Guest Essayist: The Honorable Ken Paxton

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State Attorneys General (AG) serve as the chief lawyers for their respective states and work to defend state sovereignty in a variety of contexts. They represent the interests of their states in court proceedings by defending state laws against legal challenges and, in many cases, enforcing state laws in both civil and criminal actions.  They frequently are called upon to provide legal advice to state officials and to issue legal opinions on a range of issues.  They also may oversee critical government programs, such as (in Texas) the state’s child support function.

While similar to their federal counterpart—the U.S. Attorney General—these state officers perform functions that vary greatly from the federal context, specifically in three ways.

First, the state AG is a constitutional officer of a sovereign state.  The U.S. Constitution recognizes the independent states’ sovereignty[1] and limits the duties of the federal government while reserving the remaining power to the states.[2]  Unlike the U.S. Attorney General, the majority of state AGs are constitutional officers: the AG is an elected executive officer in 43 states with the remaining states appointing the position.[3]

Texas is unique because it was a sovereign nation before joining the union. Between 1836 and 1846, the President of the Republic of Texas appointed the AG to serve a two-year term. Texas joined the Union as the 28th state on December 29, 1845, and, in 1850, the Texas Constitution was amended to provide for the election of the AG.

Second, state AGs swear an oath to uphold and defend the laws of their state in addition to the U.S. Constitution.[4]  By contrast, the U.S. Attorney General is only charged with upholding and defending the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

This role for the state AG is appropriate:  it supports the sovereignty of the state and the Constitution’s federalism, which allows states to hold the federal government accountable. The states, and their officers, were meant to be safeguards of a limited federal Constitution, not the front-line champions of federal power.[5]

Texas requires[6] the AG to protect the state’s interest broadly to defend state sovereignty. [7]   Between 2010 and 2016, the Texas AG sued the federal government 48 times for exceeding its authority on issues ranging from environmental protection regulations to the Affordable Care Act.[8] These lawsuits are important to preserve state rights and stand as a bulwark against unconstitutional federal encroachment.

Third, the role of state AGs is broader than the U.S. Attorney General because, as state officers, they must advise, protect, and enforce the laws of each of their states. Many state AGs serve as the chief legal advisor and chief law enforcement officer for their state.

In Texas, the AG issues legal opinions on a variety of topics and defends state agencies in litigation. The AG litigates antitrust and environmental violations and prosecutes human traffickers and child abusers. Texas has been a national leader in bringing cases defending states’ rights and continues to be at the forefront of litigation to restrain the federal government to its enumerated powers.

In summary, state AGs have complex roles, which differ from the U.S. Attorney General, primarily because of the powers rightly reserved to the states under the Constitution and the innumerable ways in which each state wields that responsibility.

Ken Paxton is the 51st Attorney General of Texas. Attorney General Paxton is focused on protecting Texans and upholding Texas laws and the Constitution.

Fighting federal overreach, he filed 22 lawsuits against the Obama administration during a two-year stretch, of which six cases were heard in the U.S. Supreme Court. Most recently, a U.S. District Court agreed with his 20-state coalition lawsuit holding Obamacare unconstitutional. Attorney General Paxton obtained an injunction or other winning ruling in over 75 percent of the cases he has brought against the federal government.  

Attorney General Paxton has won major cases for Texas on immigration, school rights, voter ID, sanctuary cities, redistricting, EPA rules and religious freedom. He created a human trafficking unit in his office that helped shut down Backpage.com, the largest online sex-trafficking marketplace in the United States. Attorney General Paxton’s office has also obtained a record number of successful election fraud convictions.

Prior to becoming attorney general in January 2015, he served as a state Senator and a member of the Texas House of Representatives. A graduate of Baylor University, Attorney General Paxton earned his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law.

 A special thanks to Lesley French, Assistant Attorney General, for assistance in researching and drafting the essay.

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[1] See, e.g., U.S. CONST. amend. X; id. art. I, § 10, cl. 1 (“No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or

Confederation . . . .”); id. art. I, § 10, cl. 2 (“No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports . . . .”). A few constitutional provisions are exceptional. See id. art. I, § 4, cl. 1 (instructing states to prescribe the time, place, and manner of elections for senators and representatives); id. art. II, § 1, cl. 2 (empowering states to decide the manner in which presidential electors are selected).

[2] THE FEDERALIST NO. 46 (James Madison).

[3] Maine’s state legislature appoints the attorney general and the Tennessee Supreme Court appoints the attorney general.

[4] See, e.g., CAL. CONST. art. 20, § 3 (“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that

I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”); N.Y. CONST. art. 13, § 1 (“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of [attorney general], according to the best of my ability . . . .”); TEX. CONST. art. 16, § 1(a) (“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of [attorney general] of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.”); VA. CONST. art. II, § 7 (“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the

duties incumbent upon me as [attorney general], according to the best of my ability (so help me God).”); 15 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. § 205/1 (West 1990) (“I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be), that I will support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of attorney general, according to the best of my ability.”).

[5] THE FEDERALIST NO. 46 (James Madison) (discussing the ability of states to check claims of federal authority).

[6] Tex. Const.  art. IV, § 22.

[7] Id. Those powers generally include but are not limited to:  (1) bringing suit on behalf of the state or a governmental entity, i.e. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 125.070; (2) seeking injunctive relief; (3) recovering civil penalties; (4) defending agencies and state officials, i.e., Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 101.103, 104.004; Tex. Gov’t Code § 74.141 (defend state district court judges) (5) investigatory i.e. Tex. Bus. & Comm. Code § 15.10 (may issue civil investigatory in monopoly/anti-trust cases); (5) enforcement of specific statutes i.e. Tex. Bus. & Comm. Code § 17.47 (may enforce the DTPA), Tex. Hum. Res. Code §§ 36.051-.053 (investigate, seek penalty and injunction for Medicaid Fraud); (6) seeking mandamus against certain entities, i.e. Tex. Election Code § 123.065; Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.321 (compel gov’t entity to make information public), (7) assist in prosecutions, i.e. Tex. Gov’t Code § 41.102; and (8) approving bonds issued by state and local governmental entities as well as various utility districts and institutions of higher education, Tex. Gov’t Code Ch. 1202; Staples v. State, 245 S.W. 639 (Tex.  1922); Agey v. Am. Liberty Pipeline Co., 172 S.W.2d 972 (1943) (“The Attorney General is the chief law officer of the State, and it is incumbent upon him to institute in the proper courts proceedings to enforce or protect any right of the public that is violated.  He has the right to investigate the facts and exercise his judgment and discretion regarding the filing of a suit.” (internal citations omitted)).

[8] Neena Satija et. al., Texas v. the Feds – A Look at the Lawsuits, Texas Tribune (Jan.17, 2017); available at: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/01/17/texas-federal-government-lawsuits/

Guest Essayist: J. Eric Wise

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How to Keep the Founders’ Intentions for “We the People” Who Are in Charge of Their Own Governing

The first mention of the United States in an official document is found in the Declaration of Independence. The thirteen colonies that declared their separation from England became thirteen “free and independent States.”

As a practical matter, these states were always united, if perhaps at first only in war against the British. By 1781, these united states had entered into The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, commonly called the Articles. The Articles provided that “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”

But the powers delegated to the United States in Congress were not insubstantial. Under the Articles, the power over foreign policy and the laying of imposts and duties, and responsibility for determining war and peace, resided in the national government. In time, however, the inability of the Articles to deal with a failing economy and serious governance problems led to the calling of a constitutional convention.

The Articles provided that the compact could be altered only with the consent of Congress and confirmation “by the legislatures of every State.” The impracticality of this rule led to the proposal that the new Constitution be effective, with respect to ratifying states only, when ratified by conventions held in just nine states. The new Constitution thus was never approved by the unanimous mechanism described in the Articles. The rights of states embodied in the provisions requiring unanimity were cast aside for the sake of “The public interest, the necessity of the case, imposed upon them the task of overleaping their constitutional [under the Articles] limits.”  Federalist 38. 

The Constitution established a new relationship among the states. No longer were the states held together in perpetual union as a compact of states; rather  “We the People of the United States” formed a government directly as a compact of a people. A confederation of independent states no more, the government was to be –

“partly federal and partly national; in the operation of these powers, it is national, not federal; in the extent of them, again, it is federal, not national; and, finally, in the authoritative mode of introducing amendments, it is neither wholly federal nor wholly national.” Federalist 39.

Almost immediately following ratification of the Constitution, the nation adopted the Bill of Rights as the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution provided that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” As the powers delegated to the United States were listed in the enumerated powers of Article I and related largely to defense, interstate and international commerce, coinage, bankruptcy, and citizenship, the Constitution left to the states “police powers” to look after the health, safety and welfare of the people of the United States.

The dispersal of these very important police powers concerned more than the simple preservation of the status quo in place under the Articles of Confederation. The dispersal of police power had an important philosophic idea underlying it, based on the nature of human society. A republic, in which the people govern themselves, requires a body of people closely familiar with one another. With a smaller territory, the people of a republic could be familiar with and attached to the customs and habits of the people, and make sound policies and laws suited to their way of life and economic livelihood.

Indeed, opponents of the Constitution had cited “Montesquieu on the necessity of a contracted territory for a republican government.” Federalist 9. A large territory, Montesquieu had supposed, encouraged a monarchy, as monarchies were more adept at communications over distance and operate on principles that do not require thorough familiarity with the governed (rather they require familiarity with a small body of subordinate princes). The Constitution resolved these issues by creating a federal republic, where local rule prevailed in areas touching the daily lives of the people.

The power of the states to make different policies and laws suited to their way of life and industry had what one might call a beneficial “knock-on effect.” James Madison observed that the federal republic would take in a large number of different interests – obviously in no small part on account of the independent police powers of the states to shape the citizenry – which would have the effect at the national level of cancelling out narrow selfish interests. He wrote:

“Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.” Federalist 10.

In the Twenty-First Century, this model has been partly abandoned. Not only has American society adopted practices that homogenize its culture, such as national television, newspapers, radio, and a largely uniform way of higher education – universities are homogenized by, among other things, the competition for national rankings prepared by U.S. News and World Report – the national government has also increasingly absorbed the traditional police powers of the states through expansive readings of the commerce clause and of “substantive due process,” circumscribing the role states play in shaping the character of their citizens through policies and laws.

In today’s climate of identity politics, the resulting uniformity of laws and culture may not seem like a threat. But consider perhaps that a uniform national culture – identity politics itself – may already exist and that a common national motive for a majority to invade the rights of a minority may be gathering. In this light, it may be time for states to once again jealously protect their rights and to exercise with renewed vitality their police powers to shape diverse interests for the common benefit of the United States.

Eric Wise is an attorney practicing in New York.

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Guest Essayist: Greg Davidson

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To many, the position of state governor is a faint echo of the president of the United States.  The president is in charge of a vast empire stretching coast to coast with global implications while governors are seen as mere presiders, not much more than little men running little fiefdoms perpetuating their own schemes for self-interest and self-aggrandizement.

That view, of course, is blatantly false.  The position of governor in the American political system far predates the concept of a president, though the role of the American president is a noble position of service as first exemplified by George Washington who refused a crown to rule as king and instead chose to serve through a presidency.  Governors in the American colonies maintained relations with overseas powers and oversaw the vast expansion of the American state.  Governors oversaw massive political changes as state constitutional systems were created.  Governors laid the foundation for the modern American state through their vision, leadership, and administration.

And if the concept of governor is broadened even more to recognize them as presiding officers in the vast array of North American political systems, it is clear that these governors have led the way for centuries.  Governors governed by Spanish, French or Mexican rule, that are now part of the United States, reach back to the 1500s before most of the northeastern states were even organized as colonies.  This is not to mention the presiding governors of ancient tribes and native peoples in Hawaii, Alaska and all across the American continent.  By this, it is also clear that the American constitutional role of the president established by the Constitution of 1789 is a latecomer to the game of governing in America.

Given this rich and varied background, present day state governors are as diverse as their history.  At present, 27 of the 50 governors are Republican and 23 are Democrat or Independent.  Thirty states have elected women as governors at sometime in their history, while 20 states including progressive states such as California, Colorado, New York and Wisconsin have never elected a woman governor.

Current governors self-identify their religious beliefs along a wide line of religious beliefs: 18 as Roman Catholic, five as Presbyterian, four as Christian, four as Baptist, three as Jewish, two as Congregationalist, two as Evangelical, and one each as Buddhist, Quaker, Lutheran, Protestant, Methodist, Mormon, and Episcopalian.  Five do not list any religious affiliation – a diverse lot.

States have been governed by a wide number of ethnic-minorities as well.  Ten have been governed by Mexican Americans, five by African Americans, two by Indian Americans, two by Salvadoran Americans, and one each by a Spanish American, Native Hawaiian, Chinese American, Filipino American, Japanese American, Okinawan American, and Native American governor from the Cherokee Nation.

The average age of American governors at their first inauguration is just over 56 years.  Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama was the oldest serving governor upon her inauguration at 72 and Ron DeSantis of Florida is currently the youngest at 40.  By contrast, the American president has been exclusively male and white with one exception, generally educated in the northeast, and mostly Protestant.

Current American governors have come to their offices by many different pathways immediately prior to their election.  Eleven were lieutenant governors, eight were United States Congressmen, five were state attorney generals, four were state senators, three were state representatives, three were state treasurers, two were secretaries of state, one was a county official, one was a United States ambassador, and four were assorted executive branch officials at the state level.  Seven governors currently serving had no experience as elected officials prior to their election.

And finally, the position of state governor has served as a launch pad for future presidents of the United States more than the U.S. House or Senate or any federal executive branch office.  Governors are elected president more than any other elected official.  Nine governors were elected directly from the statehouse to the White House while only six U.S. Senators and only three U.S. Representatives were elected directly from their respective offices.  Seventeen presidents were previously elected as either state governors or territorial governors.  And a total of five presidents were elected with no prior elective office experience.

Bottom line is the position of governor in the American political system is unique and powerful.  Whereas the national political system creates uniformity and demands conformity, American states present diversity both in the breadth of the institutional constructs creating the office of governor, and through a variety of political, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.  Further, innovation, economic development, educational expansion, and the extension of constitutional guarantees are at the helm of the role in which governors serve by leading the way in our American states.

Greg Davidson is the Executive Clerk to the Governor and director of the Constituent Communication Division of the Office of the Governor in Texas.  Over the past 30 years, Greg has worked for Texas Governors Clements, Bush, Perry, and Abbott.  Greg holds a Master of Arts in government and a BBA in Marketing from the University of Texas at Austin.  He also holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and currently serves as the Stated Clerk for the South Texas Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America.  Greg was elected to serve as a presidential elector in the United States Electoral College and has been involved in presidential, gubernatorial, congressional, state, and local campaigns since 1976.  He resides in Austin, Texas with his wife Donna Garcia Davidson who is an attorney in private practice concentrating in the area of campaign finance and election law.  They have one daughter, a senior at Regents School of Austin, who intends to go to college, study engineering or law, and play competitive golf.

 

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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Unfortunately, the Court cast aside Justice Frankfurter’s warning that judges should stay out of the apportionment controversy and let the democratic process resolve it. Where wise men feared to tread, the justices foolishly rushed in. In 1962, in Baker v. Carr, they decided that such issues were “justiciable,” after all. Two years later, in Reynolds v. Sims, they decided that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment supplied the solution. All legislative districts, whether congressional, state legislative, or local, had to be equal in population to be constitutional. The history of the Equal Protection Clause contains no evidence that the Congress or the states intended it to address this issue. Indeed, section two of that amendment addresses a very specific instance of representation, that is, a state’s representation would be reduced in the House of Representatives by the proportion that it denied its adult male citizens the right to vote on racial grounds. The framers of the amendment were fully aware of political representation, yet did not consider the Equal Protection Clause itself applicable broadly to representation or voting.

The Court cast the operative principle as “one man, one vote.” The cases most assuredly had nothing to do with voting. No one was denied the right to vote. Nor did one person’s vote count differently than that of the next person in line. What it came down to was that, in districts with unequal population, a voter in a larger district allegedly had his vote diluted in the legislature in comparison to a voter in a smaller district, because the former’s representative represented more residents than the latter’s. The Court ignored the fact that there was no logical connection between who could or could not vote and any particular system of representation.

Other difficulties with the Court’s opinion were that districts with equal numbers of residents might not have equal numbers of voters. In Evenwell v. Abbott, in 2016, the Court ruled that population equality is based on residents, not voters. Of course, this will result in vote dilution for those who vote in districts with many voters, compared to those who vote in equally-sized districts with many non-voters, such as children, prisoners, and aliens, legal or otherwise. Moreover, populations change over ten years, so any attempt to adhere slavishly to population equality is doomed to immediate failure, as districts change in relative size.

Why, then, did the Court decide to tilt at these constitutional windmills? The catalyst was the decades-long failure of certain mainly Southern states to reapportion their districts in violation of their own state constitutional requirements. This produced often significant discrepancies in population between small rural districts and populous urban areas, a trend exacerbated by the 20th century’s technology-driven trend of urbanization. The Court viewed recourse to state constitutional conventions as too cumbersome. Since the delegates to those conventions were likely to be elected from those same malapportioned districts, they, like the legislatures, could not be counted on to challenge the existing system in a meaningful manner. Congressional interference with state districting would tread on thin constitutional ice and, in any case, was unlikely in light of the malapportionment of many congressional districts. The justices are drawn from a legal elite that shares many common outlooks, whatever their personal partisan affiliation. The common wisdom for that elite was that the existing systems exaggerated the influence of rural, socially and politically “unenlightened” residents and politicians, and constrained the economically, racially, and socially more progressive urban dwellers.

If the goal was to make the political environment reflect imagined urban progressivism, the results definitely have been inconclusive. The reapportionment cases, with their emphasis on population equality over everything, did break down the power of rural and small-town politicians and interests. In the South, they helped loosen the stranglehold of the Democratic Party that had produced the “Solid South” for over a century. But political power did not flow from the rural Democrats to the urban Democrats, as much as it did from the rural Democrats to the suburban Republicans. In non-Southern states, power similarly tended to flow to the expanding suburban areas, many of which did not share the mindset of the urban elites.

