Article Five outlines the process for amending, or making changes to the Constitution of the United States. In 1787, eight of the then-thirteen states had a process for doing this through the legislature on the state level, while in the other five, making changes required a specially elected convention.
On the national level, the Articles of Confederation, which governed the union of states that preceded the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, provided that amendments were to be proposed by Congress and ratified by the unanimous vote of all thirteen state legislatures. This proved to be a major flaw, as it created an insurmountable obstacle to constitutional reform.
According to James Madison, a framer of the U.S. Constitution, the amendment process crafted during the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787 was designed to establish a balance between flexibility and rigidity:
“It guards equally against that extreme facility which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty which might perpetuate its discovered faults,” wrote Madison. “It moreover equally enables the General and the State Governments to originate the amendment of errors, as they may be pointed out by the experience on one side, or on the other.”
There are two procedures for proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Congress may introduce it by a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives; or an amendment can be put forward by a national convention of the states.
The ratification of a proposed amendment, which requires the approval of three-fourths, or 38 of the 50 states, may come about through the state legislatures, or by consent of state ratifying conventions.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States and its third President, said of the Constitution: "Time and changes in the condition and constitution of society may require occasional and corresponding modifications."
The U.S. Constitution, which is the fundamental law of the land, continues to provide in Article 5, a means for the American people to amend and change that fundamental law.