26th Amendment Certification

Certification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
July 5th, 1971

Click the above white arrow to play the ten-minute excerpt of the ceremony.

The Pen Which Was Used By The President to Certify the 26th Amendment to the Constitution

White House - hand shake
The President Presenting the Pen to William Ramsey

White House - conducting
William Ramsey Conducts America's Youth In Concert - White House, July 5, 1971

Personal Reflection of the Certification

In 1971 I was asked to participate as a conductor of a musical group, America’s Youth in Concert, on a musical tour of Central Europe. The musical organizations consisted of a Choir of 277, a Band of 129, an Orchestra of 93, and a staff (musical assistants, medical personnel, chaperons, etc.) of 31. Thousands of young musicians from throughout the United States submitted audition tapes and resumés as they vied for positions in this first ever National Honors Youth Musicians program. From these auditions, 499 participants were chosen and rehearsals began on June 28th in Princeton, New Jersey in preparation for the tour. Prior to arrival in Princeton, each young musician had memorized his or her assigned parts.

Our first concert was to a sold-out audience in Carnegie Hall in New York City. The second concert venue was Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. on July 4th 1971. Following that concert we were summoned on July 5th to the White House to meet with the President’s Chief of Staff, Mr. H. R. Haldeman. There had been a long debate regarding lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. This discussion started during the 2nd World War and continued on-and-off until the 1970s and employed the motto, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Young men of 18 years of age were being drafted to serve in the armed forces but were denied the right to vote. In 1970 a Supreme Court ruling (Oregon v Mitchell) determined that Congress had the right to regulate the minimum voting age in federal elections. It was not, however, until the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed in March of 1971 and ratified by the states, that it became law.

Mr. Haldeman explained that the President would be certifying the new amendment and had requested that our group attend the ceremony and perform. During that meeting, I was asked to select 3 members of America’s Youth in Concert to sign the amendment as witnesses.

The President stipulated that each witness must be exactly 18 years old, one African American, one Caucasian, one male, one female, one from the South, one from the Midwest, and one from California. We selected a Caucasian female (Julieanne Jones) from Memphis, Tennessee, an African American male (Joseph W. Loyd, Jr.) from Detroit, Michigan, and a Caucasian male (Paul S. Larimer) from Berkley, California. I also remember asking a question of Mr. Haldeman at which point he picked up the telephone, rang the President and said, "Mr. President, Dr. Ramsey has a question for you." He then handed the telephone to me - a very nervous young man from a small town in Kentucky. The President asked if we could perform The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Fortunately, it was already in our concert repertory.

We gathered in the East Room of the White House for the Ceremony. The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was first signed by Robert Kunzig, Administrator of the General Services Administration. Next the President signed, followed by the 18-year-old musicians – one from the choir, one from the band, and one from the orchestra. I was astounded after the performance and the certification when the President said "If Mr. Ramsey would step forward, I am going to present the pen that I witnessed with to the Director" and handed me the pen. He then said, "I wish we had 500 more pens, but that is above our budget." After hearing our performance, the President (being an excellent politician) said, "Mr. Ramsey, I have heard the Battle Hymn of the Republic at least 700 or 800 times, and I have heard it sung by many fine groups, but I can tell you that after hearing this rendition, that no group has ever sung it better. Believe me, this is a magnificent job." At the conclusion of his address, he ended by saying, "By the way, in checking at the warehouse, we find we do have enough pens for all 500 of you." It was a historic day which we will never forget. 

To Read the Full Text (pdf format) Of the President's Address, click here