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kottke.org posts about Gregory Watson

How a bad grade on a college paper resulted in a Constitutional amendment

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

In college, Gregory Watson got a C on a paper in a government class about an ancient proposed amendment to the US Constitution written by James Madison in 1789.

Gregory was intrigued. He decided to write his paper about the amendment and argue that it was still alive and could be ratified. He got to work, being very meticulous about citations and fonts and everything. He turned it in to the teaching assistant for his class — and got it back with a C.

Motivated by what he considered an unfair grade, Watson spent the next 20 years working to get the amendment ratified. In 1992, Watson’s hard work paid off and the proposed amendment became the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution.

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.

Now his former teacher thinks he deserves an A+. What a heartwarming story.

Or perhaps a terrifying one. If you look at the maps for the past 5 Presidential elections, you’ll notice that the red states outnumber the blue ones. Republicans dominate governorships and state legislatures too. The consolidation of liberal voters into fewer and fewer states (and cities) is likely to continue, making the state counts more lopsided. If you can get a proposed amendment out of Congress (or a national convention called for by 2/3 of the states), then 3/4 of the states (currently 38) are needed to ratify the amendment and make it the law of the land. Now, this doesn’t seem very likely, does it? Well, Gregory Watson got it done. Just imagine if he had resuscitated a half-ratified amendment outlawing immigration or something.

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