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How the U.S. Constitution Has Changed and Expanded Since 1787

September 16, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Through amendments and legal rulings, the Constitution has transformed in some critical ways.

The (1857).

The 15th Amendment ensured voting rights to Black men (although Southern states would soon find ways to restrict those rights). In 1920, after ratification of the 19th Amendment gave voting rights to all American women for the first time, suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt memorably declared that “To get the word ‘male’ in effect out of the Constitution cost the women of the country fifty-two years of pauseless campaign.”

The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long fight to win the right to vote for women in the United States. It took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win that right, and the campaign was not easy. Here, suffragettes march in Greenwich Village, New York City, ca. 1912.

View the 14 images of this gallery on the original article

PHOTOS: Women’s Suffrage

The Executive Branch’s Power Expanded

Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, Congress was the dominant branch of government, as the framers of the Constitution intended. Though some earlier presidents—including Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson—claimed more powers for themselves, especially in wartime, the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt marked a turning point in the expansion of executive power. Despite passage of the 22nd Amendment, which limited future presidents to only two terms in office, the growing power of the presidency was a trend that showed no signs of slowing down.

Corporations Have Begun to Be Treated as Individuals

The Constitution doesn’t mention corporations or their rights, nor does the 14th Amendment. But beginning in the late 19th century, with its verdict in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886), the Supreme Court began recognizing a corporation as a “person” with all the rights that entailed. Later Court rulings—including a 5-4 decision in the notable First Amendment case Citizens United vs. FEC (2010)—expanded this controversial application of the 14th Amendment to protecting corporations from certain types of government regulation. In his Citizens United dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens turned again to the nation’s founding document, arguing that “Corporations…are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

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