This newspaper article highlights some of the work that was undertaken to ratify the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution. Two curious items that I learned from transcribing this article was that the Washington Post sent out a team of correspondents to 44 state capitals to cover the ratification process and that Tennessee was the only Southern state to ratify the Constitutional Amendment. As I have noted here & here, Arkansas was the only Southern State to flatly reject the Constitutional Amendment based mostly on the racial makeup of the District of Columbia. Nonetheless, I’ve got to wonder that with all the technological innovations in the last 50 years, would it be easier to pass a Constitutional Amendment nowadays than it was then?
Vote Victory Result Of Luck, Hard Work, Some Sweat, Tears
23d Amendment Had Close Calls, Many Friends
To the Washington resident starved for the vote the Constitution offered cake: He could be elected President of the United States.
Until the adoption of the 23d Amendment yesterday the Constitution denied him bread: the right to vote for the great office to which he always has been eligible to be elected.
Amending the Constitution is extremely difficult. The approval of two thirds of the members of both Houses of Congress must be won, then the approval of three fourths of the states (either their legislatures, as in the case of the 23d Amendment, or of specially called state conventions, as the case with the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition).
And in the 170 years since the Bill of Rights went into effect the job has been done only 12 times. Several attempts have failed.
The 23d Amendment hardly had the intoxicating, thirst-slaking appeal of the prohibition-repeal Amendment. That it went through 39 states faster than the 21st went through 36 is astonishing.
It is astonishing even if you know of the confluence of luck and circumstance- including the dedicated, devoted work of many persons to a democratic principle, of the fortuitous political self-interest of some, even of the desire to use the presidential vote to head off home rule- that lie behind the 23d’s passage.
The whole story can never be told. But there are several examples of luck and lucky dedication that helped bring the vote to Washington:
+ A ratification resolution squeaked by the Illinois Senate with a 2-vote margin.
+ Tennessee almost certainly would not have ratified had it not been for the decision of Gov. Buford Ellington to rescue an Amendment resolution that a House committee had tabled. Tennessee was the only Southern state that ratified.
+ A House-passed resolution was before the Indiana Senate. Adjournment- until 1963- was but a few days away. It was not realized that the bill had not been lost en route from the printer and was, therefore, not on the Senate calendar.
Because of a routine “How are things going?” phone call from Sturgis Warner, presidential vote counsel to the District Democratic and Republican State Committees, the lost bill was found- and ratified in time.
The GOP-controlled Wyoming Senate got a do-not-pass recommendation from its Judiciary Committee. Under ordinary circumstances that would have been the end of the resolution.
Mary Bruner, District GOP Committee secretary and a former clerk in the Wyoming House, was horrified. She felt that the central problem was that Wyoming legislators did not understand that the Amendment would give District residents the presidential vote- period.
The Wyoming Press Association was meeting at the time in Cheyenne. Mrs. Bruner’s younger brother, Jim Griffith Jr., editor of the Lusk (Wyo.) Herald, had just been elected president.
She contacted him and influential Wyoming friends, including Lewis E. Bates, editor of the Wyoming State Tribune in Cheyenne, and State Treasurer C. J. Rogers.
Even before the Judiciary Committee action, the state’s lone Congressman, Rep. William Henry Harrison (R-Wyo.), had wired compelling appeals for support.
The Senate constituted itself as a committee of the whole, took the Amendment from the Judiciary Committee, passed it and sent it to the House, which later ratified it.
Perhaps it was luck, too, that Washington’s newspapers- divided on home rule and many other issues- were wholeheartedly united in trying to win the presidential vote.
Last September, The Washington Post set up a network of legislative correspondents in 44 state capitals. Especially in recent weeks, they provided The Post with the caliber of phone and wire coverage of fast-breaking news that can come only from experienced, on-the-spot reporters.
Beyond that, these correspondents themselves became interested in the Amendment. Their interest stimulated that of their own and other newspapers, of state legislators and of governors.
There was one slip-up. The Vermont Senate had passed a ratification resolution. One day, the Vermont correspondent reported that the House had ratified. The report was duly printed.
Next morning, the office of Rep. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.) said there must have been a mistake- that the House had approved on a second, not a third and final, reading.
The cleark of the Vermont House, Dale Brooks, confirmed this. He said the House was in session at the moment (the morning of Friday, March 10) but was tied up with a fish and game bill. He doubted that final action could come before the following Tuesday.
The Washington Post reporter, almost speechless at the possibility of having to repeal Vermont, managed to ask Brooks if he would call collect whenever the House did ratify. Brooks said he’d be glad to.
Brooks called back within 10 minutes. He said that he had apprised Speaker Leroy Lawrence of the situation, and that the Speaker had suspended legislative hunting and fishing and called up the Amendment resolution, which was passed- unanimously.
For New Mexico’s ratification much credit is due to the wife of George Dixon, The Washington Post columnist. She is the daughter of Sen. Dennis Chavez (D-N. Mex.) Her name is Ymelda as most Dison’s fans know by this time.
This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the Washington Post archives and is not in the public domain. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.