Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 27 >> 36 Finances 1861 1919 to 57 Navy Of The >> 41 State Constitutions 1789_P1

41 State Constitutions 1789 1919

constitution, people, government, federal, powers, united, legislature, convention, adopted and law

Page: 1 2 3 4 5

41. STATE CONSTITUTIONS (1789 1919). The American Union is composed of 48 States or commonwealths, each of which has a body of fundamental law known as a constitution. The sphere of government activ ity which may be covered by the State has been negatively defined in the Constitution of the United States (Article X of the amendments): UThe powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.) Among these powers which thus inhere in the people of the several States are those of determining the form which their own government shall take, with the sole pro vision that it must be republican in form and of drafting their own fundamental law, subject to limitations imposed by the Federal Constitu tion.

Within the limits of the power thus defined, the State is supreme and in no way subordinate to the national government. The vast scope and sovereign character of this State activity seemed to substantiate the doctrine of State sovereignty. But the Civil'War definitely and finally decided that the State is not sovereign, although it ex ercises many of the powers usually regarded as sovereign. The accepted interpretation of the relation of State and Federal governments un der the Constitution is that neither is sovereign. The people of the United States are alone sov ereign. They have made both the Federal gov ernment and the States their agents for certain specified purposes and for those purposes each is supreme and uncontrollable by the other. The organs of the State are concerned solely with those powers reserved to the States and do not possess and cannot have imposed upon them by the Federal government duties which are given by the Constitution of the United States to that government. The Constitution of the United States places upon the State a few, but very few, duties in connection with the conduct of the Federal government. The most important of these are those of electing the United States senators; pf conducting the election of Presi dential electors and of members of the House of Representatives, and of providing a militia for Federal use in certain contingencies. Disre garding, for the purpose in hand, these limita tions and exceptions, we may treat the State constitutions as if they operated within the sev eral States to the exclusion of all other au thority.

The closing years of the colonial period saw the 13 colonies in the possession of constitu tions, either written or unwritten, which were in most respects essentially similar and which were, on the whole, well adapted to the needs of the inhabitants. The severance of the political ties which had bound the colonies to Great Britain made necessary the adoption of bodies of funda mental law for the new States. With the ex ception of Rhode Island and Connecticut, all of the original States had adopted new consti tutions when the present Federal Constitution went into effect. In Massachusetts a conven tion (1780) draughted a constitution and sub mitted it to the people for ratification. New Hampshire adopted her first constitution (1776) without popular ratification, but submitted a second constitution, drawn up by a convention, to the people, by whom it was adopted in 1784.

Rhode Island and Connecticut, whose colonial charters granted in 1662 and 1663, needed few changes to adapt them to the needs of State hood, did little more than to substitute the name of the people for that of the king and continued these documents as their constitutional law until 1842 and 1818 respectively. In the remaining nine States the constitutions were in every case adopted by conventions, without submission to i popular vote, although in only one State, Dela ware, had the convention received a formal mandate for so doing. In each of these States, except Delaware, the convention exercised the powers of a legislature as well as those of a constitutional convention. These Revolutionary constitutions were very short and most of them hastily constructed. They contained little be sides a bill of rights and an outline of the frame of government. Their chief purpose was to define the fundamental principles of civil liberty and to distribute all, rather than to withhold any, of the powers of government" The history of the colonial period had taught the people that the legislature was the protector of their rights and liberties and that the other two departments were to be feared and guarded against as the representatives of the English Crown; hence, in framing their new constitu tions they gave predominant weight to the leg islature and defended the rights of the people against executive and judicial encroachment by provisions in their declarations of rights and further by subordinating both, and especially the former, to the legislature. In eight of the orig inal States, the governor was appointed by the legislature and in Massachusetts alone did he receive the veto power. The highest judges were in no case elected by the people. In nine States they were chosen by the legislatures, in three by the executive and council and in one by the executive council alone. The possession of a freehold or the payment of a tax were qualifi cations required of all voters, with a few minor exceptions, as in Rhode Island, where the eldest son of a voter who qualified by the posses sion of property of the value of $2,000 or of $100 a year, could vote, or in Pennsylvania, where the sons of a taxpaying voter were likewise privileged to vote. South Carolina alone imposed a religious qualification: belief in God. In the five States where the governor was elected by the people, a higher property qualification was demanded for the electoral franchise in voting for governor than for mem bers of the legislature. Nearly all of the States required additional qualifications for office hold ing. In six States, property qualifications, rang ing from a freehold to $50,000, were demanded of the governor and six prescribed a religious qualification for the same office. New Hamp shire, Maryland and North Carolina permitted none but Protestants to occupy the governor's chair; Massachusetts none but Christians, while Delaware made belief in the Trinity, and Penn sylvania and North Carolina belief in God and in the divine authority of the Bible, necessary qualifications.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5