State Constitutions #1

The states now faced complicated questions about how to make their rules. How was "popular sovereignty" (the idea that the people were the highest authority) to be institutionalized in the new state governments? For that matter, who were ""the people""?

Every state addressed these questions in different ways based on local experiences. In most cases, colonial traditions were continued with some modification: the governor lost significant power, while the assemblies, which represented the people more directly, became much more important.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania created the most radical state constitution of the period. First, the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 abolished property requirements for voting as well as for holding office. Any adult man who paid taxes was allowed to vote and to run for office. Pennsylvania also became a ""unicameral"" government, with a one-body legislature. The office of the governor was entirely eliminated, since the framers felt that the governor was like a king and that an upper legislative body (like the British House of Lords) represented wealthy men and aristocrats. The Pennsylvania constitution decided that "the people" could rule most effectively through a single body with complete legislative power.

South Carolina: South Carolina's State Constitution of 1778 created new rules at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Pennsylvania. In South Carolina, white men had to possess a significant amount of property to vote, and even more property to run for political office. In fact, these property requirements were so high that 90 percent of all white adults were prevented from running for political office!
Dramatic limitation of who could be an elected political leader reflected a central tradition of 18th-century Anglo-American political thought. Only individuals who were financially independent were believed to have the self-control to make reasonable judgments about public matters. As a result, poor white men, all women, children, and African Americans were considered too dependent on others to have reliable political judgment.

Massachusetts: The creation of the Massachusetts State Constitution of 1780 offered yet another approach to the role of "the people" in creating a republican government. When the state legislature presented the voters with a proposed constitution in 1778, it was rejected because the people thought it was too important an issue for the government to present to the people. If the government could make its own rules, then it could change them whenever it wanted and take away people's liberties. Following through on this logic, Massachusetts held a special convention in 1780, where elected representatives met to decide on the framework for the state government.

This idea of a special convention of the people to decide important constitutional issues was part of a new way of thinking about popular rule. It would play a central role in the ratification of the national Constitution in 1787-1788.

Source: State Constitutions #1
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