More significant in the long run was the “law of unintended consequences” manifesting itself in the guise of naked partisan gerrymandering. Going back to the country’s founding, most states apportioned one of their legislative chambers primarily on the basis of population and the other at least partially on other factors, such as county lines or city boundaries, much as the old Massachusetts and Virginia constitutions had done. In many states, the latter had been used for the lower, more numerous house. In contrast, more recent apportionment plans, as in California and Colorado, had followed the “federal model” and used population for the more numerous house and allowed political boundaries as a significant factor to apportion the less numerous upper legislative chamber.

The Court rejected both systems in Reynolds. As to the “federal model,” the Court argued that the Constitution was a compromise among sovereign states. However, the states’ political sovereignty did not extend to deciding how to govern themselves internally, because the cities and counties were not themselves sovereign actors, but mere creatures of the states. The same day as Reynolds, in Lucas v. 44th General Assembly of Colorado, the Court used the same reasoning to strike down a recent reapportionment of the Colorado legislature, approved by a significant majority of voters in every legislative district in the state. The Court’s objection was that the political majority might elect the governor and the lower house of the legislature, but it would take two-thirds of the population in the most populous districts to elect a majority of the upper house. The purpose of the Colorado system was to give some political influence to the residents in the large areas of Colorado not within fifty miles of the intersection of I-25 and I-70 and the city of Denver. The Court was unmoved by the fact that Colorado’s urban and suburban residents had themselves voted in favor of the plan, and that the voters had also overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that incorporated the system the Court eventually imposed. If even one voter’s vote was diluted, the Court declared, a constitutional violation had occurred.

In subsequent decisions, the Court softened its numerical rigidity somewhat. For congressional districts, under Karcher v. Dagett (1983), any deviation from absolute equality will be strictly scrutinized. For internal state legislative districts and for local districts, however, the Court decided in Mahan v. Howell (1973) that only “substantial equality” is needed, with deviations up to 20% from an ideal equality among districts being acceptable.

But the damage is done. By severely curtailing the ability of states to consider factors other than population, the Court removed the constraints on the one apportionment tool that coexists comfortably with population equality, the partisan gerrymander. When apportionment had to occur within set political boundaries, partisan considerations were blunted. Moreover, population movements and new political issues could change the partisan composition of a district. Politicians more likely had to moderate ideological predispositions and be less rigidly partisan. When preexisting district lines are meaningless and the quest for numbers is paramount, districts are drawn to maximize partisan advantage. Using computerized data and statistical formulae, apportionment experts create “safe” districts to maximize the majority party’s advantage well beyond their share of voter registration. For example, in California, Democrats have 46 congressional seats, Republicans 7, even though the Republican share of the vote in California is around 38%. Based on percentages, the Republicans should have had an additional 13 seats. These safe seats are won during primaries by the most militant candidate appealing to the party’s ideologically committed base. The winners then become difficult to dislodge and serve many terms, thereby putting them in legislative leadership roles.

Many observers have mourned the increased partisanship and hardening of ideological lines facilitated at least in part by the representational paradigm of population equality. At the state level, longevity of service is restrained by term limits, but ideological militancy is not. A final chapter may be emerging in the Supreme Court’s apportionment experiment. So far, the Court has avoided tackling partisan gerrymandering. However, the justices served notice in Davis v. Bandemer (1986) that such gerrymandering might violate the Constitution if it resulted in systematic and continuous exclusion of a party from political power. The justices could not agree on a specific standard to determine whether such an injury had occurred. In Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004), a plurality led by Justice Antonin Scalia found such cases to be non-justiciable, precisely because courts had not been able to discover any constitutional standard to apply in political gerrymandering claims. The intensely and inherently political nature of partisan gerrymandering and the many nuanced shapes it can take makes this a very difficult area for judicial resolution. However, the recent case of Gill v. Whitford (2018) and current litigation involving partisan gerrymandering in Maryland suggest that the judiciary’s struggle to extricate itself from the political issues that infuse partisan gerrymandering continues.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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While Congress determines each state’s allotted number of representatives, each state draws the lines of its congressional districts. A few states early in their history experimented with at-large elections to maximize their clout in the House, but Congress quickly passed a law to require election from single-member districts. That method reflects the American constitutional tradition, dating back to colonial times, of tying representation to local political units and geographical areas, with their inhabitants voting for one of their own. Although the Constitution does not explicitly require members of the House to live in the districts that they represent (hence, the possibility of at-large elections), residence in the district is a practical requirement. Jon Ossoff, a Democratic candidate in a 2017 special election for a congressional seat in Georgia was found not to reside in that district, a fact that was publicized by his opponent. Despite massive out-of-state financial support, Ossoff lost, and his failure to live in the district likely contributed to that loss.

States also apportion their state legislative districts and determine how local electoral districts are apportioned. State constitutions typically provide for regular reapportionment and fix who–legislatures, courts, commissions–is to conduct that reapportionment. Local districts, such as county commissioners, school boards, and junior college districts, are included in this process, even if they perform multiple functions, as long as one of those functions is legislative and the body is elected by districts. The Supreme Court has recognized one exclusion, in Ball v. James (1981), for certain special governmental units that have only limited legislative powers, such as water districts. For those, voting and representation can be apportioned on the basis of amount of water rights or use, rather than population. The distinction between special and general governmental bodies is none-too-obvious, however.

In the 1960s, another wave of discontent arose over voting and representation, originating in litigation over racial discrimination. For many years, the Supreme Court had stayed out of the “political thicket” of legislative apportionment about which Justice Felix Frankfurter had warned in Colegrove v. Green in 1946. Constitutional challenges to legislative apportionment were dismissed as “non-justiciable political questions,” meaning that they were not suitable for resolution by courts. The reason was republicanism. Voting and representation are quintessential expressions of self-government, determined by consent of the governed through direct participation in voting or through representative bodies, such as constitutional conventions or, at least, legislatures. Unelected judicial mandarins accountable only to their conscience imposing a system of government on society fundamentally undercuts the modern consensual basis of the legitimacy of the state.

Another problem was that republicanism requires neither some particular system of voting, nor a specific scheme of representation. Hence, voting qualifications are addressed in clear constitutional provisions. Changes to voting qualifications, at least at the level of the U.S. Constitution, with a few controversial exceptions, have been produced through explicit and formal amendments. Matters of representation, as well, are addressed in express manner in a few rather terse and specific provisions.

Beyond those basics, the Constitution has left such political issues to the political process, particularly in the several states. Especially regarding representation, the Constitution only requires that the states have republican forms of government. We know what a republican form is not, namely, hereditary monarchy or aristocracy. But we do not know what it is. Must representation be based on districts? If so, must these be single-member? Must representatives be elected by a majority, or does a plurality suffice? At the state or local level, must it be based on residents, adult residents, citizens, registered voters, actual voters, or something else? Must all districts be drawn on the basis of population equality only? May the system give recognition or accommodation to political subdivisions; cohesive racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural communities; organized societal subgroups, such as labor unions, business or professional associations, or military veterans; or wealthier areas that contribute more to the maintenance of the political community through their taxes? Most of these variants have occurred in the constitutions of the several states or in current or former republican systems around the world.

Finally, judges approach such issues through the language, methodology, and epistemology of the law. Lawsuits produce winners and losers and deal in absolutes. In constitutional litigation, there is the additional complication that the Constitution confers a certain moral legitimacy on the winner and concurrent illegitimacy on the loser. These institutional factors tend to produce arguments and results that lurch towards conceptual absolutes and hard attitudes rather than compromise, flexibility, and nuance. Representation often requires the balancing of numerous competing interests, particularly in a political system that, through its Madisonian roots, is consciously designed to pit temporary and changing coalitions of diverse self-interested factions against each other.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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In a republic, two distinct principles are essential to political influence, voting and representation. Although there is no logical connection between any particular systems of voting and representation, there is a practical overlap. It is not astonishing, therefore, that allocation of voting and representation not only have been addressed in all republican constitutions, ancient and modern, but that conflicts over these issues have flared up in American history. “No taxation without representation” was one potent Revolutionary War-era slogan–and continues to be an (avoidable) obsession with some residents of the District of Columbia and with its municipal government. That slogan arose out of fundamental differences between English and American conceptions of voting and representation that had evolved from the experiences of living under distinctive physical and social conditions.

Voting qualifications and representation have been major controversies in several periods of American history. The Philadelphia Convention in 1787 was deadlocked several weeks over the representational structure of the proposed Congress and nearly broke up over the matter before Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut presented the current compromise system. The constitutional upheaval of the second quarter of the 19th century during the “Age of Jackson” that produced numerous state conventions was triggered by popular restiveness over the outdated systems of voting and representation. One particularly tragic-comic event during that time was the Dorr War, a “civil war” in Rhode Island in 1841/2. It was precipitated by an attempt to reform the voting qualifications and legislative apportionment in place since the old colony’s royal charter had been made, with a few qualifications, the new state’s constitution at independence. Once more, in the 1960s, voting and representation became major constitutional issues. This time the matter was addressed through litigation in courts, rather less democratic than constitutional conventions and less dramatic than civil wars, no matter how small.

As early as 1639, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut fixed voting for the General Court in all free adult male inhabitants of the towns, if they had taken the Oath of Fidelity. The Orders also fixed representation in that body based roughly on the population of the constituent towns. Other colonial charters followed suit. After independence, the state constitutions addressed these issues, sometimes in considerable detail. For example, the Virginia Constitution of 1776 simply provided in a fraction of one sentence that voters must be free adult males with sufficient common interest with, and attachment to, their community, presumably based on residency and property ownership. The system of representation, on the other hand, took up two complete sections, with representation in the House of Delegates primarily on the basis of counties and cities, and in the Senate, on the basis of larger districts composed of various counties.

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 similarly allowed voting for its two legislative chambers by adult male inhabitants with sufficient estates who lived in their respective electoral units. The forty senators would be elected from districts that were apportioned based on the proportion of taxes that they paid. The number of districts, their lines, and the number of senators from each would be determined periodically by the legislature. The state’s House of Representatives would be apportioned on the basis of incorporated towns, with some adjustment for population size among the towns. It was the Massachusetts system of senatorial apportionment by the legislature that made a lasting contribution to the political lexicon. In 1812, the legislature redrew the Senate districts to favor the Jeffersonian Republicans. One district, in Essex County, had a particularly convoluted shape, which an editorial in the Boston Gazette compared to a salamander and dubbed a “Gerry-mander.” The governor, Elbridge Gerry, had signed the legislation despite personal misgivings about its hyper-partisanship. Partisan apportionment remains a common tactic today, and districts not infrequently have similarly odd shapes. One refreshingly honest practitioner, former California Democratic Congressman Philip Burton, in 1981 called one such creation his “contribution to modern art.” While the pronunciation has changed slightly, to a soft “g,” the “gerrymander” has endured.

The U.S. Constitution provides for apportionment of representation among the states. In the Senate, representation is based on the political equality of all states in their corporate capacity, in recognition of their residual sovereignty. In the House of Representatives, it is based on a combination of population and political identity, in that more populous states receive more representatives, but each state has at least one, regardless of population. The Constitution initially provided for one representative for each 30,000 residents, which number itself had been controversial. The convention had settled on one member for each 40,000, but George Washington thought that too high. It was the only time that Washington, the presiding officer of the convention, spoke on a substantive issue before the convention. His proposal was quickly adopted. Beyond that, some speakers at the Philadelphia convention and the state ratifying conventions spoke broadly about the desirability of population equality in drawing districts, and the need to avoid the “rotten boroughs” of England, that is, districts that no longer had many residents, yet still elected members of Parliament. State constitutions also endorsed equality in representation. As, the Virginia and Massachusetts constitutions showed, however, their concept of equality was far more nuanced than the numerical rigidity that the Supreme Court later discovered in the Constitution.

While population growth and admission of new states initially resulted simply in increasing the number of representatives, in 1929 Congress capped the size of the House at 435 voting members, to prevent their number from becoming too unwieldy to conduct business efficiently and to deal with a lack of physical space in the chamber. As a consequence, after every decennial census, unequal population increases in the various states now cause some states to gain representatives, and others to lose them. This can also produce significant population disparities among districts in different states, depending on the formula Congress uses. Under the current formula, the largest district, in Montana, has nearly twice the population of the smallest district, in neighboring Wyoming.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: J. Eric Wise

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According to Aristotle, “the first society to be formed is the village. And the most natural form of the village appears to be that of a colony from the family…” The town of my childhood, Detroit, was a colony founded by the French in 1701. One of my forebears by the name of Parent was among the first of 40 families to settle there in 1707. My grandmother, Blanche Parent Wise, was also the first – and last – Republican woman to sit on the Detroit city council from 1952 to 1960. Greenwich, Connecticut, where I live today, began as a colony founded in 1640 by a group of Englishmen that included daughter-in-law of John Winthrop, the founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and author of the famous “city on a hill” sermon.

While the Town of Greenwich, population 61,000, is old, its modern charter arrived in 1975. The charter is filled with provisions for budgets, elections, flood control, health, home rule, ordinances, parks and recreation, zoning, parking, public works, sewers, a board of estimation and taxes, a town council, selectmen (think mayors and deputy mayors), and a town clerk. 

As this litany of charter provisions shows, a town or city touches almost every aspect of the daily life of its people. Whether you are driving on a road, visiting a park, waving to a policeman directing traffic, taking in the bustle of your local commercial district, or simply parking your car, you are working with your city government and your city government is working for you.

A city government is always busy making a great many households into one community, into its own little “city on a hill” as John Winthrop would have said. A city government not only must do all these things – imagine a world without police or firemen, or in the case of Greenwich, public beaches! – it must also pay for them.

Thus the first article of the charter of the Town of Greenwich provides for the Board of Estimate and Taxation (or BET), which is responsible for the “proper administration for the financial affairs of the town.” The BET consists of 12 members elected at large, who serve without pay for a term of two years. The Town of Greenwich may not borrow without the approval of the BET.

The AAA rated Town of Greenwich has a highly successful financial record. The Town of Greenwich 2019-2020 Budget reflects operating costs of $389,620,369 (about $6,400 per capita), authorized general debt of $39,981,000 and authorized sewer debt of $7,250,000 (altogether about $800 per capita). The debt represents general obligations of the Town of Greenwich backed by its “full faith and credit.” This means the Town of Greenwich has made a commitment to use its future taxing power to pay for bonds issued to meet current expenditures.

In the Town of Greenwich, executive power is held by the First Selectman. All administrative functions – police, fire, highways, sewers and other public works, building inspection, parks, recreation, law, human resources, parking services, fleet management, information technology and purchasing for such purposes, fall under the direct supervision and control of the First Selectman. A Board of Selectmen consisting of the First Selectman and two other Selectmen appoints the various heads of department on the recommendation of the First Selectman.

But there are important duties of a First Selectman that are not found in the charter. Fred Camillo, a Republican candidate for First Selectman in the Town of Greenwich, when asked about the responsibilities of a First Selectman, said “The First Selectman is the voice and face of the town, and is the person who sees to it that the public welfare is protected, its finances secure, with its future road map charted.”

Camillo, who currently represents the 151st District of Connecticut in the Capitol in Hartford, added, “The First Selectman also has to keep an eye on Hartford, and have a solid working relationship with the governor and a good rapport with the various state departments and agencies as well as legislature.”

In addition to an executive, the Town of Greenwich has a deliberative body called the Representative Town Meeting, or RTM for short. Like a city council, the RTM exercises the ordinance making powers on behalf of the people of Greenwich. A highly democratic body, the RTM consists of over 200 members, and meets regularly to conduct town business.

In addition to the First Selectman and the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the Town of Greenwich elects two Selectmen, five members of the Board of Tax Review, a Tax Collector, seven Constables.

Not to be forgotten are the volunteers. According to Camillo, “Volunteers are extremely important. They reduce the tax burden and foster a spirit of pride, which is very helpful.  Greenwich is unique in that people take their civic duty seriously. In fact, the civic involvement is second to none. I travel all over the state, and I have never seen the level of civic involvement that I have seen in Greenwich. As long as I can remember, it has always been there.”

This apparatus of leaders, departments, appointees, employees, and volunteers works to deliver the essential services needed for living well. It requires the hard work and dedication of a great body of people, many of whom perform their jobs for no compensation, out of a sense that a town is a kind of family.

When city government does not work, when a town ceases to be a family, the results can be catastrophic. In 2013, Detroit, once one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the United States, filed for bankruptcy. More than ten times the size of the Town of Greenwich, Detroit had saddled itself with more than 400 times the debt. Years of overtaxing and underservicing had driven the population down to less than half of its peak. Detroit had gone from being a “city on a hill” to a city in a very deep hole. Just how deep? A suspension of representative government occurred in Detroit; an unelected Emergency Manager took over power to operate the city as the city marched into a Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Eric Wise is an attorney practicing in New York.

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Guest Essayist: Clay Williams

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Mississippi followed a long, winding path to reach statehood. Following thousands of years of various Native Americans inhabiting the landscape, European powers burst upon the scene in the 1500s. Between then and the late 1700s, Spain, France and England had all claimed at least portions of the area we now know of as Mississippi. When the fledgling United States acquired the area in the late eighteenth century, it took nearly twenty years before Mississippi became this nation’s twentieth state.

Congress established the Mississippi Territory on April 7, 1798. Spain had claimed a large portion of the area but had given up much of its rights by 1795. Initially, this region consisted of a strip of land between the Mississippi and Chattahoochee Rivers but by 1812, it encompassed all of the present-day states of Mississippi and Alabama. The territorial government consisted of a governor, three judges and a secretary who served as a ruling council. Once the population level reached a certain number, the territory could apply for the second territorial stage which included an elected assembly and a delegate to Congress. Eventually, a territory could apply for statehood.

The new government faced a variety of difficult issues: conflicting land claims, tense relations with Native Americans, and the continuing interference of the Spanish. Severe political factionalism also dominated territorial politics which hampered the Mississippi Territory’s governors as they attempted to deal with these problems. It was not until near the end of the territorial period when the area’s residents became focused on the drive for statehood and the political rivalry began to subside.

