The Twenty-Seventh Amendment has one of the most unusual histories of any amendment ever made to the U.S. Constitution. Congress passed the Twenty-Seventh Amendment by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, in 1789, along with eleven other proposed constitutional amendments (the last ten of which were ratified by the states in 1791, becoming the Bill of Rights). The Amendment provides that: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”
During the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, congressional pay was a central topic, one that took up several days of discussion. Benjamin Franklin’s initial speech to the Convention was on the topic of public salaries: he was against them. Public servants should not get paid at all, Franklin argued, or we would get representatives with “bold and the violent” personalities, engaged in “selfish pursuits.” Franklin’s extreme argument did not prevail because the Framers wisely did not want only the wealthy to be able to afford to hold federal offices. This is a very good thing.
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