What if we selected the president by lottery?
Or changed the name of the country to the United States of the World?
Or limited how wealthy a person could be?
How about if we outlawed drunkenness, prohibited divorce, or forbade duelists from holding public office.
What say we?
All these have been suggested amendments to the Constitution — some of the 11,000 proposals made over the years to adjust one of the nation’s founding documents.
Only 27 have been ratified.
This week the National Archives marks the 225th anniversary of the Constitution’s first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, with a new exhibit, “Amending America,” which opens Friday at the archives building in Washington.
Starting with the Bill of Rights, ratified by the states in 1791, the exhibit is a walk through the history of constitutional tinkering — things proposed, rejected and approved.
It includes 36 documents that have never been displayed before.
The Constitution, in Article 5, allows itself to be changed, said Christine Blackerby, a specialist with the National Archives’ Center for Legislative Archives.
“What it says is that two-thirds of both houses of Congress have to pass a proposed amendment,” she said during a preview of the exhibit Tuesday. “Step two is that proposed amendment by Congress is sent out to the states and three-quarters of the states have to ratify it.”
One ratified amendment, which instituted prohibition in 1920, was itself amended by the one that repealed it in 1933.
Others gave Americans cherished rights, such as freedom of speech, religion and the press, and freedom to assemble and petition. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.
Some of those that were not ratified were unusual — such as the one in 1911 that would have given Congress the power to protect migratory birds.
Another failed proposal, in 1846, called for presidential election via a lottery system.
It called for each state to select its own presidential candidate. Then the name of each state would be written on balls equal to the number of congressmen from that state.
One ball would be picked at random, and the candidate from that state would become president. The vice president would be selected the same way.
Blackerby said the proposal came amid sectional strains over slavery.
“This could have been a way to purposefully randomize the presidency,” she said. “There was lots of discussion over whether the next president would come from a slave state or a free state, and there were people who were talking about secession if the other side won.”
The lottery may have been seen as a solution. “But it’s kind of a ridiculous thing,” she said.
An 1860 proposal would have abolished the presidency outright and replaced it with an executive council. One in 1886 would have created the offices of first, second and third vice president.
An 1893 suggestion would have renamed the country the “United States of the World.” Another in 1866 would have changed the name to “America.”
On Feb.24, 1838, Rep. William J. Graves, a Whig from Kentucky, shot and killed Rep. Jonathan Cilley, a Democrat from Maine, in a duel in Bladensburg, Md.
Ten days later, an amendment was offered in the House that would let Congress ban anyone who had fought, or arranged, a duel from holding federal office. The proposal failed.
In 1978, Congress approved an amendment to give the citizens of Washington, D.C., full representation in Congress. But the states failed to ratify it.
Other failed suggestions were more disturbing.
Four years before the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, an amendment proposed in 1861 would have protected it. The Civil War intervened, and the amendment was never ratified.
An amendment proposed in 1912 would have banned blacks from marrying whites or people of other races.
The 1938 proposal to make drunkenness illegal came after prohibition had been repealed. It didn’t go anywhere, and the copy in the archives bears some anonymous commentary in pencil:
“Why not add . . . that period of time commonly known as Saturday night, is hereby stricken from the calendars of the United States and abolished. . . .
“Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to change human nature from time to time in its or their discretion.”