The residents of the Mississippi Territory were primarily former British or Spanish citizens or natives of other parts of the United States who had migrated to the region in pursuit of land and opportunity. Following the conclusion of the Creek War in 1814, the most important event in the development of the region, a flood of immigration into the region occurred. By the time of Mississippi’s statehood in 1817, the area’s population had swelled to over 200,000

While the Territory remained overwhelmingly rural, it included several noteworthy towns such as Washington, Port Gibson, Mobile, and Huntsville. Natchez was by far the most important town in the Territory. Laid out by the Spanish in the late 1700s, the city became the cultural and economic center of the Territory as well as the seat of political power throughout the period.

Whether they lived in a city or in the countryside, most Mississippi Territory citizens’ lives revolved around agriculture. Cotton became by far the most profitable and important crop. Just as importantly, the profitability of cotton production gave rise to the widespread growth of slavery in the Mississippi Territory. Slaves had first been brought into the region during the colonial era, but it was during the territorial period that their population grew in significant numbers. The institution exerted great influence on the Territory’s economy and laid the foundation for a pattern of economic and social development that would dominate much of Mississippi’s history for the next fifty years.

Arguments over whether the Mississippi Territory would enter the union as one state or two had begun almost immediately after its organization in 1798. Aware of the economic and political dominance of their portion of the Territory, many western residents, specifically those in the along the Mississippi River near Natchez favored admission as a single state so that they might maintain their influence. Many eastern residents in the Mobile region, however, initially felt that their interests were neglected due to the great distance between themselves and the territorial capital as well as other inherent differences in economy and lifestyle. After the Creek War, however, the situation reversed. The population of the eastern section of the Territory grew rapidly as settlers migrated onto former Creek lands. Realizing the potential to exert more influence on any new state of which they were to be a part, many eastern section residents now began to favor admission of the Territory as one state. Sensing the future diminishment of their influence, those in the western section now advocated division.

In the end, Congress divided the territory in large part to allow four new seats in the Senate instead of just two. President James Madison signed the enabling act that granted admission of the western section of the Territory as the state of Mississippi on March 1, 1817; the eastern section was organized as the Alabama Territory at the same time. The line of division, which still serves as the boundary between Mississippi and Alabama today, was designed to be a compromise between the wishes of western and eastern residents of the Territory although many residents of both areas remained unhappy.

In July of 1817, forty-eight delegates from Mississippi’s fourteen counties met to draft the new state’s constitution. The constitution established Mississippi’s government and recognized Natchez as the state’s capital. This charter document kept power in the hands of the few as only white men of property could vote or hold office. Many statewide elected officials were elected by the legislature and the amendment process was difficult.  In keeping with its agricultural roots, slavery was expressly protected. President James Monroe on December 10, 1817, signed the resolution that admitted Mississippi as the nation’s twentieth state. Territorial governor David Holmes won election as the state’s first governor. Electors also chose George Poindexter as its only congressman and Walter Leake and Thomas H. Williams as its first senators.

Mississippi has since written three more constitutions over the past two hundred years. The next constitution written in 1832 mirrored the Jacksonian age by expanding those who can participate in government to all white men. After the Civil War, the 1868 constitution extended voting rights to all men, regardless of race. The state’s current constitution, written in 1890, reversed these democratic gains by requiring poll taxes and literacy tests to qualify to vote. These measures decimated the number of registered African American voters; measures that were not overturned til the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.

Clay Williams serves as Sites Administrator for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History where he oversees operations for six museum sites (Eudora Welty House and Garden, the Manship House Museum, the Old Capitol Museum, Winterville Mounds, Historic Jefferson College, and the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.)  He has been published several times in such venues as the Journal of Mississippi History, The Mississippi Encyclopedia, and Mississippi History Now. His first book, Battle for the Southern Frontier, the Creek War and the War of 1812, co-authored with Mike Bunn, was published in July 2008 from The History Press.  He is currently under contract to co-write a volume with the Heritage of Mississippi Series on Frontier Mississippi (1800-1840).

 

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Guest Essayist: Peter Roff

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During the Second Continental Congress’ debate over whether to sever ties with Great Britain, Benjamin Franklin is alleged to have said that revolutions “come into the world half improvised, half compromised.”

It may be that he never said it yet if he had he might have just as easily been talking about just how the United States of America came to locate its permanent seat of government on a plot of land, ten miles square on the banks of the Potomac River.

Officially it all came about as the result of the Residence Act of 1790 – officially “An Act for Establishing the Temporary and Permanent Seat of the Government of the United States,” signed into law by President George Washington on July 16, 1790 at a time when the federal government, such as it was, operated out of New York City.

The act transferred the capital, temporarily, back to Philadelphia, the city where independence from Great Britain had famously been declared and in which the new Constitution had been written, in secret, by many of the nation’s greatest minds. Those men, by and large, now occupied positions of prominence, either in the new federal government or in their states and almost all had opinions about where the permanent capital should be located.

The machinations behind the scenes that resulted in the Residence Act are perhaps the first great compromise of the new Republic. The northern states did not want the capital in the South. The southern states did not want it in the North. And no state wanted it located within the confines of any other, thinking it would give that state an unfair advantage in the affairs of the new nation.

The logjam was broken by an agreement brokered by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who wanted the capital in the South, and New York’s Alexander Hamilton, who wanted the federal government to assume the remaining debt incurred by the states during the War for Independence. The compromise, they reached, presumably blessed by President Washington, placed the permanent capital just a few miles upriver from his Mt. Vernon estate.

In the original configuration, the land which made up the capital was ceded to the federal government by Virginia and Maryland and formed a diamond, ten miles square. In 1846 the area given by Virginia was returned. This includes the independent city of Alexandria, which existed before the district was assembled, as well as the area now called Arlington County.

What makes the District of Columbia truly unique, though, is not that it was formed from land belonging to other states. The Constitution provides for that possibility so long as the legislature or legislatures of the state or states affected consents. Maine, for example, comes from territory once a part of Massachusetts and was admitted as an independent state when a free state was needed to balance the admission of one where slavery would be legal. No, what makes Washington D.C., different from the other states and territories is that the founders intended it would always be run by the federal government.

In Federalist 43, Madison writes:

“The indispensable necessity of complete authority at the seat of government, carries its own evidence with it. It is a power exercised by every legislature of the Union, I might say of the world, by virtue of its general supremacy. Without it, not only the public authority might be insulted and its proceedings interrupted with impunity; but a dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the government, for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence, equally dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of the Confederacy.”

“This consideration has the more weight,” he goes on to say

“as the gradual accumulation of public improvements at the stationary residence of the government would be both too great a public pledge to be left in the hands of a single State, and would create so many obstacles to a removal of the government, as still further to abridge its necessary independence.”

As they saw it, the independence of the capital city from the governments of the other states was an additional safeguard of our liberties and of the new system of government created by the U.S. Constitution based on checks and balances of power not just between the three branches of the federal government but between the federal government and the states.

That system held well into the 20th century. The protests of what has become known as the civil rights era gave impetus to the viewpoint the structure of governance within the District of Columbia was antiquated and discriminatory. In 1961 the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving the District three votes in the Electoral College for the election of the president and vice president. In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, giving the city an independently elected mayor (to replace the city’s chief executive officer who, under different titles had been an appointee of the President of the United States) and a 13-member city council.

Home rule, however, is not complete. The actions of the mayor and the city council are still subject to congressional review and can be overturned by an act of Congress. Additionally the District lacks representation in the United States Senate (it does elect to “shadow senators” whose purpose is to lobby for statehood) its residents to elect a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives who, at different times, has been both a voting and non-voting member of the body.

There are some who believe the District should be granted statehood. They’ve adopted and, in a nod to the chief slogan of the War for Independence managed to get onto the city’s vehicle plates the unofficial motto, “No Taxation without Representation.” There are others who believe the original constitutional construct of having the capital city run by the federal government to, for various reasons, be a good one that should be returned to as originally envisioned. It is not an issue that will be settled easily or, one must believe, soon.

Peter Roff is a Washington, D.C.–based journalist and commentator who serves on the Constituting America advisory board.

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Guest Essayist: Marc Clauson

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Home Rule or Dillon Rule? What is the meaning, purpose and impact for American citizens to choose “Home Rule” or “Dillon Rule” authority to govern their cities? How does each work for local as compared to state government?

John Dillon, a Federal judge in the nineteenth century, wrote a famous treatise, Municipal Corporations (1872), in which the legal doctrine of the power of municipal governments was expressed.  The rule that emerged from his book and court cases was that local governments were “creatures of the state” and only had power to do what was expressly authorized by the state legislature or in the state constitution or what was implied in those laws or what was necessary to carry out those powers granted.  The opposite rule, the “Cooley Doctrine,” is derived from the work of the judge Thomas Cooley, and expressed the idea of the inherent right of self-government for local entities. The idea of Home Rule for cities arose out of the Cooley Doctrine.

Neither of these legal theories is inherently better than the other, though some might think (with some support) that the Dillon Rule prevents cities from straying too far from legitimate authority.  The key is what a legislature or state constitution allows a city to do.  If under the Dillon Rule the city is granted expansive authority, then the rule does not effectively limit governmental power.  The Cooley Doctrine already tends to allow a greater range of independent authority to a city, which may amount to an inappropriate scope of power.  If the American political experiment was predicated on limited government, as was the case of the United States Constitution, then local governments should also fall under the umbrella of that political theory.  There is no inherent reason why they should be treated differently than state and national governments.

The implications of the Dillon Rule are that a check on inappropriate power of a city can exist if a legislature exercises its political will.  On the other hand, the Cooley Doctrine might allow a larger scope of power than would be beneficial to citizens, unless the particular city government form adopted (strong mayor, weak mayor, council, strong charter, etc.) can provide a check.  In the end, what one wants to see is a city/local government that possesses powers that are similar in nature to those possessed by the national government under the Constitution, adjusting of course for the differing functions.  My point has to do with the scope and nature of powers.  If a particular power is allowed (under whichever rule), it still should not be an unlimited power.  Moreover, not all powers are legitimate for any given local government or for any such government.  Under current law of local government, it is incumbent on the state legislatures to create institutional arrangements that do limit power, or that appropriate state constitutional limits be in place.

Marc A. Clauson is Professor of History, Law and Political Economy and Professor in Honors at Cedarville University. Marc holds a PhD from the University of the Orange Free State, SA, Intellectual History and Polity); JD (West Virginia University College of Law, Jurisprudence); MA, ThM (Liberty University, New Testament Studies and Church History); MA (Marshall University, Political Science); BS (Marshall University, Physics); and PhD work (West Virginia University, Economic Theory).

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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Every year elections are held in the United States.

Federal and state elections every other year (except a few states who are truly “off-year” outside of the two-year cycle).  Local elections, county and municipal, are held somewhere every year.

There are approximately 88,000 local governments, districts, and commissions containing over 500,000 elected officials.

Many local offices are nonpartisan, meaning not party affiliated.  School Boards and small cities and towns assume local functions are not truly partisan.  Is there a Republican or Democrat way of collecting trash or plowing snow?

Local government is designed to be more intimately related to the people it serves. Ironically, few Americans understand its functions, and fewer know their local officials.

This is unfortunate, as local government is, in many ways, far more important than national and statewide offices.  Local laws and their enforcement can affect property values, quality of education, quality of water, and determine life or death when managing first responders.

This dichotomy of importance and ignorance creates numerous challenges and opportunities.

On the one hand there is less interest in running for these offices.  In smaller towns and cities, of importance and as many as 79 percent of local elections are uncontested.  There is also less interest in voting for these offices.  Stand alone local races, held in off-years, may experience voter turnouts of less than 20 percent.  Local elections held during regular cycles, usually county and school boards, may garner 30-40 percent less votes than for the high-profile state and federal offices.

On the other hand, smaller voter turnout means a dedicated group of activists can elect a candidate as change agent.  It also means a low threshold for a first-time candidate entering a local race.

21st Century campaigns have become extremely expensive.

In 2014, the average winning campaign for the U.S. Senate campaign spent $10.6 million.  In 2018, incumbent U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) spent $33.5 million in her losing re-election campaign.  In 2018, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) spent $25 million to lose his re-election, while Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) spent $68 million to defeat him.

Campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives can also be very expensive. Congressman Alex Mooney (R-WV) spent $1.8 million for winning his 2018 re-election.

These campaign finance numbers do not include the millions spent by “independent” organizations to promote or oppose candidates through direct mail and professionally produced radio and television advertisements.

Compare this with county-level campaigns where $5,000-$20,000 may be all that is required for victory.  Winning small town and School Board campaigns may only require a just few hundred dollars.

“Down-Ballot” offices are ideal for average citizens to run for office for the most idealistic of reasons – to help their community.  Many who run for these positions do not desire political careers.  They are motivated by seeing something that needs to be done and answer the call to do it.

Another aspect of local “down-ballot” campaigns is that they usually transcend partisanship.  This is certainly the case for officially nonpartisan offices.  Even partisan local campaigns will see bipartisan cooperation when community values, honesty in government, and civic reform is at stake.  There are countless examples of activists who may be deeply divided on national issues joining forces to “drain the swamp” of county courthouse insiders.

Successful “Down-Ballot” campaigns may include a few yard signs, but rarely include major advertising.  Social media, especially Facebook pages and groups, have been the winning edge for many of these first timers.  Some create their own Facebook and YouTube videos to introduce themselves or highlight issues.

The intimacy of local campaigns also allows for neighbors to help neighbors.  “Meet and Greets” in private homes and door-to-door face-to-face interactions are the purest form of grassroots campaigning.  Money is not as important.  One local candidate, who was revered for her charity work, won by a landslide despite being outspent 21-1.

This lack of interest in running and voting has, by design or chance, levelled the field for average citizens to make a difference.  Either as a candidate or as a supporter/voter of that candidate, “down-ballot” offices provide a way for caring members of the local community to get involved and contribute to the greater good.

What could be more American than that?

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Tim Griffin

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The twenty-fifth state to be admitted, Arkansas formally joined the United States on June 15, 1836, and was the ninth state to secede from the Union. Its current constitution, adopted in 1874, is the fifth used in the state’s history.

Arkansas’s march to admission to the Union had its roots in two of the most powerful movements of the nineteenth century: the sectional crisis and the rise of Jacksonian Democracy. By 1835, a special census revealed that Arkansas, at over 52,000 residents, met the minimum population requirements (40,000) for admission to the Union.[1] Two variables complicated this process. First, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 established the principle of slave and free states coming into the Union in pairs, in order to maintain the balance of power in the Senate. Secondly, statehood advocates sought to have Arkansas admitted in advance of the 1836 presidential election, to give the Democrats a further advantage at the polls. It was understood that Michigan, a free state, would be paired with Arkansas, but the Whig Party in Congress sought to delay what would be the admission of two Democratic-leaning states.[2] Also at home, many Arkansans were wary of the idea of statehood, particularly those who had questions about the still largely frontier territory’s financial strength.[3] But the proclamation by the editor of the Arkansas Advocate that statehood would give Arkansans “The rights and rank to which we are entitled,”[4] carried the day, and President Andrew Jackson signed the statehood bill into law on June 15, 1836.

In the state’s early years, it struggled economically because of its still predominately violent frontier image and the failure of an ill-conceived state-supported banking system that left debilitating debts and even more suspicion of government involvement in the economy.[5] Economically, Arkansas was divided into small subsistence farms in its mountainous north and upper west and large slave-based plantation agriculture to its south and east. Politically, the state’s governmental life was controlled by the Democratic Party, which was in turn controlled by a group known as “The Family,” that coalesced around the Conway, Rector, and Sevier families.[6] The Civil War and Reconstruction would lead to huge upheavals, as wartime destruction and the rise of a Republican Party led by northerners who had remained south after the war led to struggles over matters such as civil rights, education, and economic modernization. After this period, Arkansas would still remain predominately agrarian for almost another century, heavily dependent on a one-crop cotton based economy. Other products such as timber, rice, oil, and natural gas were developed in the postwar years, but were most often sent out of state for processing until World War II. After the war, Arkansas embarked on a broad program of economic diversification led by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, and expanded by home-grown entrepreneurs such as Don Tyson, Sam Walton, and Charles Morgan.

As mentioned earlier, Arkansas is governed under its 1874 constitution, which is its fifth since statehood, and commonly known as the “Thou Shalt Not” document.[7] It reflected the general suspicion of government power that had been prevalent in the state since entering the Union. Most of these revisions placed into the document were highly restrictive and negative in nature.[8] County governments became more powerful as administrative units of the state, with jurisdiction over roads and bridges, local judiciary, and taxation and spending. The state’s powers to tax and borrow were severely limited, the terms of elected officials were reduced from four years to two years (changed to four years by a constitutional amendment in 1984), the number of elected county officials was increased from two to ten, and the legislative sessions were biennial, limited to sixty days. The governor’s power was greatly reduced, and executive power was divided between seven constitutional officers. Vetoes could be overridden by a simple majority, and much authority transferred from state to county government. Some modernization of government has taken place in the postwar era, most notably two reorganization bills in 1971 and 2019 that consolidated and reorganized state agencies, boards, and commissions into a smaller number of executive departments. Term limits for constitutional officers and the legislature were first enacted in 1992,[9] and some of the document’s more stringent provisions, such as a strict limit on interest rates and state borrowing authority, have been modified in recent years.

After the end of Republican Reconstruction, Arkansas joined its sister Southern states into the Democratic “Solid South,” and the state was one of the last to transition into a two-party system in the modern era. Arkansas’s reputation took a beating after the Central High desegregation crisis of 1957, and gradually, reformers from both parties exerted more influence on state policy by the 1970s and 1980s. The Republican Party in Arkansas began to slowly gain ground beginning in the 1980s, but was slowed by the election of former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s election to the Presidency in 1992. By 2014, the Republican Party had arrived in full force with the first full Republican sweep in the state since 1872, and the dawning of a new era.

