Framing Early State Constitutions and Developing a Republican Form of Government

As the former American colonies became states, they adopted new constitutions that later influenced the form of the federal Constitution. These documents shared many features, but they also had some unique features.

All states provided for some separation of powers. Most states provided for a fairly weak executive, in favor of a stronger legislature. Most state legislatures were bicameral, although both Pennsylvania and Georgia established a single chamber in their initial constitutions. In most states, the legislature chose the governor. The terms for serving in almost all elected offices were very short in order to serve as a check on the behavior of public officials.

The early state constitutions established suffrage requirements for state voters. Most states required voters to own property. Once the U.S. Constitution took effect, these voter qualification requirements had implications for voting in elections for the federal House of Representatives.

Most of the new constitutions included a bill of rights or a declaration of rights, which became a model for the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution. The state constitutions usually referred to rights to jury trials, the free exercise of religion, and the right to bear arms.

The initial constitutions of the original thirteen states did not directly mention slavery. Provisions defending, limiting, and abolishing slavery within different states appeared later in constitutional revisions.

Most early state constitutions and amendments were adopted through a legislative process. The constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was one of the first to require approval by voters.

Source: Framing Early State Constitutions and Developing a Republican Form of Government
Copyright © 2023 Constituting America. All rights reserved.

Back to top