State Constitutions: 1776-1780
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As the Revolution got under way, Americans realized they did not want to continue to govern themselves under colonial charters granted by English monarchs. Between 1776 and 1780, every colony (perhaps we should say state) except Connecticut and Rhode Island wrote and adopted at least one constitution. The six constitutions included below offer a variety approaches to the problem. Most were written and adopted by state legislatures, but that of Massachusetts was produced by a convention and ratified by the people voting in their towns. They are listed in approximate chronological order.
1. What are the basic structures of government that seem to be important, either by direct comment or by the nature of the constitution?
2. To what extent are rights included in the constitutions, either in a separate Bill of Rights, or in various provisions in the constitution?
3. How democratic do the documents seem? What makes them democratic or not?
4. What limitations on voting and office holding are included? What might be the purpose of such provisions?
5. How are powers separated and checks and balances incorporated? Do some branches of the government seem to dominate the others?
6. How might these constitutions reflect Americans' experiences with the empire in the eighteenth century? What assumptions about the nature of society may have shaped the documents?
New York: 1777
South Carolina: 1778