Tim Griffin grew up in Magnolia, a fifth-generation Arkansan and the youngest son of a minister and teacher. He was elected lieutenant governor of Arkansas on November 4, 2014, and was re-elected for his second four-year term on November 6, 2018. He is focused on growing jobs through aggressively pursuing economic development, more parental choice in education and boldly reforming state government. For 2019, he is serving as Chairman of the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association (RLGA).

From 2011-2015, Griffin served as the 24th representative of Arkansas’s Second Congressional District. For the 113th Congress, he was a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means while also serving as a Deputy Whip for the Majority.  In the 112th Congress, he served as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Committee on Ethics and the House Committee on the Judiciary. He also served as an Assistant Whip for the Majority.  In Congress, he advocated for bold tax reform and entitlement reform to grow jobs and reduce the national debt.

During the Bush Administration, in 2006-2007, Griffin served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas and previously as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs for President George W. Bush at the White House.

Griffin has served as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, for over 22 years and currently holds the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was recently selected for promotion to colonel. In 2005, Griffin was mobilized to active duty as an Army prosecutor at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Mosul, Iraq, for which he was awarded the Combat Action Badge.  He is currently serving as a senior legislative advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Pentagon. In July 2018, Lieutenant Governor Griffin, in his capacity as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserve, received his master’s degree in strategic studies as a Distinguished Graduate from the United States Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

Tim is active in the community.  He currently serves on the board of Our House shelter for the working homeless and previously served on the boards of the Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas.

He graduated from Magnolia High School, Hendrix College in Conway and Tulane Law School in New Orleans and attended graduate school at Oxford University in England. His wife Elizabeth is from Camden, and they currently live in Little Rock with their three children, Mary Katherine, John, and Charlotte Anne. They are members of Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock.

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[1] Jeannie M. Whayne, Thomas A. DeBlack, George Sabo III, and Morris S. Arnold, Arkansas: A Narrative History (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2013), 128.

[2] Ibid., 129.

[3] Ken Bridges, “Marking the 180th anniversary of Arkansas statehood.” Log Cabin Democrat, June 11, 2016. https://www.thecabin.net/opinion/2016-06-11/marking-180th-anniversary-arkansas-statehood (Accessed May 30, 2019)

[4] Whayne, et.al., Arkansas: A Narrative History, 131.

[5] S. Charles Bolton, Arkansas 1800-1860: Remote and Restless (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998), 50.

[6] Thomas A. DeBlack, “The Family [Political Dynasty].” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, December 21, 2015.  https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/the-family-political-dynasty-2666/ (accessed May 30, 2019)

[7] Michael B. Dougan, Arkansas Odyssey: The Saga of Arkansas from Prehistoric Times to Present (Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, 1994), 268.

[8] Kay C. Goss, “Arkansas Constitutions.” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, December 3, 2018. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/arkansas-constitutions-2246/ (Accessed May 30, 2019)

[9] Whayne, et.al., Arkansas: A Narrative History, 463.

 

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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America’s 3,034 counties are the backbone of local government and form the core of our civic culture.

Counties are embedded in each state’s constitution and given explicit governing roles and responsibilities.  They arose during the Middle Ages as the domain of a Count or vassal serving a monarch, thus the name.  When the Normans conquered England, they supplanted the local Saxon shires, governed by chieftains, with “contés”, governed by agents of the Crown.

The core activities of counties have seen little change since Counts were given responsibility for maintaining law and order, providing for local roads, and arbitrating disputes, in their domain.

In his timeless masterpiece on American culture, “Democracy in America”, Alexis Clerel, Viscount de Tocqueville, described the functions of county government and the selection of local officials:

The town-meeting chooses at the same time a number of other municipal magistrates, who are entrusted with important administrative functions. The assessors rate the township; the collectors receive the rate. A constable is appointed to keep the peace, to watch the streets, and to forward the execution of the laws; the town-clerk records all the town votes, orders, grants, births, deaths, and marriages; the treasurer keeps the funds; the overseer of the poor performs the difficult task of superintending the action of the poor-laws; committee-men are appointed to attend to the schools and to public instruction; and the road-surveyors, who take care of the greater and lesser thoroughfares of the township, complete the list of the principal functionaries.

The United States currently has approximately 88,000 local governments, districts, and commissions comprised of approximately 500,000 elected officials. This is 20 times as many officials as exist at the federal and state levels. Local governments collectively spend over $1 trillion annually.

As de Tocqueville outlined in 1835, today counties provide the basic services we require in our daily lives:

  • Police, fire and public safety services
  • Sewage, water treatment and waste management
  • Schools, libraries, and other education resources
  • Roads, paths, and bridges
  • Public transportation
  • Planning, permitting, and enforcement
  • Public health services, including mental health, and services to the disabled
  • Tax collection and disbursement

The provision of these services requires close cooperation with “sister” jurisdictions, which may include the state, municipalities and townships embedded within the county, and adjoining counties. Sometimes regional commissions or authorities are established to formalize this cooperation.

County Commissioners or Supervisors act as a “board of directors” to establish policies and oversee these services.  In most cases, there are only 3-9 who are elected and serve in this capacity in each county. These are part-time positions, except in the most populated counties.

The Clerk is a fulltime elected official who is the keeper of all public records, from land ownership to births, deaths, and weddings.  Clerks, and their full staff, administer the settling of estates, or probate, when deaths occur.  Most importantly, Clerks manage voter registration, candidate filings and reports, creating the ballot, holding the election, and counting and reporting the vote.

The elected Sheriff is more than the chief law enforcement official.  Just like in “Robin Hood,” the Sheriff is the tax collector and manages the county’s finances.

Depending on the population of a county there are an array of other public officials, either elected or appointed, who handle assessing property for tax purposes, certifying the health and viability of water systems and food service establishments, coordinating emergency response, and providing parks and recreation.

Public Schools are governed by a separate and independently elected School Board of 5-9 members.  While schools are funded from the property taxes assessed by the Assessor, and collected by the Sheriff, the Board administers and disburses the funds themselves.

The detailed work of counties is conducted through boards and commissions. These include land-use regulation, building permits, water & sewer, and economic development.  Those serving on these boards are part-time volunteers appointed to the County Commission.

This is where local communities face a fundamental challenge.

Most Americans have poor awareness and understanding of local government.  The decisions and activities of the diverse array of elected and appointed officials go unreported, or under-reported.  Holding local power accountable is one of the greatest problems in America today.

In his groundbreaking book, “Bowling Alone”, Robert Putnam described the deterioration of communities in 21st Century America.  This is borne out in how few people volunteer to serve on local boards and commissions, how few attend local public meetings, and how few take actions when incompetence or corruption arise.

Corruption and incompetence are more prevalent than ever.  Land use can make or break fortunes, and help or harm a community, especially in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, conflicts of interest are predictable around land speculation.  Misuse of public funds, especially directing contracts to friends and family, or for unrecorded payments, is always possible.

Prior to the digital age, local newspapers were the bulwark against corruption and malfeasance.  Unfortunately, many of these newspapers are vanishing.  Recently, Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of the New York Times, told the World Congress of News Media that “The greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news”.  He predicted most local newspapers “are going to die in the next five years”.

Digital media remains more interested in national issues and popular culture.  The journalistic capacity for demanding accountability, or reporting basic information on county government, is vanishing.

It is up to local citizens to demand accountability. This means demanding transparency, including all public documents being public and all public meetings being public.

Few local officials, especially on appointed boards, support full accountability.  Countless citizen lawsuits have forced public notices to be on websites instead of posted on index cards on courthouse bulletin boards.  This is vital in “bedroom communities” where most citizens commute out of the county for work.

The citizen-led victories for accountability and transparency are based upon state laws that mandate public access. These laws are called “sunshine” laws and “freedom of information acts.”  It is important for those concerned about their communities to learn these laws and fully understand the importance of “adequate public notice” for public hearings and decisions.

America will remain a beacon of hope for freedom loving people everywhere only if Americans take their citizen responsibility seriously and actively participate in their local government.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Randall T. Shepard

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Formation of today’s traditional Midwest took root in the years after the Treaty of Paris ended the conflict known to Europeans as the Seven Years War, known in America as the French and Indiana War.  Signed in 1763, this resolution gave the British nominal control over the land from the Atlantic to the Mississippi.

During the Revolution, Indiana was the site of a battle for Fort Sackville, at Vincennes.  As American forces took the fort, they turned toward an effort driving out the British out of places like Illinois and Michigan, the ultimate objective being  Detroit.

After the war, the much-maligned Continental Congress took important steps in organizing these areas.  They adopted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, with the idea that Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan would eventually be divided into five states of the union.

From the time Ohio became a state in 1803, Indiana’s leaders were hard at work on achieving this end.  They soon scheduled a special census and petitioned for statehood in 1811, an initiative derailed largely by the turmoil of the War of 1812.  With a new census in hand, they petitioned again in 1815 and succeeded in becoming the nineteenth state in 1816.

By the time of statehood the capital had moved from Vincennes to Corydon, both of them towns in the southernmost part of the state.  It was a moment when almost all of the state’s population lived within a short horse ride of the Ohio River, then the nation’s superhighway for both commerce and migration.

The state’s leaders recognized that much future growth would occur in the north.  They settled on relocating the capital to the center of the state, and in 1820 they hired Alexander Ralston to lay out a plan for a new urban place.  Ralston had  assisted Pierre L’Enfant in designing a city plan for Washington in 1791. Hiring him was a sign of pioneer ambition to build a spirited society.

Over the succeeding decades, Indiana focused on three societal objectives.  The first was a shared aspiration to build the bones necessary for a vigorous economy.  The second was a determination to create an educational system that would provide young people with the foundation needed to thrive in that economy.  The third was the struggle against slavery.

Much of published history on infrastructure focuses on the extraordinary Internal Improvements Act of 1836, which led to extensive construction of canals, but the real action was in building roads.  Appropriations for road construction began as early as 1821, some of it financed by sale of federal land given the state for development purposes.  To accelerate the progress, the legislature decreed that every able-bodied man aged twenty-one to fifty must work on building roads and highways “or pay an equivalent therefor” in cash.  This command was structured like a progressive tax.  Persons who owned no real estate owed three days labor each year, people who owned less than eighty acres owed four days, and so on up to a maximum of ten days.

As for education, the constitution of 1816 contained a clause wholly unknown to the Constitution of the United States.  Indiana’s organic document declared that it was the duty of the legislature to create a system of education extending from township schools to a state university, open to all and tuition-free.

The legislature created township schools and took advantage of congressional land donations to finance them.  It created a manual labor obligation for building schools, just as it had for roads, and authorized local tax levies for education.  Institutions called county seminaries, conceived as secondary schools, covered half the counties by the time of the Civil War.  Following a territorial decision to create Vincennes University in 1806, the new state created Indiana University, which opened in 1825.  County libraries were authorized in the 1820’s, as was a state library.

Indiana had been declared a place free from slavery from its earliest days.  The Northwest Ordinance provided that Indiana should be free even as a territory.  The constitution of 1816 seemed to make this plain enough:  “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for the punishment of crimes….”   Notwithstanding the directness of these declarations, the executive and legislative branches periodically blew hot and cold on issues such as immigration and repatriation.  By contrast, the Indiana Supreme Court was almost always a place where antislavery forces prevailed.

Perhaps the most famous case in the court’s history involved an army general who asserted ownership of a young girl named Polly Strong by virtue of his having purchased Polly’s mother, legally, while Indiana was still part of Virginia.  The Supreme Court ruled for Polly Strong, saying: “The framers of our constitution intended a total and entire prohibition of slavery in this State; and we can conceive of no form of words in which that intention could have been more clearly expressed.”  The court took the same position a year later as respects involuntary servitude.  As straightforward as this seems to the modern mind, it did not always or everywhere go down easy.  Illinois courts did not put the last vestiges of slavery to the torch for another twenty-five years.

This attitude about slavery revealed itself in the state’s participation in the Civil War.  Indiana contributed more troops to the Union armies than any state but New York, and when part of a southern-sympathetic legislature refused to appropriate funds to the support the troops, Governor Oliver Morton undertook to borrow and spend millions in support of the cause by executive decree.

The anti-slavery rulings arising from the Indiana Constitution were an important part of the state’s constitutional history, but they hardly stood alone.

In 1854, for example, the state supreme court held that trial courts could appoint counsel for indigent criminal defendants, at state expense.  “It is not to be thought of, in a civilized community, for a moment, that any citizen put in jeopardy of life or liberty, should be debarred of counsel because he was too poor to employ such aid.  No Court could be respected, or respect itself, to sit and hear such a trial.”  This position was all the more remarkable inasmuch as the right to counsel in a federal criminal trial was not established until 1938.  And the U.S. Supreme Court decision compelling all states to provide indigent counsel, Gideon v. Wainwright, was not decided until 1963.

Indiana’s constitution was also held to require exclusion of illegally seized evidence in a criminal case.  The Indiana Supreme Court took this position in 1922, at a time when exclusion was widely unpopular in the national legal community.

Similar robust approaches have long been evident in other fields.  For example, in 1893, the Indiana court held that the constitution authorized admission of women to the bar, notwithstanding that it did not say so (which is what most other state high courts required before acting).  The court said:  “If nature has endowed woman with wisdom, if our colleges have given her an education, if her energy and diligence have lead her to a knowledge of the law, and if her ambition directs her to adopt the profession, shall it be said that forgotten fiction must bar the door against her?”

In the present moment, few would mistake Indiana for a “blue state” chock full of political progressives, but its history and its present illustrate long-standing commitment to fairness, equal treatment, and opportunity.

Randall T. Shepard of Evansville was appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court by Governor Robert D. Orr in 1985 at the age of 38. He became Chief Justice of Indiana in March 1987 and retired from the Court in March 2012, at which point he was the longest-serving Chief Justice in Indiana history and the senior Chief Justice in the country’s state supreme courts.

A seventh generation Hoosier, Shepard graduated from Princeton University cum laude and from the Yale Law School. He earned a Master of Laws degree in the judicial process from the University of Virginia.

Shepard was Judge of the Vanderburgh Superior Court from 1980 until his appointment. He earlier served as executive assistant to Mayor Russell Lloyd of Evansville and as special assistant to the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Chief Justice Shepard has served as chair of the ABA Appellate Judges Conference and of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and as President of the National Conference of Chief Justices. Chief Justice John Roberts recently appointed him to the U.S. Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules. He is a trustee emeritus of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a former chair of Indiana Landmarks, Inc.

He teaches periodically at the law schools of Indiana, NYU, and Yale.

He is married and has one daughter.

Since leaving the Court, Shepard has served as a Senior Judge in the Indiana Court of Appeals and as Executive in Residence at I.U.’s Public Policy Institute. He now chairs the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education and has become a director of Old National Bancorp.

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Guest Essayist: David Kopel

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The 1876 Colorado Constitution contains the strongest declaration of state’s rights of any American constitution: “The people of this state have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves, as a free, sovereign and independent state.” (Colo. Const., art. II, § 2). The powerful affirmation of the people’s right to govern themselves arose from the conditions of early Colorado and has shaped Colorado ever since.

In modern times, Coloradoan’s right of self-governance has been vigorously exercised, such as by the 1992 citizen initiative adding the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) to the Colorado Constitution. The strictest tax and expenditure limit in the nation, TABOR requires voter approval for all increases in taxes, and all government spending increases greater than inflation plus population growth.

Back in 1972, big business and big government teamed up to procure the 1976 Winter Olympics for Colorado. But Coloradoans were leery of anything that would promote the state’s already rapid growth. And they did not want their money being used to fund the already-rich International Olympic Committee. So Coloradoans passed a constitutional amendment by voter initiative, forbidding all taxpayer funding for the 1976 Olympics. As a result, the 1976 Winter Olympics were instead held in Innsbruck, Austria, which already had the necessary facilities, having hosted the 1964 Winter Olympics.

In the twenty-first century, the voters of Colorado adopted constitutional amendments for the regulated sale of medical marijuana (2000) and adult use marijuana (2012). In essence, the voters ordered state government officials to conspire to violate the federal Controlled Substances Act by setting up government-supervised systems for the distribution of marijuana. Given total quantities involved in this “conspiracy” (tons of marijuana, and many millions of dollars), the Colorado government officials have, arguably, been committing federal felonies that qualify them as drug “kingpins,” subject to very severe mandatory sentences.

Yet consistent with the “sole and exclusive right” of Coloradans to govern themselves, state executive branch officials and the Colorado General Assembly have obeyed the Colorado Constitution, and created a carefully controlled, highly taxed, government-supervised system for the production and retail sale of marijuana. “Sole and exclusive” indeed.

As a practical matter, Coloradoans in the State’s founding era had no choice but to be their own “sole and exclusive” governors. While there had been mountain men and a few trading posts in Colorado since the early 19th century, substantial American settlement of Colorado did not begin until the discovery of gold in 1858. By 1859, a rush of settlers had created the towns of Denver and Colorado City (today, Colorado Springs), as well as mining camps in the nearby mountains.

Formally, the land that would become the State of Colorado was part of four territories: Kansas (whose population center was in eastern Kansas), Utah (Salt Lake City), New Mexico (Santa Fe), and Nebraska (Omaha). The Colorado settlements were in the far west of the Kansas Territory, near or in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

But the territorial government of Kansas had little influence in Colorado. It was busy with conflict in eastern Kansas between pro‑slavery and anti‑slavery forces. There was a Kansas judge for Colorado, but he never went to Colorado. None of the territorial governments could do much to assist remote Colorado. The settlers were on their own.

The first Colorado governments were created by the people themselves, as “miner’s districts” in the mining regions, as “claims clubs” in farming areas, and as “town companies.” These voluntary associations recorded and certified property ownership, provided courts for settling disputes, and organized vigilance committees for law enforcement. Some towns elected their own legislatures. They created “people’s courts” for criminal prosecutions. The decisions of the miner’s districts were later ratified in the first session of the territorial legislature. They were also approved by the Colorado Territorial Supreme Court. By accepting and integrating the decisions of the ad hoc miners’ courts and other early bodies, the developing territorial courts provided continuity of law.

Early Colorado never devolved into the anarchy that had characterized California in its own early gold rush years. Because about thirty percent of Colorado’s miners had experience in California, they understood the importance of creating effective local self-government immediately. Thus, the miners’ districts were quickly established. Experienced code writers traveled from town to town, helping to create local law.

