Let's just label this guy, THE MAN, shall we? Looks a little like a poindexter, you might think. Wrong. Giant, swinging brass ones here, playing a melodious metallic tune as he walks and they clang together.
The incredible story.
In 1982, a 19-year-old sophomore named Gregory Watson was taking a government class at UT Austin. For the class, he had to write a paper about a governmental process. So he went to the library and started poring over books about the U.S. Constitution — one of his favorite topics.
“I'll never forget this as long as I live,” Gregory says. “I pull out a book that has within it a chapter of amendments that Congress has sent to the state legislatures, but which not enough state legislatures approved in order to become part of the Constitution. And this one just jumped right out at me.”
That unratified amendment read as follows:
“No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”
Basically, it means any raise Congress votes to give itself can’t take effect until after the next election, allowing voters to decide how they felt about that.
The amendment had been proposed almost 200 years earlier, in 1789. It was written by James Madison and was intended to be one of the very first amendments, right along with the Bill of Rights.
Gregory needed 38 states to approve the amendment -- three-quarters. Nine states had already approved it, most back in the 1790s, so that meant he needed 29 more states for it to pass. He wrote letters to members of Congress to see if they knew anyone in their home states who might be willing to push the amendment in their state legislature. When he did get a response, it was generally negative. Some said the amendment was too old; some said they just didn’t know anyone who’d be willing to help. Mostly, he got no response at all.
But then, a senator from Maine named William Cohen did get back to him. Cohen passed it on to someone back home, who passed it on to someone else, who introduced it in the Maine Legislature. In 1983, lawmakers passed it.
On he worked until in 1992, he got the Michigan legislature to pass it. The 27th Amendment was law.
“I did treat myself to a nice dinner at an expensive restaurant,” Gregory recalls.
It's no easy task to amend the constitution, by design. One man; determined, persistent, and principled, did it. Never say never. Frankly, amazing.