The author discusses the evolution of the state constitution after the states acquired independence from Great Britain. The book outlines regional, state-specific and national influences that played a part in the development, amendments and replacements of the original state’s constitution. Other influences on the states constitutions include historical events and congressional influences.
The Five Nations of the Iroquois had an oral constitution called the Great Binding law, but other members of the colony could not embrace it due to its nature. It was the thirteen colonial charters that laid the foundation for the new state constitutions (Bowman & Kearney, 2014). The charters were brief documents used to govern settlements and were expanded after the settlements were fully colonized to incorporate the rights of Englishmen. The Magna Carta enumerated political and civil rights; these charters were used to govern by colonial governments (Bowman & Kearney, 2014). As described by the author, the resolution by the Continental Congress on the thirteen colonies to establish governments solely on the authority of the people played a significant role in the development of the first constitution. The people began drafting in special revolutionary conventions or legislative assemblies’. They then proceeded to put their constitutions into effect instantly devoid of widespread endorsement. The establishment of the first constitution was a challenging task as it entailed discussions of political philosophy such as individual rights, the structure of governments, elections and distribution of land.
There were many loopholes and unaddressed issues in states such as undefined territorial integrity that made individuals consider alternative laws. The author gives an example of individuals who were unsatisfied with Virginia’s rule pushed for statehood of Kentucky. The terms of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 also facilitated the establishment of Western territories. Each new state was required to write its constitution.
The main changes in the constitution undertaken by states mainly extended the colonial charters and made the necessary adjustments like inserting the bill of rights and doing away with reference to the king. These documents were characterized by principles of limited government such as feeble executive branch, checks and balances, power separations, the bill of rights and a bicameral legislature (Bowman & Kearney, 2014). Therefore it is clear that other authorities established by the constitution weakened the governance system. The state constitution created different structures that spread power and authority to enable the flourishing of democracy.
It is only the constitution of Massachusetts that has survived among the thirteen original State constitutions despite being amended many times. The constitution has lasted for such a long period courtesy of the vision of its drafter Jon Adams and his research. Although it has been subjected to numerous changes, it still reflects the knowledge derived from ancient political philosophers. Several states identify themselves as commonwealth due to their principle that citizens have a right to protect and manage their collective interests.
Chapter three of the book discusses the legislative supremacy, which became a guiding principle in the new constitutional governments. Since the colonial regime witnessed the abuse of powers by the executive and partially the governors, the framers provided more power to the legislative arm of government. From the reading, it is noted that the legislature was given more power at the expense of governors. They elected governors who were restricted to one term in office (Bowman & Kearney, 2014). The judiciary also had its powers restricted, and legislatures elected judges. The power vested too the legislature was immense to the point that it was the leading political figurehead in the States.
The executive powers started to increase through constitutional amendments where, and term limits of governors were extended. The powers of the executive continued to grow, and the public confidence in the legislature declined, leading to more crucial amendments. Other factors led to amendments as mentioned in chapter three including the civil war, emergence of a corporate economy, suffrage and popular participation, government reforms, urbanization among other forces experienced from the early 1800s to 1920s (Bowman & Kearney, 2014). The decade following the civil war witnessed the highest constitutional activity as the considerate states made the necessary amendments to be allowed back in the United States. It is evident that social, political and economic drivers mainly involved the changes in the constitution. Significant events in history have huge impacts on American constitutional amendments.
By 1950 the constitution had been changed numerous times making it extravagantly long, frustratingly inflexible and too detailed in a distressing way. The state constitution still provided for a delicate executive branch since the governors’ authority was limited, there were numerous positions for elected officials in the executive branch, and the executive was organized in an assortment of autonomous boards, agencies and commissions (Bowman & Kearney, 2014). Similarly, other branches were also affected like the state judiciaries were uncoordinated and very complex while the legislature had archaic structures and procedures.
The paper discusses the path followed by the state constitution throughout history. Various regional and national events influenced the constitution in the history of America. Over the years, there have been power shifts through different arms of governments and the experiences have prompted the needed reforms to improve the political, social and economic landscape. The amendments and replacements of the constitution have seen the state constitution transition from a framework oriented document to a policy-oriented document. It becomes important to embrace the understanding of the evolution of the state constitutions as necessary and a testament of how Americans perceive constitutional law. We have addressed many issues over decades starting from overcoming challenges faced with constitutional development. Because of our evolvement, we are not able to serve American people in ways that were nearly impossible during eras before. As we begin to dive deeper into the evolution of state constitutions we are greeted with endless possibilities of growth and development and reminded of its crucial role and significance in the future of governments.
- Bowman, A. O., & Kearney, R. C. (2014). State and local government. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
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