Defying the nominal authority of the Kansas territorial government, the settlers in September and October 1859 created their own ad hoc government for what they called the “Territory of Jefferson.” Provisional Governor Robert Steele addressed the opening of the Jefferson legislature on November 7, 1859. He explained that the people had been denied protection of life and property; being sovereign, they had taken measures for their security.

As of 1860, Denver had five competing court systems. Meanwhile, “the mountain counties stood by their Miner’s courts, and as much of the Provisional Government as suited them.” W.B. Vickers, “Territorial Organization,” in Legislative, Historical and Biographical Compendium of Colorado (Denver, C.F. Coleman’s Publ’g House 1887), p. 145. Other Coloradans created judicial districts for what they called “Idaho Territory.”

In short, there were multiple governments in Colorado with alleged jurisdiction, and in fact the people of Colorado entirely governed themselves:

“Side by side sat the Idaho “central judicial” officers, the provisional government of Jefferson, the Kansas county officials, the Denver people’s government, scores of miners’ courts, and local governments and vigilante committees. Never had frontier democracy blossomed so vigorously. With popular sovereignty in the saddle, the northern part of Bent’s old empire was already a far cry from the tradition‑bound and caste‑conscious territory of New Mexico. A new kind of democratic, middle‑class, commercial‑minded frontier had arrived on the borders of the Spanish Southwest.”

Howard Roberts Lamar, The Far Southwest 1846–1912: A Territorial History (rev. ed. 2000), pp. 187–88.

As Territorial Secretary Frank Hall later wrote, they were “a free and radically independent people.” 1 Frank Hall, History of the State of Colorado (vol. 1, 1889), p. 369.

The survival of the Colorado Territory was in constant peril. In 1861, as the Civil War began, a Confederate invasion launched from Texas and swept far into New Mexico. The Texans were turned back by Colorado volunteer militia at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, near Santa Fe, in February 1862, a battle known as “the Gettysburg of the West.”

Not long after, and for years to come, Indian wars threatened to wipe out the Colorado settlers.

Three trails led to the Colorado settlements: in the southeast, a branch of the Santa Fe Trail; in the center, the Smoky Hill Trail, from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to Denver; and in the north, the South Platte Trail, which traversed Nebraska and then dropped down to Denver. Goods were transported in wagons drawn by oxen or mules.

The white settlers, clustered along the Front Range and in mining towns, could not survive a cutoff of their trade routes with the States. The territory was not self‑sufficient in food, and imports were essential for survival. Not long after the Civil War began, the Smoky Hill Trail and the Santa Fe Trail became too dangerous to use. Federal troops there were sent east, leaving travelers vulnerable to Confederate guerillas and to Indians in the river valleys. The South Platte Trail was the only lifeline connecting Colorado to the States.

The Colorado War began in April 1864, led by the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers—the tribe’s leading military society. In alliance with the Arapahoe, Sioux, Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache, they shut down the South Platte Trail and all other trails. Food prices soared, mail and telegraph communication were cut off, and starvation threatened. When the Governors of Kansas and Colorado asked for federal troops, they were told by the federal commander of the Trans‑Mississippi Theater, General Samuel R. Curtis, “We have none to spare, you must protect yourselves.” Hall, p. 328. For the remainder of the decade, Colorado’s survival was precarious.

In 1861 and 1864, Coloradoans had voted against seeking statehood. Since the federal government bore the cost of administering the territory, Coloradoans would not have to tax themselves to pay for government. Although the thrifty attitude has endured to the present, by the early 1870s the territorial governors appointed from Washington, D.C., had become so corrupt at to be unbearable to the people of Colorado. So they began to seek statehood.

Congress passed the Colorado Enabling Act on March 3, 1875, the final day of the congressional session. President Grant immediately signed it, having called for Colorado’s admission in his December 1873 written message to Congress.

The Colorado Constitutional Convention convened on December 20, 1875. The Convention finished its work by unanimously adopting a proposed constitution on March 14, 1876.

On most issues, including the Bill of Rights, partisan divisions were not important. On issues where there was controversy—such as votes for women or whether to acknowledge the deity in the preamble—the divisions did not break down along party lines.

The fundamental problem for the Convention to solve was not a partisan one. Rather, it was the inherent tension in what the delegates wanted. They knew they did not want a “do nothing” government. To the contrary, their constitution ordered the creation of state institutions for higher education, for care for the insane, and for the blind, deaf, and mute. The delegates required the establishment of “a thorough and uniform system of free public schools,” and that such schools not be racially segregated. The Framers created a commissioner of mines, and ordered the general assembly to enact laws prohibiting child labor in mines, and to enact laws for safe working conditions in the state’s most important industry. The Convention wrote the first American constitution to mention forests, instructing the general assembly to “enact laws in order to prevent the destruction of, and to keep in good preservation, the forests upon the lands of the state.” This was an early manifestation of the Colorado ethos of conservation.

The new constitution further provided that the general assembly “shall” enact “liberal homestead and exemption laws,” “shall” pass arbitration laws, and “shall” enact laws against “spurious, poisonous or drugged spirituous liquors.”

Yet while the Convention had a list of things it mandated the legislature to do, at the same time, the Convention profoundly distrusted the legislature. In the words of one scholar, “The delegates created a legislature and then, as though they regretted their work, they took most discretionary authority from it.” Donald Wayne Hensel, A History of the Colorado Constitution in the Nineteenth Century (Aug. 9, 1957) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Colorado), p. 133.

The 1876 Convention was meeting in “the post-Civil War era, when popular distrust of legislatures was at its height.” G. Alan Tarr, Understanding State Constitutions (1998), p. 199. The Colorado Constitution went especially far to hem in the government, with the longest state constitution up to that point in American history. As amended, the Colorado Constitution remains the one of the longest, reflective to Coloradans’ inclination to instruct their government exactly what it should do and cannot do.

Article V, creating the Colorado House of Representatives and Senate, is much longer than Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which creates the Congress. Article V contains many procedural restrictions on the process of enacting legislation. In addition, legislative sessions were limited to forty days, with no legislative sessions in even-numbered years. A variety of constitutional provisions outlaw taxing, spending, or borrowing on behalf of corporations or other private interests. Later, the first constraints on the legislature would be bolstered by amendments, adopted by the people.

The people of the Colorado Territory adopted the Colorado Constitution on July 1, 1876: 15,443 in favor and 4,052 opposed.

Colorado’s Fourth of July celebrations in 1876 may have been the most exuberant in the nation. A large parade in Denver was led by the Colorado militia, with officers on white horses and the troops on black ones. Each of the thirty-eight states was honored with its own float. On August 1, 1876, President Ulysses Grant issued the proclamation making Colorado the thirty-eighth state.

David B. Kopel is adjunct professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law. This essay is adapted from his article The Right to Arms in Nineteenth Century Colorado, 95 Denver University Law Review 329 (2018).

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Consider some recent examples of the Court admitting errors on constitutional issues.  In United States v. Curtiss-Wright (1936), the Court upheld a statute that delegated to President Franklin D. Roosevelt authority to prohibit the sale of arms in the Chaco region in South America whenever he found “it may contribute to the reestablishment of peace” between belligerents.  The Court then added extraneous language (judicial dicta), claiming that the President possesses “plenary and exclusive” power over foreign affairs and serves as the “sole organ” in external affairs.  Anyone reading the text of the Constitution would understand that the Framers did not place all power over external affairs in the President.  Clearly that power is allocated to both Congress and the President.

For the phrase “sole organ,” the Court relied on a speech given by John Marshall in 1800 when he served in the House of Representatives.  The year marked an election contest between President John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Supporters of Jefferson in the House wanted to either impeach or censure Adams for turning over to England an individual charged with murder.  During his defense of Adams, Marshall used this language: “The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.”

The phrase “sole organ” requires close examination.  “Sole” means exclusive but what did he mean by “organ”?  Simply the President’s duty to communicate to other nations U.S. policy after it had been decided jointly by the elected branches?  Anyone reading the entire speech would understand that Marshall was not investing the President with plenary and exclusive power over external affairs.  Instead, he merely defended Adams for carrying out a provision in the Jay Treaty that allowed each country to deliver up to each other “all persons” charged with murder or forgery.  The person that Adams turned over to the British, Thomas Nash, was charged with murder.  Adams was not making foreign policy singlehandedly.  He was carrying out a treaty.  By the time Marshall completed his defense of Adams, Jeffersonians considered his argument so tightly reasoned that they dropped plans for impeachment or a censure vote.  It is evident that the Supreme Court in Curtiss-Wright merely relied on a sentence by Marshall and failed to read his entire speech to put that sentence in proper context.

Scholars immediately faulted the Supreme Court for the erroneous use of Marshall’s sole-organ speech.  However, from one decade to the next, executive agencies and federal courts relied on the sole-organ doctrine to promote independent presidential power in external affairs.  As noted by Harold Koh in his book, The National Security Constitution (1990), “lavish description of the president’s power is so often quoted that it has come to be known as the ‘Curtiss-Wright so I’m right’ cite—a statement of deference to the president so sweeping as to be worthy of frequent citation in any government foreign-affairs brief.”

Litigation in the George W. Bush administration led to second thoughts about the sole-organ dicta.  In signing legislation in 2002, President Bush objected that several provisions “impermissibly interfere with the constitutional functions of the presidency in foreign affairs, referring to the President’s authority to “speak for the Nation in international affairs.”  Implicitly, if not explicitly, he relied on Curtiss-Wright dicta.  Litigation remained in the federal courts for a number of years, with the D.C. Circuit at one point holding that the case was a political question unfit for the courts, a position the Supreme Court rejected in 2012.

Turning to the merits, the D.C. Circuit on July 23, 2013 upheld independent presidential power in foreign affairs by relying five times on the sole-organ dicta.  It acknowledged that the language was dicta, but emphasized it was Supreme Court dicta.  It demonstrated no understanding that the sole-organ doctrine was erroneous.  The opinion by the D.C. Circuit prompted me to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on July 1, 2014, explaining that the purpose of Marshall’s speech in 1800 was to defend President Adams for carrying out a treaty provision and that nothing in the speech promoted independent presidential authority in external affairs.  I urged the Court to correct the error in Curtiss-Wright.  When the Court is in session, the National Law Journal each week selects a brief that merits attention.  On November 3, 2014, it selected mine, featuring this heading: “Can the Supreme Court Correct Erroneous Dicta?”

On June 8, 2015, in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the Supreme Court rejected the sole-organ doctrine that had magnified presidential power in external affairs for 79 years.  In doing so, it proceeded to create a substitute model that promotes independent presidential power in external affairs.  It did that by first attributing to the President the quality “of unity at all times.”  Anyone who studies the presidency recognizes that administrations regularly display inconsistency, conflict, disorder, and confusion.  Memoirs written by top officials after their retirement highlight the infighting and disagreements prevalent within an administration.

To the quality of unity the Court added four other characteristics of the President: decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch, borrowing those words from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist No. 70.  Why would the Court assume that unity plus those four qualities are inherently positive in nature and consistent with constitutional government?  The five qualities could easily describe a monarchy or dictatorship.  Moreover, anyone familiar with the record of Presidents, particularly after World War II, would understand the costly record of Truman in Korea, Johnson in Vietnam, Reagan in Iran-Contra, Bush II in Iraq, and Obama’s decision to order military force against Libya, leaving behind a country broken legally, economically, and politically, providing a breeding-ground for terrorism.  For further details on the sole-organ doctrine, see my article “The Staying Power of Erroneous Dicta: From Curtiss-Wright to Zivotofsky,” 31 Constitutional Commentary 149 (Summer 2016).

For another recent action by the Supreme Court to correct an earlier decision, one can review the Japanese-American cases of Hirabayashi (1943) and Korematsu (1944).  On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, leading to various actions against Japanese Americans.  A month later, Congress passed legislation to ratify the executive order.  In the first case, the Court upheld a curfew placed on Japanese Americans on the west coast.  In the second case, the Court supported the relocation of Japanese Americans (two-thirds of them U.S. citizens) to detention camps.  With no evidence of disloyalty or subversive activity, the United States imprisoned Japanese Americans solely on account of race.  General John L. DeWitt, who established the curfew, believed that all Japanese Americans, by race alone, are disloyal.  He believed that individuals of Japanese descent belong to “an enemy race” whose “racial strains are undiluted.”

Aided by scholars, Hirabayashi and Korematsu returned to court in the 1980s after newly discovered documents revealed the extent to which executive officials had deceived federal courts and the general public.  A report prepared by the War Department contained erroneous claims about alleged espionage efforts by Japanese Americans.  With abundant evidence of executive branch efforts to deceive the judiciary, Hirabayashi and Korematsu filed a writ of coram nobis, charging the government with committing fraud against the court.  Through those actions, in the lower courts, their convictions were reversed.

Also in the 1980s, Congress created a commission to gather facts and determine the wrong done by Roosevelt’s order.  Released in December 1982, the commission’s report stated that the order “was not justified by military necessity” and that the principal factors shaping those decisions were “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”  To the commission, the decision in Korematsu “lies overruled in the court of history.”  In 1988, Congress passed legislation to acknowledge “the fundamental injustice of the evacuation, relocation, and internment” of Japanese Americans.  At that point the Supreme Court had sufficient evidence that its decisions in 1943 and 1944 were defective and needed to be repudiated.  It chose not to do that.

Not until June 26, 2018, did the Supreme Court admit error in Korematsu.  Writing for the Court in Trump v. Hawaii, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that Korematsu “was gravely wrong the day it was decided.”  If that is so, why did the Court take 74 years to make that admission?  Given the Court’s acknowledgment that Korematsu was defective, what about Hirabayashi?  Is that still good law?  Why didn’t the Court repudiate both decisions?

Conclusions

In an article published in 1962 in the NYU Law Review, Chief Justice Earl Warren discussed the Court’s role in safeguarding individual rights.  As to the Japanese-American cases in 1943 and 1944, he offered this explanation: “To put it another way, the fact that the Court rules in a case like Hirabayashi that a given program is constitutional, does not necessarily answer the question whether, in a broader sense, it actually is.”  Clearly that is a repudiation of judicial finality.  Expecting courts to regularly protect constitutional liberties is ill-advised.  Warren believed that the American political system requires the judiciary to play a restricted role: “In our democracy it is still the Legislature and the elected Executive who have the primary responsibility for fashioning and executing policy consistent with the Constitution.

Louis Fisher is Scholar in Residence at the Constitution Project.  During his four decades with the Library of Congress, from 1970 to 2010, he served as Senior Specialist in Separation of Powers with the Congressional Research Service and Specialist in Constitutional Law with the Law Library of Congress.  His 27 books include the forthcoming: Reconsidering Judicial Finality: Why the Supreme Court is Not the Last Word on the Constitution (University Press of Kansas, spring of 2019).

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Although there is a general belief that courts are reliable guardians of individual rights, the pattern of litigation does not support that position.  Congress and state legislatures have often been more reliable protectors of minority rights and civil liberties than the Supreme Court.  The doctrine of judicial finality has been thrust aside in many broad areas, including the rights of blacks, women, and religious minorities.

In Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), the Court concluded that Congress had no authority to prohibit a citizen from owning slaves north of the dividing line in the western territories.  In his inaugural address in 1861, President Lincoln addressed the issue of judicial finality, stating that “the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”  In legislation enacted in 1862, Congress asserted its independent constitutional authority by prohibiting slavery in the territories.  What the Supreme Court said in Dred Scott Congress could not do, it did.

In 1875, Congress passed legislation to provide blacks equal access to public accommodations, including theaters, restaurants, inns, and public transportation.  In the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the Supreme Court declared the statute unconstitutional.  Not until 1964 did Congress again pass legislation providing for equal access to public accommodations.  What could have been accomplished in 1875 had to wait nearly a century because of judicial obstruction.

As with blacks, women learned that their constitutional interests were better protected by legislative bodies, at both the state and national level.  A good example is the experience of Myra Bradwell.  After studying law, she applied for admission to the Illinois bar in 1869.  A panel of four male judges denied her application solely on the ground that she was a woman.  They did suggest that action by the state legislature was an option.  In 1872, it passed legislation stating that no person “shall be precluded or debarred from any occupation, profession or employment (except military) on account of sex.”

Bradwell then took the issue to the Supreme Court, hoping to establish a national right of women to practice law.  A unanimous Court in Bradwell v. State (1883) held against her.  A concurrence by Justice Joseph P. Bradley insisted that the civil law, “as well as nature herself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman.”  He insisted that man “is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender.”  The “natural and proper timidity and delicacy” of women made them “unfit” for many occupations, including law.  Reaching to a higher level, he argued that a “divine ordinance” commanded that a woman’s primary mission in life is centered in the home.  While some women do not marry, he nonetheless decided that a general rule imposed upon women the “paramount destiny and mission” to fulfill the roles of wife and mother.”  To Bradley: “This is the law of the Creator.”

Not until 1971 did the Supreme Court issue an opinion striking down sex discrimination. A unanimous Court in Reed v. Reed declared invalid an Idaho law that preferred men over women in administering estates.  A study by John Johnson and Charles Knapp, published in the NYU Law Review in 1971, denounced the failure of courts to defend the constitutional rights of women.  They concluded that “by and large the performance of American judges in the area of sex discrimination can be succinctly described as ranging from poor to abominable.”

Consider the recent case of Lilly Ledbetter.  In 2007, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in deciding that her claim against Goodyear Tire for pay discrimination had been filed too late.  She had worked there from 1979 to 1998, aware only toward the end of her service that she was paid less than men doing the same work.  The Court held that she had to file within 180 days.  A dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalled that the Civil Rights Act of 1991 overturned in whole or in part nine decisions of the Supreme Court.  She remarked: “Once again, the ball is in Congress’ court.”  In one of the first bills signed by President Barack Obama, Congress passed legislation in early 2009 stating that discriminatory actions by an employer carry forward in each paycheck, allowing women to file a complaint in a timely manner for relief.

