Constitution: the Graphic Novel by Cynthia Levinson in the catalog
Link to The Words We Live By by Linda Monk in the catalog