The Wadsworth-Garrett Amendment: Standing Athwart Amending the Constitution, Yelling “Stop!”

James Wolcott Wadsworth Jr. - Wikipedia
James W. Wadsworth Jr., R-N.Y.

From 1913 to 1920, the Constitution was amended a whopping four times. These weren’t minor changes either, the direct election of senators helped Democrats become increasingly competitive in New England, the income tax’s introduction resulted in it ultimately becoming a leading source of revenue for the U.S. government and thus made Prohibition possible, and the other two were Prohibition and women’s suffrage. This was the most rapid adoption of constitutional amendments since the creation of the Bill of Rights, and there was pushback. This came in the form of the proposed Wadsworth-Garrett Amendment. Senator James W. Wadsworth Jr. (R-N.Y.) had been a leading opponent of both Prohibition and women’s suffrage and believed that these amendments had been adopted over the will of the voters. Indeed, several states had held referendums on women’s suffrage prior to the adoption of the 19th Amendment. In the five years that preceded the suffrage amendment: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, West Virginia, Maine, Louisiana, and Texas had voted down women’s suffrage. Wadsworth thought Congress was acting against the will of the people of these states and thus wanted to change the amending process to get the public more involved. Wadsworth got in a cosponsor House Minority Leader Finis J. Garrett (D-Tenn.), who had voted for Prohibition but against women’s suffrage. Neither of these men were keen on further amendments to the Constitution and both voted against the Child Labor Amendment in 1924. The amendment would make the following changes:

“1. At least one house of the legislatures which may ratify future constitutional amendments shall be elected after the submission of the amendment by Congress to the States.

2. Any State may require that the ratification of an amendment by its legislature be subject to confirmation by popular vote.

3. Until three fourths of the States have ratified or more than one fourth of the States have rejected an amendment any State may reverse its previous action.” (CQ Researcher)

Finis J. Garrett - Wikipedia
Finis J. Garrett, D-Tenn.

This proposal would simultaneously get the people more involved in the amending process and make it more difficult for the Constitution to be amended, thus it was controversially known as the “back to the people amendment”. This amendment was considered in the Senate, but Senator Thomas Walsh (D-Mont.), a progressive, added an amendment excluding State legislatures from the process of ratification, instead automatically leaving it to popular vote. Numerous different factions and opinions formed on the amendment and the Walsh amendment displeased Wadsworth. The Senate adopted in response the Jones Amendment, which required amendments to first got to the legislatures and then the legislatures decide whether the people vote for. The Jones Amendment was struck out the very next day, and the Senate sent the altered Wadsworth-Garrett amendment back to committee, with Wadsworth voting for. Both Wadsworth and Garrett would subsequently vote against the Child Labor Amendment, which would grant Congress the power to regulate and abolish child labor, directly overriding the Supreme Court cases Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918) and Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co. (1922), which struck down laws passed by Congress governing the use of child labor. In the next session of Congress, Wadsworth tried again but to no avail. He lost reelection in 1926 on account of his opposition to Prohibition and women’s suffrage but made a comeback in the House in the 1932 elections. There was one constitutional amendment that would come to pass within the next ten years that Senator Wadsworth was pleased with however, the repeal of Prohibition. To make matters better, it was done in a sort of manner that certainly satisfied him: a constitutional convention.

References

Miller, J. (1926, February). Amendment of the Federal Constitution: Should it Be Made More Difficult? Minnesota Law Review, 10(3).

Retrieved from

State women’s suffrage ballot measures. Ballotpedia.

Retrieved from

https://ballotpedia.org/State_women%27s_suffrage_ballot_measures

The Wadsworth-Garrett Amendment. CQ Researcher.

Retrieved from

https://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre1925070700

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