Consider other judicial reversals.  In 1916, Congress passed legislation to regulate child labor in interstate commerce.  Two years later, in Hammer v. Dagenhart, a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down the statute as unconstitutional.  Congress did not accept judicial finality.  It passed legislation to regulate child labor, relying this time on the taxing power.  In Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co. (1922), an 8-1 decision struck down that legislative effort.  Congress passed a constitutional amendment in 1924 to provide authority under the commerce power to regulate child labor, but by 1937 only 28 of the necessary 36 states had ratified it.

Instead of accepting judicial finality, Congress passed legislation in 1938 to regulate child labor through the commerce power.  In 1941, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the statute.  As to its decision in 1918, the Court remarked that it “was novel when made and unsupported by any provision in the Constitution.”  A remarkable statement.  Not a shred of constitutional support.  The Court in 1941 repudiated not only the doctrine of judicial finality but the assumption of judicial infallibility.  The motive and purpose of a regulation of interstate commerce are matters, said the Court, “for the legislative judgment upon the exercise of which the Constitution places no restriction and over which the courts are given no control.”

In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that when the Supreme Court “has interpreted the Constitution, it has acted within the province of the Judicial Branch, which embraces the duty to say what the law is.  Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch, at 177.”  Reference to Marbury lacks any substance.  Nothing in that decision gave the Supreme Court the final word on legal and constitutional matters.  Kennedy made no mention of Goldman v. Weinberger (1986), in which the Court upheld the military’s authority to prohibit Captain Goldman from wearing his yarmulke indoors while on duty.  The following year, Congress passed legislation to permit members of the military to wear religious apparel unless it interferes with military duties.  Congress acted pursuant to its express Article I power to “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.”  The decision in Goldman was little more than an advisory ruling, deferring to whatever Congress later decided to enact.

Louis Fisher is Scholar in Residence at the Constitution Project.  During his four decades with the Library of Congress, from 1970 to 2010, he served as Senior Specialist in Separation of Powers with the Congressional Research Service and Specialist in Constitutional Law with the Law Library of Congress.  His 27 books include the forthcoming: Reconsidering Judicial Finality: Why the Supreme Court is Not the Last Word on the Constitution (University Press of Kansas, spring of 2019).

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According to the doctrine of judicial finality, the Supreme Court has the last word in interpreting the Constitution unless it changes its mind or the Constitution is amended.  This doctrine, widely accepted, has no basis in the historical record.  In part, that is because the Court, as with the other political branches, makes mistakes.  Chief Justice William Rehnquist expressed the reason quite crisply in Herrera v. Brown (1993): “It is an unalterable fact that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible.”  As this article will explain, when the Court errs it can take six or more decades to recognize a judicial error and announce a correction.

Claims of Judicial Finality

Scholars at times attribute to Chief Justice John Marshall a position he did not promote.  According to Joel Richard Paul in his book Without Precedent: John Marshall and His Times (2018), Marshall “elevated the dignity of the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning.”  In another study published that same year, The Most Dangerous Branch, David Kaplan states that Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury v. Madison “established that it was the Court that had the last word on what the Constitution meant” and it “has been accepted wisdom since.”

In Marbury, Marshall stated it is “emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”  Nothing in that phrase makes any claim of judicial finality.  It merely states that courts decide cases.  One can also say that it is emphatically the province and duty of the elected branches to say what the law is.  Nothing in Marshall’s judicial service supports the belief that he regarded the Supreme Court as supreme on constitutional issues.  His behavior during the impeachment hearings of Judge John Pickering and Justice Samuel Chase demonstrates that he understood the value of sharing that responsibility with Congress and the President.  Marshall wrote to Chase on January 23, 1805, suggesting that members of Congress did not have to impeach judges whenever they disagreed with their legal opinions.  Congress could simply reverse objectionable rulings through the regular legislative process.  The Court could say “what the law is” but so could Congress.

Consider what he wrote to Chase: “I think the modern doctrine of impeachment should yield to an appellate jurisdiction in the legislature.  A reversal of those legal opinions deemed unsound by the legislature would certainly better comport with the mildness of our character than [would] a removal of the Judge who has rendered them unknowing of his fault.”  Those are not the words of someone devoted to judicial superiority or finality.

During Marshall’s lifetime, he was well aware that constitutional decisions by the Supreme Court could be reversed by the other branches.  In McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the Court upheld the authority of Congress to create a national bank.  That decision did not prevent Congress or the President from reaching a different position at a later date.  That is what happened on July 10, 1832, when President Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill to incorporate the bank.  He acknowledged that those who supported the bank maintained that “its constitutionality in all its features ought to be considered as settled by precedent and by the decision of the Supreme Court.”  He rejected that position.  Congress did not override his veto.  Aware of Jackson’s action, Marshall had full appreciation of the degree to which the elected branches could reverse constitutional decisions by the Supreme Court.  He passed away on July 6, 1835.

Louis Fisher is Scholar in Residence at the Constitution Project. During his four decades with the Library of Congress, from 1970 to 2010, he served as Senior Specialist in Separation of Powers with the Congressional Research Service and Specialist in Constitutional Law with the Law Library of Congress. His 27 books include the forthcoming: Reconsidering Judicial Finality: Why the Supreme Court is Not the Last Word on the Constitution (University Press of Kansas, spring of 2019).

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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America is built on local government.  The future of our nation depends on local communities remaining at the core of representative democracy.

In 1831, the Frenchman, Alexis Clerel, the Vicount de Tocqueville, along with his colleague Gustave de Beaumont, was sent by the French government to study America.  While their mission was officially to review prisons, their nine-month journey produced one of the great classics on America’s civic culture.

“Democracy in America” was published in two volumes (1835 and 1840).  It remains a foundational document describing American exceptionalism.

At its core is de Tocqueville’s description of local government:

The village or township is the only association which is so perfectly natural that wherever a number of men are collected it seems to constitute itself. The town, or tithing, as the smallest division of a community, must necessarily exist in all nations….

….local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations. Town-meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty.

America has always been a nation of communities.  Its pattern of settlement, through Royal Charters, gave wide latitude for establishing local governance.  Being over 5,500 miles from London, made detailed oversight of colonies impossible.  By necessity, and by desire, colonists embraced local authority over distant rule from a capitol or nation.  When distant rulers attempted to increase their control, colonists ignited a Revolution.

As de Tocqueville explains:

The revolution of the United States was the result of a mature and dignified taste for freedom, and not of a vague or ill-defined craving for independence.

The first form of government was the Articles of Confederation, which created a very weak national government.  External threats and internal dysfunction led to the U.S. Constitution, with extensive safeguards for local sovereignty.

America established a federal government, which means power is shared between national and state government, and the majority of governmental actions take place at the local level.  This is institutionalized in the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Today, America is governed by 87,576 local units.  This includes 3,034 counties, 19,429 municipalities (cities, towns, villages), 16,504 townships, 13,506 school districts, and 35,052 special districts (such as water & sewer, fire, and conservation).

These independent, and interdependent, local governments reflect the diversity that is unique to America.  In America, the preferred government is one closest to those its serves.

de Tocqueville links local government to being fundamental to a free people:

In the township, as well as everywhere else, the people are the only source of power; but in no stage of government does the body of citizens exercise a more immediate influence. In America ‘the people’ is a master whose exigencies demand obedience to the utmost limits of possibility.

Municipal independence is therefore a natural consequence of the principle of the sovereignty of the people in the United States: all the American republics recognize it more or less;

de Tocqueville uses the townships of New England as his primary example of the effectiveness of local government and their role in establishing America’s unique democracy:

The native of New England is attached to his township because it is independent and free: his co-operation in its affairs ensures his attachment to its interest; the well-being it affords him secures his affection; and its welfare is the aim of his ambition and of his future exertions: he takes a part in every occurrence in the place; he practices the art of government in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to those forms which can alone ensure the steady progress of liberty; he imbibes their spirit; he acquires a taste for order, comprehends the union or the balance of powers, and collects clear practical notions on the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights.

While discourse over major national and global issues attract the most attention, it is local government that most directly affects our daily lives.  The quality of the school children attend, the condition of roads driven, the safety of neighborhoods, the taste and pressure of water coming from the tap, saving lives and property from fire or accident, are locally governed and provided.

de Tocqueville noted the benefits of locally focused government in America:

In no country in the world do the citizens make such exertions for the common weal; and I am acquainted with no people which has established schools as numerous and as efficacious, places of public worship better suited to the wants of the inhabitants, or roads kept in better repair.

He saw local government promoting individual initiative while restraining growth of a centralized state:

As the administrative authority is within the reach of the citizens, whom it in some degree represents, it excites neither their jealousy nor their hatred; as its resources are limited, everyone feels that he must not rely solely on its assistance…This action of individual exertions, joined to that of the public authorities, frequently performs what the most energetic central administration would be unable to execute.

Thanks to the strength of local government, America remains an inspiration for all those who seek free and open societies.

While chronicling America in its early years, de Tocqueville recognized how the United States’ embrace of local governance already served as a model for a better world:

I believe that provincial [local] institutions are useful to all nations, but nowhere do they appear to me to be more indispensable than amongst a democratic people.

The only nations which deny the utility of provincial [local] liberties are those which have fewest of them; in other words, those who are unacquainted with the institution are the only persons who pass a censure upon it.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

 

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Guest Essayist: Gordon Lloyd

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How did three critical clauses of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution come into being?  The clauses read: “The Congress shall have the power 1) to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for 2) the common defense and 3) general welfare of the United States.”

The general welfare and common defense clauses made their first appearance in Article III of the Articles of Confederation of 1781. Thus these two clauses have been linked together from the very beginning of the country as part of the undisputed and expressly stated role of the federal government.  They also made their way into the Preamble of the Constitution of 1787.

The union under the Articles of Confederation LIMITED THE REACH OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT to the powers “expressly delegated to the United States.” (Article II.)  The “alliance” between the “sovereign states” was on behalf of their “common defense, the securities of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of the them….” (Article III.)  One power not expressly stated in the Articles was the power to lay and collect taxes.

A major problem under the Articles was agreeing on a formula for raising revenue to fund the limited objectives of the union.  Since Congress did not have the power to lay and collect taxes, requisitions to each of the states had to be filed. Accordingly, one reason for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 was to secure a reliable source of revenue for the federal government.

The Virginia Plan, introduced by Edmund Randolph and James Madison on May 29, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, contains 15 Resolutions to “correct and enlarge” the Articles of Confederation.  The first Resolution reminds us that the problem, as far as the Virginia delegates were concerned, lay with the limited powers and not so much the objectives of the Articles.  The goals of the Articles are reaffirmed by the first Resolution: “common defense, security of liberty and general welfare.”  And to secure these ends, the Virginia Plan recommended a radical alteration of the structure and powers of the federal government.  True, nothing was explicitly stated in the Virginia Plan about the power of taxation, but this power was added once the delegates got down to working out the details.

The Framers went through the first draft of the Constitution presented by the Committee on Detail on August 6.  There is a specific reference to the power of Congress to lay and collect taxes.  Congress was also given the power in this first draft “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises” thus providing a constitutional source of revenue for the new government.  Congress was also given power on behalf of the general welfare clause, and the common defense.

As it emerged from the Committee on Detail, these three powers of Congress had the potentiality to be very broad reaching indeed.  Particularly unsettling was the unfamiliar power to lay and collect taxes clause designed to cover the “necessary expenses of the United States.” On August 25, Roger Sherman moved that taxes be limited to ” defraying the expenses that shall be incurred for the common defense and general welfare.”  So, according to Sherman, the “necessary expenses of the United States” are those expenses that are incurred on behalf of the common defense and general welfare. The delegates initially dismissed Sherman’s proposal as so obvious it was “unnecessary.”

But Sherman persisted. He was concerned that if the Constitution did not explicitly restrain elected officials by specific limitations on the taxing power, then they will use the taxation power to extend the reach of federal government. On September 4, the delegates agreed with Sherman that “The Legislature shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” This was unanimously agreed to.  Thus, Sherman got his way in LIMITING the power to lay and collect taxes to items that fell under the common defense and general welfare clauses.

So we can mark September 4 as the date securing the specific linkage between the lay and collect tax clause, the common defense clause, and the general welfare clause.  On September 12 Report the Committee of Style substituted “Congress” for the “Legislature.”

A related question is how did the common defense clause and the general welfare clause make their way into the Preamble of the United States?  We have seen how the Articles of Confederation had a Preamble in which the purposes of the union were “common defense, the securities of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare.”  The Constitutional Convention followed this precedent.

All through the ratifying debates, opponents of the Constitution, such as Brutus, wondered whether the taxation, common defense and general welfare clauses, instead of being restrictions on the reach of the taxing power of the federal government, as intended, were actually potential invitations for the expansion of the powers of the federal government. What activities of the federal government, said Brutus, could not be included under the taxation, common defense, and general welfare clauses?  The answer, said the authors of the Constitution, was that the power to tax must be clearly associated with items that manifestly concern the common defense and the general welfare.

Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, Dr. Gordon Lloyd is the coauthor of three books on the American founding and sole author of a book on the political economy of the New Deal. His latest coauthored book is The Two Narratives of Political Economy. He currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

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The next significant impact on the development of the California constitution came during the Progressive Era of the early 20th century. The Lincoln-Roosevelt Republican movement had seized control, first, of the Republican Party and, then, in the 1910 elections, of the state government. The movement was an upper-middle class, college-educated, young, elitist, technocratic reform movement centered in the legal profession, the press, and, to a lesser extent, the independent entrepreneurial class. These reformers had been excluded from the traditional retail politics of the urban machines with their roots in the working classes, strong partisan identity, and “spoils system” of political patronage. They professed to believe in the people and democracy, but a people led by the right kind of leader whose programs would use government to improve the lot of the masses. The people, in turn, would recognize the wisdom of those programs and voice their approval in the voting booth.

In January, 1911, the Progressives had full control of the legislature and had in the governorship perhaps the most popular politician California has produced, Hiram Johnson. That year, a special election was held to vote on, among other things, 23 measures that required amendment of the state constitution were proposed. All but one were approved by the voters.

Among the most significant and enduring, for better or worse, of those changes are the initiative and referendum procedures. Initiatives are brought by petitions signed by voters to enact statutes or constitutional amendments. For a statutory initiative, voter signatures must number at least 5% of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. For a constitutional initiative, the signature requirement is 8%. In either case, once on the ballot, the initiative requires majority approval to pass.

A referendum is a decision by voters on an action already taken by the legislature. For a statutory referendum, the same signature requirements exist as for a statutory initiative. A constitutional referendum to amend or revise the constitution is different. The proposed amendment or revision must first be adopted by a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the legislature (27 out of 40 in the state senate; 54 out of 80 in the assembly). Then a majority of voters must approve. The legislature can also call a constitutional convention to revise the constitution, a task that, despite periodic clamor by the press, it has declined to perform. Finally, a “mandatory” referendum is required for bonds to be issued, if the bonds are repaid by taxpayer dollars. The legislature and governor must approve, after which a majority of voters must concur. All told, the California constitution has been amended over 500 times since 1879, with topics from criminal law reform, to term limits, to state pension benefits.

A third device of direct democracy is the recall of public officials. While the number of petition signatures depends on the office, for most state-wide offices, signatures equal to at least 12% of the votes cast for that office in the most recent election are required. If enough signatures are collected, two separate questions are presented to the voters. First, a majority must decide that the targeted official should be recalled. A second question decides who should take the recalled official’s place, if the recall is approved. There is no winnowing out of candidates through a primary election. Whoever gets the most votes, wins. A recent, and at the time rather shocking, demonstration occurred in 2003. Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, was recalled by 55-45%, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected with 49% of the vote over a plethora of other candidates.

Although these structural aspects of the Progressive Era amendments have had the most significant impact, other reforms also changed the nature of California politics. The Progressives’ hostility to political partisanship led to the abolition of straight-ticket voting, the adoption of cross-filing in primary elections (a process by which a politician could run for political office on the ballot of more than one political party), and the increase in officially non-partisan offices. Local elections cannot be contested by political parties. Thus, mayors and city councils are elected in nominally non-partisan elections.

Many academics and other reformers long have lauded this push toward meritocratic, non-partisan government. In a sense, it is faithful to the classic republican ideal of leaders dedicated to the common weal, rather than factional self-interest. But, in reality, evidence now shows that these restrictions tend to dilute voter attention and interest, which, in turn, produces more and more frantic efforts to increase voter participation. California’s latest constitutional contribution has been the introduction of the “jungle primary,” in which all candidates of the various parties for a particular office are placed on the primary election ballot. The top two vote-getters then run against each other in the general election. This was supposed to produce more “moderate” winners, rather than the more ideologically extreme candidates produced if each party had its separate primary. Instead, this process appears to increase voter confusion from the large number of names on the primary ballot, and lessen voter interest and involvement if, as often happens, the two names on general election ballot are members of the same party. This has further stultified the resiliency of political parties, especially the Republicans, in California.

California’s governmental structure differs from the federal system. The legislative branch is composed of two chambers, both elected on the basis of population. The executive branch is a “plural executive.” The governor is elected by popular vote, as is, separately, the lieutenant governor. While the President appoints federal department heads with Senate confirmation, in California many such officials (attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, etc.) are elected as independent constitutional officers. While most of the governor’s powers are similar to those of the President, the governor also has a line-item veto over budgetary items. If the governor opposes a particular legislative budget item, he can veto it entirely or reduce it to a palatable level. That veto can then be overridden by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature.

Judges of the local and appellate courts can be appointed by the governor if a vacancy in the office has occurred. For appellate judges, the governor’s candidate must have been approved by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. There is no participation by the legislature. Once appointed, the chief justice and the six associate justices of the state supreme court serve for 12 years, after which they must submit to a retention election. The voters choose whether or not to retain the justice subject to this plebiscite. While retention is almost a foregone conclusion, in the 1986 general election, Chief Justice Rose Bird and Associate Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso were rejected due to their perceived eagerness to overturn all death penalty verdicts that came before them.

