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A convention elected in October 1776 to draw up a plan of government adopted a constitution on February 5, 1777. Legislative power was vested in a unicameral assembly, elected annually, whose members were required to be Protestants owning 250 acres of land or £250 of property. The assembly annually elected a governor, who served for only one year out of three and had no veto or pardoning power, an advisory executive council, chosen from among the assembly members, and a state chief justice. Clergymen were forbidden to sit in the legislature, and the Anglican church was disestablished. The constitution protected the free exercise of religion unless “it be repugnant to the peace and safety of the State,” freedom of the press, the right to trial by jury, and the principle of habeas corpus, while forbidding excessive fines or bail. Amendments could be made only by a convention petitioned for by a majority of the voters in a majority of the counties.

In November 1788 a convention framed a new state constitution, which was ratified and amended by subsequent conventions in January and May 1789. The new constitution created a house of representatives, elected for one year, and a senate, elected for three years; the governor, elected by the legislature for a two-year term, could veto legislation, but his veto could be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both chambers.