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Creating State Constitutions After the American Revolution

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  • 0:05 The Early Framework of…
  • 1:06 Pennsylvania
  • 2:43 South Carolina
  • 3:42 Massachusetts
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clint Hughes

Clint has taught History, Government, Speech Communications, and Drama. He has his master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology.

After the revolution, the states had to figure out what the rule of the people would be like. The early state constitutions and how they were drafted would inform the process and the resulting document that would become the U.S. Constitution.

The Early Framework of the U.S. Constitution

Where do we go from here? So the colonies are now free of Britain, Parliament, and royal rule. Now what?

They will now have to figure out how to rule themselves under this crazy new thing called popular sovereignty, the idea that the people are the highest authority, not a ruler. In this, they even had to figure out who 'the people' are. All of the states answered these questions differently according to their own experiences and their cultural identity.

Mostly, the colonial structures were continued, but they were altered to take the majority of the power away from the governor and put it into the assembly, which represented the people. Let's look at 3 examples to show us the span of plans laid out in the new states. We'll look at Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Massachusetts. This should give us a broad enough view of the differences in the states' organization.

Most states took power from the governor and put it into the assembly, which represented the people
Power Given to Assembly

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania wrote the most radical of the first state constitutions. Taking the idea of popular rule to its logical conclusion, Pennsylvania created a very unique state government. The Pennsylvania constitution got rid of property requirements for voting and for holding office. All adult males who paid taxes were allowed to vote and to run for office. This was a drastic change in who could be looked at as a political person, but this was not the most radical thing about Pennsylvania's new government. Pennsylvania got rid of their governor and had a unicameral government, meaning the legislature had only one body.

Basically, the more radical people working on the Pennsylvania constitution believed a higher assembly in the legislature was just like the House of Lords in Parliament - it was supposed to represent aristocrats, instead of the people as a whole. They also thought that the governor was really like having a small time king. Instead of maintaining this status quo, the Pennsylvania constitution decided that 'the people' could rule more effectively through one body with complete legislative power.

This Pennsylvania plan did not sit well with many of the more conservative patriots. Many saw the Pennsylvania constitution could lead to little more than disorganization and mob rule. As John Adams put it: 'so democratical that it must produce confusion and every evil work.' It is important to remember that many of the U.S. founders feared democracy as mob rule and felt a need to defend against too direct of a democracy.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, 90 percent of white adults could not run for political office
Voting Requirements in South Carolina

This idea of who was fit to lead in office was very normal in 18th century American political thought. They believed only those who were financially well off had the self-control to make reasonable judgments about political matters. Because of this, poor white men, all women, children, and African Americans, free or slave, were considered too reliant on others to have reasoned political judgment. Almost all of these exclusions from the political process have been ended in America today, but age limits do still remain.

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