The state’s current constitution, in sum, is quite different from its predecessor. But, then, so are the people of the state. The earlier version followed the path of traditional American constitutional structure, with its basic organization of government and its “natural rights” approach. Today’s constitution is a record of over a century of interest group politics. It has long since ceased to be a constitution of law and become a constitution of policy. It is easy to mock the inclusion in a constitution of an exemption from property tax for “Fruit and nut trees until 4 years after the season in which they were planted in orchard form.” But one must not ignore the bigger issue. What started as a reform to get around a political structure controlled by the bosses of entrenched and organized political parties and clubs by creating a system of direct democracy to appeal to the voters directly, has become the playground of well-funded, unaccountable, politically-connected private pressure groups posing as expert technocrats solving problems. In the guise of the “public interest” are private interests achieved. This is the inevitable result of the Progressives’ Platonic vision of themselves leading the masses designed to follow. It is a fit constitution for a California increasingly divided into a highly-educated, highly-compensated elite; organized interest groups of public employees, environmentalists, and ethnic affiliation; a shrinking middle class, and a mass of workers and unemployed struggling to get by.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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California has had two constitutions during statehood, one from 1849 and the other from 1879. Although only a generation separates them, their style, operative principles, and political consequences could hardly be more different. The Constitution of 1849 represented the classic American constitutionalism of the U.S. Constitution and of the Iowa and New York state constitutions that were its direct antecedents. The Constitution of 1879 bore the imprint of the wave of political populism sweeping the country during that decade. Together with subsequent amendments adopted during the Progressive Era, it became–and remains–an instrument of that time and contributes to the state’s radical politics.

The collapse, after about one month, of the quixotic Bear Flag Republic that had been proclaimed at the small town of Sonoma in June, 1846, and the ensuing declaration of American military control over California by Commodore John Sloat, resulted in a de facto military government for the next several years. The war with Mexico and the national controversy over slavery became tangled with the discovery of gold in January, 1848, at John Sutter’s sawmill at Coloma, east of Sacramento, and the ensuing rush of “49ers” into the area. Ordinarily, Congress would have established a territorial government and set California on an eventual path to statehood. But the political difficulty attendant to deciding what to do with the large territory gained from Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in a stalemate in Congress that kept California’s status frozen in place.

Californians had grander ideas. Why not skip territorial status and move directly to statehood? California, after all, was different from the rest of the formerly Mexican territory. California had established towns, a developing economy, good harbors for commerce, and a comparatively sizable population. Texas was different, too, and it had received statehood. Most of the rest of the new lands were wild and unoccupied.

When Congress failed to act, Californians in several towns in the northern, much more populous, part moved to organize representative governments on their own. They were encouraged by various national politicians, such as Missouri’s Senator Thomas Hart Benton, President Zachary Taylor, and the new “civil” governor, General Bennett Riley. The latter two went further, urging Californians to elect delegates to a state constitutional convention.

The convention of 48 delegates met in early September, 1849, in Monterey. Three-fourths of the delegates came from the northern areas (mostly settled by Americans from the Northern states; only 11 came from the Southern California (predominantly settled by American Southerners). The mining districts had elected a number of additional delegates who did not attend because of more pressing matters–mining for gold.

The northern delegates voted for statehood, the southerners preferred territorial status over concerns about taxation. The slavery issue was quickly settled. California would be a free state not due to humanitarian abolitionist sentimentality, but because, as one historian observed, the 49ers “were sensitive on the matter of dignity of hard manual labor, or rather of their particular form of it; they were outraged at the imputation that goldmining was work appropriate for slaves.” Echoing the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and foreshadowing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the convention voted that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this state.” At the same time, the convention initially adopted a provision to exclude free Blacks from the state, but eventually reversed itself out of concern that Congress might reject the constitution on that ground.

The most difficult question, one that almost broke up the convention, was the question of the state’s eastern boundary. One faction wanted what eventually became the boundary, another wanted to include present-day Nevada and most of Utah and Arizona. The latter group had on its side the fact that the most common maps at the time and the one used in the treaty of peace showed this version of a “Greater California.” The convention eventually settled for the smaller boundary because of concerns about inability to have representative government for such an expanse, the inclusion of the Utah Mormons who were agitating for their own “State of Deseret,” and Congress’s likely negative reaction against such a massive state.

The constitution prohibited dueling, a restriction that proved quaintly optimistic. In a rough-and-tumble, male-dominated society that was still tinkering with formal legal structures, physical altercations would be a quick and direct way to resolve personal differences. One of California’s first Senators, William Gwin, fought a duel in 1853. Another Senator, David Broderick (a political rival of Gwin), would be killed in a duel by state supreme court chief justice David Terry. Broderick was not Terry’s first dueling victim. Terry was a master of several weapons, from knife to machete to pistol. Terry was shot many years later by a body guard of one of Terry’s former colleagues on the court, Stephen Field, who by that time had become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The body guard, U.S. deputy marshal Neagle, feared that Terry was about to draw a weapon to kill Field.

The structure of the constitution reflected the traditional separation of powers among branches of the government. It was a comparatively brief and concise document produced within six weeks by using the Iowa constitution (mostly) and the New York constitution (some) as models. There was a bicameral legislature, and a plural executive whereby the governor and various other officers were elected independently from each other by the voters. The constitution followed the emerging democratic trend of the 19th century of an elective judiciary at all levels. The state supreme court was composed of a chief justice and two associate justices, with the office of the chief rotating year-to-year. The constitution also contained an extensive declaration of rights. Aside from that list, it addressed miscellaneous issues deemed significant, including the novel concept (derived from Spanish law) that property owned by a woman before marriage or acquired by her by gift or inheritance would remain hers.

The constitution was published in English and Spanish and submitted to the voters, who approved it on November 13, 1849, by 12,061 to 811. The legislature met in San Jose in December and submitted a petition for statehood. Congress, wracked by the slavery issue, did not accept until the Compromise of 1850 was worked out. The President signed the admission of California as the thirty-first state on September 9, 1850, and the constitution formally went into effect. It was amended only three times in the next thirty years.

There matters remained until the financial, political, and ethnic convulsions of the 1870s. The financial panic of 1873 brought unemployment and business losses. The immigration of a large cohort of Chinese brought racial tensions. The general political restlessness and increasing stridency of rhetoric contributed to political instability and the rise of new political associations, particularly the Workingmen’s Party, a pro-labor, anti-capitalist, anti-business, anti-Chinese party. In 1877, voters approved a call for a constitutional convention. Delegates were elected in June, 1879, and the convention gathered in Sacramento in September. The convention was three times as large as that of 1849, but it represented a non-Indian population that had grown from about 50,000 to nearly 900,000. It also took six months, rather than six weeks, to conclude.

It is not necessarily true that more time and man-hours produce a better result. The new constitution was an original work, but it was long, detailed, and prolix. A part of the problem was that the convention met during politically turbulent times and addressed “reforms” that should have been handled, if at all, through the legislative process. Another cause is that state governments exercise all legislative powers not surrendered to the general government. They are not governments of limited and delegated functions. Therefore, restrictions on state governments must be express. Today, the California constitution is even longer, due to the many amendments and the lingering effects of the Progressive Era changes described below. Even after voters in the 1960s and 1970s approved the removal of about 40,000 words by the Constitution Revision Commission, it is twelve times as long as the U.S. Constitution, making it among the most verbose state constitutions.

Representatives of the farm and labor interests, as well as of business, pushed through a common reform of the time, the creation of a state railroad commission with specified membership and powers. Labor got a maximum-hour provision for public works projects. A new state tax assessment board was created. Specific tax regulations to protect farmers were adopted. As would be expected, these regulations were easily circumvented by creditors, yet they remain part of the constitution. Corporations and banks were particular targets, with provisions passed to increase accountability of directors and shareholders. Labor law, business law, tax law, all matters that should be part of a system of codes brought into the fundamental organic law of government, the state constitution.

Finally, the Chinese. In a stark contrast to the current state government, a lengthy article of the constitution authorized the legislature to protect the state from “aliens, who are, or may become…dangerous or detrimental.” Chinese could not be employed by corporations or on public projects (except as punishment for crime, e.g. road gangs). It prohibited “Asiatic coolieism” as a form of human slavery. These provisions, predictably, were found unconstitutional by federal courts as violations of equal protection or of the federal government’s power over naturalization and immigration. The Constitution of 1879 was adopted by the underwhelming popular vote margin of 54-46 percent. In amended form, it remains the state’s constitution.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Constituting America first published this message from Founder & Co-President Janine Turner over Memorial Day Weekend, 2010, the inaugural year of our organization.  We are pleased to share it with you again, as we celebrate our 9th birthday!  

On this Memorial Day weekend, I think it is appropriate to truly contemplate and think about the soldiers and families who have sacrificed their lives and loved ones, and given their time and dedication to our country.

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

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“All politics is local”[i]

Black’s Law Dictionary, 4th Edition defines “Constitution” as “The organic and fundamental law of a nation or state, which may be written or unwritten, establishing the character and conception of its government, laying the basic principles to which its internal life is to be conformed, organizing the government, and regulating, distributing, and limiting the functions of its different departments, and prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of sovereign powers.” (Emphasis added)

What if a government represents not a “nation or state” but a city or county full of people; does that government also require a constitution?  What if a state, which has a constitution, incorporates a city or county as a political subdivision of the state, is that city or county bound only by the limits of the state constitution, or must it operate from a more narrow set of powers? There being 89,004 local governments in the United States, this is a significant question.[ii]

It is a question politicians have wrestled with since the first elective government was set in place in 1619 Virginia: what are the limits of authority to be exercised by a state’s lower-tiered governments?

John Forrest Dillon (1831-1914) was an American jurist who served on both federal and Iowa state courts during his lengthy career.[iii] In 1872, while sitting on what would later become the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, he published an influential extended essay or treatise on the power of states over municipal governments, entitled “Municipal Corporations,” or, later, “The Law of Municipal Corporations.” Dillon argued, quite persuasively it seems, that municipal governments can operate only within the express powers given them by their state governments. Dillon’s idea can be summarized this way:

“A municipal corporation possesses and can exercise the following powers and no others: First, those granted in express words (from the state); second, those necessarily implied or necessarily incident to the powers expressly granted; third, those absolutely essential to the declared objects and purposes of the corporation-not simply convenient, but indispensable; and fourth, any fair doubt as to the existence of a power is resolved by the courts against the corporation.”[iv]

In essence, since they are created by the state, local governments exist to perform the tasks of the state at the local level. This makes perfect sense. If it were otherwise, an additional constitution would seem to be required; no government should be allowed to operate without clearly specified limits to its power, or tyranny would soon commence. And if a city, for instance, were to operate with only the bounds provided by the state constitution, conflicts would quickly arise over the boundary between the city’s and state’s jurisdiction. Confusion would reign supreme.

“The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse,” said James Madison on the floor of the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788. A hundred years later, America’s cities were growing by leaps and bounds. Tax revenues were increasing exponentially and corruption soon followed. Grafting, which is the unscrupulous use of a politician’s authority for personal gain, was a common practice in utility franchising and public works projects. To make matters worse, local governments borrowed outrageous sums of money in order to attract big businesses and railroad com­panies. Unable to pay businesses back, local officials dissolved their cities and left the debt to the state. Lord Bryce of England observed in 1888: ‘There is no denying that the government of cities is one conspicuous failure of the United States.’”[v]

In Hunter v. Pittsburgh (1907), the Supreme Court cited Dillon’s Municipal Corporations and fully adopted his view of state power over municipalities. Note, this was while Dillon was yet alive – what an honor to have your work cited by the highest court in the land!

Today, the municipalities of forty states operate under some form of Dillon Rule, my home state of Virginia being one of them. There are different versions; some states apply Dillon’s Rule only to cities, some only to counties (Alabama) some only to townships (Indiana).

Louisiana applies the rule only to “pre-1974 charter municipalities.”

The alternative to Dillon’s Rule is called Home Rule,[vi] the principle that local government can exert broad-based power, only restrained by the state and national constitutions. We should realize that before Dillion published his ideas in 1872, there was only home rule or its un-named equivalent for the nearly one hundred years that came before Dillon under the Constitution. Whether a local government is governed by the Dillon Rule or Home Rule, the ultimate decision regarding what power they do possess resides with the state government.

But Dillon’s Rule is increasingly coming under attack. Many elected officials of localities controlled by Dillion’s Rule today contend they are “handcuffed” by its restrictions.[vii]  They argue that Dillion’s Rule provides them little to no power to deal with certain problems, particularly growth within their jurisdiction or technologically complex issues such as fracking, which may extend across jurisdictional boundaries. The proponents of Home Rule argue that there are areas where state power should not infringe on that of local government and many are pushing to have their state either change completely to Home Rule or at least loosen the restrictions of Dillon’s Rule. Many states only apply Home Rule to certain municipalities. Arizona, for example, only applies Home Rule to cities with a population of at least 3,500 people. Thirty-one states apply either straight Dillon’s Rule or a combination of Dillon’s Rule and Home Rule to local jurisdictions.

One problem with Home Rule is uniformity. City governments operating under Home Rule may vary significantly in the quality and effects of their governance due to the way various administrations over the years have exerted their more loosely defined power.  Under Dillon’s Rule municipalities generally operate from a standard set of powers and/or restrictions.

The states of the United States were intended to be, essentially, laboratories within which “experiments” in government could be tried.  The Tenth Amendment supports this view, stating that whatever political power was not delegated to the national government remained with the states and their people.  Whether Home Rule or Dillon’s Rule or some combination of both will win out remains to be seen. In any case, the idea of a self-ruling people demands that the decision not be left to the politicians.

Gary Porter  is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text.  Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes a weekly essay: Constitutional Corner which is published on multiple websites, and hosts a weekly radio show: “We the People, the Constitution Matters” on WFYL AM1140.  Gary has also begun performing reenactments of James Madison and speaking with public and private school students about Madison’s role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and Constitution.  Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[i] Variously attributed to Associated Press Washington bureau chief Byron Price (1932) and to Chicago writer Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936), but most famously used by former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil.

[ii] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/governments/cb12-161.html.

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Forrest_Dillon.

[iv] City of Clinton v Cedar Rapids and the Missouri River Rail Road Company, accessed at: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/110/27/.

[v] ACCE-White-Paper-Dillon-House-Rule-Final, accessed at: https://www.acce.us/app/uploads/2016/06/2016-ACCE-White-Paper-Dillon-House-Rule-Final.pdf.

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_rule_in_the_United_States.

[vii] Is Home Rule the Answer? Accessed at https://www.brookings.edu/research/is-home-rule-the-answer-clarifying-the-influence-of-dillons-rule-on-growth-management/

Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

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Once upon a time in America, before the Constitution was ratified, the state courts were the only game in town (and in each state). But there was also a time in America when there were no courts whatsoever.

In early May 1607, stepping off the ship Susan Constant, in chains, was none other than Captain John Smith.  Smith was one of 105 men and boys, plus 39 sailors who had made the perilous 144 day voyage from England.

Smith was among the most enterprising and useful members of the colony, traits that served to make others of the company jealous of his influence. Midway through the voyage Smith had been absurdly charged with plotting to murder the thirteen member ruling council, usurp the government, and make himself King of Virginia. He was confined for the remainder of the voyage. The charge was absurd in the extreme since no one on the three ships making up the small expedition even knew the names of the council members; they were sealed — to be revealed only upon arrival in America.

On their arrival at what would be called Jamestown, Smith was liberated and the roster of councilmen’s names opened, only to reveal that Smith had been assigned as one of the thirteen members.  Smith complained of his unjust imprisonment and demanded a trial but could not obtain one: there was no court! The settlers quickly realized they had other pressing matters: namely, survival!  Half the settlers would die in the first six months; all the while, Smith proclaimed his innocence but was not allowed to take his seat on the council.

When Smith’s enemies could postpone it no longer, a hearing of the case was held and Smith was acquitted of all the charges against him; soon after, he took his rightful council seat.[1]

Shifting to the north, one of the first acts of the Pilgrims of Plymouth after establishing themselves as a “civil body politic” by means of the Mayflower Compact was to establish The General Court of Plymouth Colony, the first to establish a complete legal code in America.[2]

Eventually, as each of the American colonies was settled, courts were established to handle the inevitable squabbles between settlers.

Fast forward to 1781.  One of the chief defects in the Articles of Confederation was that it provided no court system above the state level. With no supervision from above, state courts ruled pretty much as they pleased, not always to the satisfaction of all concerned. The consistent rulings of the Massachusetts court system in favor of creditors and against poor farmers sparked the infamous Shays Rebellion[3] in which, not long after they had fought side by side, Massachusetts farmers and Massachusetts militiamen formed opposing lines and opened fire on each other outside Springfield Arsenal.

Then came the Constitution.

“The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish,” so says Article 3, Section One of the U.S. Constitution.  This clause obviously enables creation of the federal court system but the Constitution has little to say about the state court systems:  The Judges in every State “shall be bound” to view the Constitution as the “the supreme Law of the Land” (Article VI), and the “[t]rial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be … held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed” (Article III, Section 2). That’s pretty much all the Constitution has to say!

About one million cases are filed in the U.S. federal court system each year, while more than 30 million are filed in state courts.[4]

Today, state courts are considered courts of “general” jurisdiction. They hear all the various types of cases not specifically reserved to federal courts. Just as the federal courts interpret federal laws, state courts interpret state laws (although federal courts also get to interpret state laws).

Examples of cases typically heard in state courts include:

  • Violations of state law. Most criminal activity falls in this category, such as robbery, assault, murder, and many drug-related crimes.
  • Controversies arising out of the state constitution or other state laws.
  • Cases in which the state is a party, such as state tax violations.
  • Most real estate cases, malpractice, personal injury cases, and contract disputes.
  • All family, divorce, custody, inheritance and probate cases.
  • Nearly all traffic and juvenile cases

The structure of state court systems varies considerably but there are similarities. To get an idea of what the structure of state courts look like some example states, click on the links below:

The “workhorse” of any state court system is the trial court. This is the lowest level of court and usually where a case or lawsuit will originate. It may be a court of general jurisdiction, such as a circuit court, or it may be a court of special or limited jurisdiction, such as a probate, juvenile, traffic, or family court.

