The Era of State Constitution Writing [No. 86]
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The Era of State Constitution Writing [No. 86]

August 27, 2019


This is a part of the story of the American
Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, that really has been neglected. The greatest era of constitution writing in
American history, indeed in world history, is between 1776 and the summer of 1787. In other words, before the Framers got together
in Philadelphia. And that’s because the former colonies, newly
founded states in 1776, had to write charters of government, their own constitutions to
figure out how each of these governments would work. And so that became the initial laboratory
of constitution writing in American government. Those early state constitutions are the first
constitutions that have separation of powers at the state level between governors, legislatures,
and the courts. That of course is duplicated in the U.S. Constitution. Those state constitutions innovated the individual
rights guarantees that we’ve come to prize so much in America, protecting liberty, property,
life and so forth. And the original language for those things
is written by the state Framers and written by some not inconsequential leaders. John Adams, George Mason, among others. All of our individual rights guarantees, free
speech, free exercise of religion, and so forth were originally put in the state constitutions. The federal Framers in the summer of 1787,
eventually ratified by the people in 1789, borrowed from those documents when it came
to individual rights protections, and borrowed still more when they put together the Bill
of Rights. The first eight Bill of Rights are all individual
rights guarantees that owe their origin to the state constitutions and the state Framers. Even provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment
would have drawn on earlier state constitutions. And in the words of historian Gordon Wood,
that was the epic constitution writing period in American and world history.

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