  • Probate courts handle the administration of estates and probating of wills.
  • Family courts focus on cases involving custody and child support, neglect and abuse, and, sometimes, juvenile crime or truancy.
  • Traffic courts handle alleged violations of traffic laws.
  • In some states, special housing courts, or landlord-tenant courts, have been established.
  • Small-claims courts handle civil matters in which the dollar amount at issue is below a certain amount.
  • Juvenile courts generally handle truancy and criminal offenses committed by minors.

Each state has a Supreme Court which is generally considered the court “of last resort” unless and until the matter qualifies for a hearing in the federal court system.

While most federal judges are appointed to their positions, the majority of state trial court judges are elected by the citizens. In some states, supreme court justices are appointed by state governors or legislatures, while in others, justices are elected.

Throughout Virginia’s history (my state), the selection and term of state judges has varied. In 1776, the state legislature selected state judges to serve a life term. Between 1850 and 1864, the citizenry elected state judges. Between 1864 and 1870, state judges were nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state legislature. After 1870, the General Assembly assumed full responsibility for the selection of state judges in Virginia.

State courts play a vital role in our nation’s legal system.  If you are ever a party to a lawsuit or are called as a trial witness, it will likely be in a state court. Without the fifty state court systems the federal court system would be overwhelmed.  State courts are usually easy to locate and provide a great opportunity to introduce school children to the U.S. legal system.

Gary Porter  is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text.  Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes a weekly essay: Constitutional Corner which is published on multiple websites, and hosts a weekly radio show: “We the People, the Constitution Matters” on WFYL AM1140.  Gary has also begun performing reenactments of James Madison and speaking with public and private school students about Madison’s role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and Constitution.  Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[1] A famous mural depicting the trial sits in the Cuyahoga County Courthouse.

[2] https://worldhistoryproject.org/1636/10/4/the-general-court-of-the-plymouth-colony-instituted-a-legal-code

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shays%27_Rebellion

[4] https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=30

Guest Essayist: Marc Clauson

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What is the purpose and impact of Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution in that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government”? How does this form relate to the republican (representative) styles such as Commission Form, County Administrator, Elected Executive, City-County Consolidation, Constitutional Row Offices or Home Rule Authority to ensure power remains in the hands of each American, preventing a monarchy or aristocracy in each state and local government?

The idea of a republican government was raised at the Constitutional Convention in the atmosphere of the just-ended War for Independence.  The primary target of the signers of the Declaration has been the  English king, who was designated a tyrant.  This same target lies in the background in discussions of the governmental form.  In addition, the Founders had read widely in ancient and recent history and had studied many forms of government labeled as republics.  Their conclusions were ambiguous.  They were not agreed as to what a republic was, but they did agree on what it was not.  The meaning of Article IV, Section 4, then has to be understood in this light. For the Founders, it meant simply that government was not a monarchy. So to guarantee a monarchy was to eliminate monarchy as legitimate, but then to “fill in details” as to what it was by drawing on many diverse sources in order to design the best constitutional form.  In a positive sense, therefore, a republic contained elements of democracy, aristocracy and some executive function, though never only a monarchy.  It was also viewed as a form in which all power was limited and checked in various ways.

It is then the task of architects of governmental forms to design governmental structures to discover those institutional structures that promote republican government.  Obviously this means no monarchy (or one-man rule), but that itself does not tell us what forms are best or whether we may have “sneaked” in one-man rule in other guises.  It was in the late nineteenth century, during the Progressive Era, that unique forms of government began to be proposed at state and local levels.

The motives behind the Progressive Movement treated the Constitution as an outmoded document in the light of a complex and changing society.  But one aspect of that movement was a desire for more democracy at all levels of government. By itself, that desire could be beneficial insofar as it marked a return to consent as the basis for governments.  This democratizing trend then was consistent with the spirit of Article IV, Section 4.  However, it’s weakness would be a failure to maximize the use of checks and balances at state and local levels, leaving the elected bodies themselves with virtually sole power with no limits except those imposed by state and Federal constitutions.

In particular, institutions like Home Rule government do bring the people closer to those who govern them, but at the same time, can increase centralization of government.  So even though the officials of those urban areas might be elected, the number of officials elected might be smaller and there might be no enforceable constitutional limits.  It is necessary therefore to carefully design institutions, even though we might construct more democratic processes.

Marc A. Clauson is Professor of History, Law and Political Economy and Professor in Honors at Cedarville University. Marc holds a PhD from the University of the Orange Free State, SA, Intellectual History and Polity); JD (West Virginia University College of Law, Jurisprudence); MA, ThM (Liberty University, New Testament Studies and Church History); MA (Marshall University, Political Science); BS (Marshall University, Physics); and PhD work (West Virginia University, Economic Theory).

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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A wave of state constitutional conventions during the middle of the 19th century reflected the increased “democratization” of American politics that resulted in the election of President Andrew Jackson and the emergence of two modern national programmatic parties, the Democrats and the Whigs. In established and newly-formed states, the growing movement for popular control over government led to reforms of judicial systems by having judges run for political office under partisan aegis and denomination. Today, eight states retain some form of partisan election for their appellate courts, and more do so for their general trial courts.

By the late nineteenth century, the tide turned again, with partisan politics becoming identified with political corruption, urban political “machines,” and party bosses controlling the process from “smoke-filled back rooms.” Over the next several decades, reformers, often working under the label of “Progressivism,” pushed broadly for nonpartisan elections, including for judicial offices. Most new states, as well as some established states, adopted this system in the several decades beginning in the 1880s. About one-third of the states still have nonpartisan elections for their appellate courts; still more do so for their general trial courts.

There were also dissenters to the very idea of elected judges, at least above the level of local trial courts. Legal elites claimed that elections undermined judicial independence and gave short shrift to legal knowledge, experience, and temperament. One alternative would have been to follow the path of European systems that make judges civil servants, with a professional career path focused on passing examinations and embarking on the judicial analog to the old Roman cursus honorum to be selected to higher courts. While such a system makes sense for administrative courts or for courts that address technical issues of contract, property, or even criminal law, American courts address constitutional law controversies, as well. Those questions often overlap with controversial political issues, so that a more complex and difficult balancing act arises between judicial knowledge and independence, on the one hand, and political accountability, on the other.

One reform proposed early in the 20th century by the American Judicature Society was so-called merit selection. A non-partisan commission chooses a list of nominees, from which the governor appoints the judge, with no involvement by the state legislature. Thereafter, the people will vote at the next general election in a plebiscitary “yes-or-no” choice to retain or reject the appointee. Each judge so selected will have to stand in further periodic retention elections. This model was first enacted in 1940 in Missouri. Variants of the “Missouri Plan,” as it was dubbed colloquially, were adopted in about half of the states during the middle of the 20th century for intermediate appellate courts and supreme courts, though in fewer states for general trial courts. Since 1934, California has an inverted variation of the Missouri Plan, for courts above the Superior Court (trial court). The governor selects a nominee who must then be reviewed and confirmed by the state’s Commission on Judicial Appointments, which is composed of the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, the state attorney general, and a specified justice of the intermediate court of appeal. Again, the legislature does not participate.

While the Missouri Plan is still a popular reform proposal, it has come under fire by others who see it, with some justification, as an attempt by an unelected legal elite to entrench itself further in an isolated and unaccountable judicial bureaucracy. That opposition has manifested itself in increasingly divisive judicial retention elections and in some states, rejection of concrete efforts to institute the Missouri system. As to the former, while judges still overwhelmingly win retention elections, in California the vote in these elections has become closer. In the 1986 election, the chief justice and two associate justices of the California Supreme Court were rejected due to the public’s fury with the jurists’ perceived categorical hostility to application of the death penalty. Other critics complain that merit systems are a mirage, in that it is impossible to take partisan politics out of the process. They assert that political influence manifests itself in many ways through the structure of the system and the influence that the governor exerts through “citizen appointees” on the selection commission.

State courts generally have the same powers of judicial review regarding state constitutional law as federal courts have as to matters of federal constitutional law. If a state supreme court strikes down a state law as violating the state constitution, there usually is no review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state court has acted under “adequate and independent state grounds,” which means that no federal constitutional interest is involved for further review. In addition, state courts can review state laws for their conformance to the U.S. Constitution, statutes, or treaties. Such decisions, whether for or against the state law, are usually subject to review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to their role in shaping ordinary civil and criminal law, much constitutional law is made through the state courts. One reason is because the U.S. Constitution provides only a “floor” of protection for individual rights. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a relatively small percentage of cases decided by all lower courts, including the 12 federal circuit courts, the 50 state supreme courts, and assorted other courts. State legislatures (and Congress) can expand those rights by statute, and state courts can do so through interpretation of their state’s constitution. While it is not always clear when or whose rights are expanded, rather than contracted, some state courts have been quite active in striking down state laws. For example, in abortion, school financing, same-sex marriage, and criminal procedure, among other topics, state courts have often gone further or, at least, been ahead of federal courts in defining constitutional rights. Compared to the last half of the 20th century, the U.S. Supreme Court has become more reluctant to lead constitutional change during the last couple of decades. This has refocused litigants’ attention on the state supreme courts, a trend that is likely to continue.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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Under the Constitution, the only required court is the U.S. Supreme Court. The creation of lower federal courts has always been entirely at the discretion of Congress. Even if federal courts have jurisdiction, they can only hear cases specified in Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution. They are “limited jurisdiction” courts. However, the Constitution does anticipate the existence of state courts, which, in addition to their duties under state law, would perform the functions of federal jurisdiction if Congress chose not to establish lower federal courts. Even today, state courts can hear cases that involve federal jurisdiction, such as claims that arise under federal statutes or the U.S. Constitution, unless Congress has expressly made hearing that type of case exclusive in the federal courts. Congress has done that in regard to claims where the United States is a party, for example.

State courts, therefore, form the backbone of the American judicial system. Most laws are state or local laws, and most cases, civil and criminal, are heard in state courts. There may be state courts of limited jurisdiction, such as the Small Claims Court, but there is at least one level of “general jurisdiction” trial courts. In California, this court is called the Superior Court, organized by county. In other states, this may be called county court, district court or circuit court. In New York, this is called, rather bizarrely, the Supreme Court. These general jurisdiction courts may have separate departments, such as the probate division or the family law division. There may also be entirely separate specialized courts, such as juvenile courts or, in Delaware, the Chancery Court for business law cases.

In addition, many states have an intermediate appellate court system analogous to the federal circuit courts. These are typically organized by larger geographical areas. They, too, vary in names. In California, this is called the Court of Appeal for the 1st [etc.] District. In some states, this may be called the Appellate Department of the [insert name of general jurisdiction trial court]. All states have a final court of appeal. Usually, this is called [the state’s] supreme court. In New York, it is called the Court of Appeals, since, as noted above, New York calls its general trial court the supreme court.

In many states, as well as in the federal system, the role of intermediate appellate courts and the supreme court differ. Intermediate courts exist substantially to correct errors of law made by trial courts, so there is generally a right to appeal cases from the lower court. Supreme courts, on the other hand, are “courts of law, not of error,” where protecting litigants from the errors of trial courts is merely incidental to resolving significant legal issues for the broader public good. Thus, supreme courts are usually given great discretion by the legislature as to which cases they will review. The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, hears almost no cases on appeal. Rather, review is exercised by granting a writ of certiorari that orders the lower court to certify the record of the case to the Supreme Court for review. Many states follow the same approach. In California, only death penalty cases have mandatory appeal. Everything else is within the state supreme court’s discretion.

Federal judges are appointed by the President, with confirmation by a majority vote of Senators. With some exceptions for specialized, administrative law-type judges, such as the Tax Court, they serve during “good behavior,” i.e. potentially for life, subject to impeachment for constitutionally defined causes. At the state level, selection procedures for judges are so varied as to be incapable of complete description in a brief essay. A general overview must suffice. At the beginning of the country, a common model was to have legislative bodies appoint judges. Thus, the Virginia’s constitution of 1776 declared, “The two Houses of Assembly shall, by joint ballot, appoint judges of the Supreme Court of Appeals, and General Court, Judges in Chancery, Judges of Admiralty…[to] continue in office during good behavior.” This “popular control” was, at least in part a response to the distrust that many Revolutionary War-era Americans had towards the king’s appointed judges as officers of the Crown. Virginia is one of two states that retain legislative appointment in some form.

By the 1780s, a reaction had set in against legislative dominance under the first wave of state constitutions. Many states revised their constitutions over the next couple of decades. The new mode of selection of judges often replicated the U.S. Constitution. Thus, the Massachusetts constitution of 1780 stated that “All judicial officers…shall be nominated by the Governour, by and with the advice and consent of the Council [a body of nine members chosen by the two houses of the legislature jointly with a mostly advisory role to the governor]….” On the other hand, while judges in Massachusetts ostensibly served during good behavior, “the Governour, with consent of the Council, may remove them upon the address of both houses of the Legislature.” This easy removal maintained indirect popular control over the judiciary without having to resort to accusations of bad conduct needed for impeachment. Today, three states, not including Massachusetts, select appellate courts by gubernatorial appointment with legislative confirmation.

One odd characteristic of that Massachusetts constitution was that it permitted the legislative chambers, as well as the governor, to compel the Supreme Judicial Court to render formal opinions on “important questions of law, and upon solemn occasions.” This provision still applies in Massachusetts and a dozen other states. It calls upon that court to issue an “advisory opinion” even in the absence of a concrete dispute. This approach is used in various foreign systems, as well, typically those that follow the German model of having one specialized constitutional court that exercises judicial review. It is rejected under the U.S. Constitution for federal courts and in most state constitutions, which require that the judicial power only functions in concrete “cases or controversies” brought by a plaintiff who has suffered an actual injury and, thus, has standing to sue.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

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This year’s Constituting America’s 90 Day Study has focused on state and local government and, for each state, has discussed the constitution that each state has adopted.  In every instance, the state constitution specifies the branches of government, including a judicial branch.  How state supreme courts work in relation to the United States Supreme Court is mostly a matter of jurisdiction, with the United States Supreme Court and  “such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish” created by the United States Constitution.

The Founding Fathers of our nation did not spend as much time debating and did not spend as much time drafting and discussing Article III, which created the federal courts and gave Congress extensive power to determine the structure of the judiciary.

Alexander Hamilton, expressing his views in the Federalist Papers, had a clear view of what powers the judiciary had and how they fit in the three branches of the new national structure.

In Federalist No. 78, Hamilton noted that the judiciary would be the weakest of the three branches because it had “no influence over either the sword or the purse, …It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment.” With only the power of the word, and no enforcement powers, the Founders considered the judicial branch as dependent to some extent on the political branches to uphold its judgments.

The Federalist 78 also supported the notion that the nation’s judiciary would serve as lower than, and not superior to, the legislative branch in order only to function as interpreter and not maker of law; Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 78, “The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts.”  However, this is not to say that when the John Marshall Supreme Court announced its decision in Marbury v. Madison in 1803, that their finding that “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is” should have been a surprise to the nation.  Hamilton in Federalist 78 stated clearly how the Constitution and other lower laws were to be assessed:

A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

State Courts

The state and local courts generally address and rule on cases and controversies that involve law and the constitution of that state.  However, in some instances, those state court rulings can be appealed and challenged in the federal courts.  If the issue is whether a state law violates the Constitution, then federal courts may hear the dispute.  In addition, in some instances, if the jurisdictional thresholds are met, then there might be dual jurisdiction.

An Early Clash

When John Marshall became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1801, his former schoolmate, Spencer Roane, had already served as a member of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals for six years.  Marshall was a nationalist, his views developed at least in part from his service in the Revolutionary War and the deprivations he witnessed. Roane, who was aligned with Thomas Jefferson, was a strong states’ rights advocate.  The two clashed a number of times over the years, with Roane ruling in a case that Marshall had been an advocate, Pleasants v. Pleasants. However, Roane would engage in some nullification after Marshall became chief justice.  Roane refused to follow the decision handed down by the Marshall Court in 1815, Martin v Hunter’s Lessee.  Later, after the Court issued McCulloch v. Maryland, which addressed the United States Congressional powers vis-à-vis the state legislative powers in a controversy over the legality of the national bank, Roane wrote several editorials under pseudonyms attacking the Marshall Court’s decision. Roane also wrote a number of articles that where precursors to the Nullification Crisis.

Andrew Jackson

President Andrew Jackson did not care for the Marshall Court 1832 decision, Worcester v. Georgia, which addressed Native Americans rights and tribal sovereignty.  Jackson reportedly stated, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”  While there is no direct evidence he uttered those exact words, he did write in a letter to John Coffee that “the decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.”

Conclusion

The federal and state courts are separate entities with different jurisdictional limits and powers.  While state issues might be litigated in federal courts if jurisdictional requirements are satisfied, United States Constitutional issues are ultimately the federal courts to decide.  The Founders at the national and state levels expected the third branch, while co-equal to the other branches, to be the least powerful branch and interpreters only of laws.

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Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. His book, “The Chief Justices,” (April 2019, Twelve Tables Press), is available now. He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

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What is the purpose and impact of Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution in that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government”? How does this form relate to the republican (representative) styles such as Commission Form, County Administrator, Elected Executive, City-County Consolidation, Constitutional Row Offices or Home Rule Authority to ensure power remains in the hands of each American, preventing a monarchy or aristocracy in each state and local government?

Further, what is a republic, why must Congress guarantee each state has and maintains a “Republican Form of Government” and how does it do this?

To the Framers of the Constitution, democracy was a hideous form of government. The colorful Fisher Ames, in one of his more measured criticisms, wrote: “Democracy, in its best state, is but the politics of Bedlam; while kept chained, its thoughts are frantic, but when it breaks loose, it kills the keeper, fires the building, and perishes.” Monarchy was obviously unacceptable; a confederation had been tried and found wanting; this left a republic. But a republic which, according to Dr. Benjamin Franklin, must be “kept.” The Constitution’s Article 4 Section 4 contributes to the “keeping.”

The first difficulty Congress faces in guaranteeing each of the fifty States has and maintains a “republican form of government” involves the lack of a consensus over what signifies this “republican form of government.” There never has been a consensus and likely never will be.

James Madison, writing as “Publius,” took a stab at the definition of a republic in 1787/88. Across several of the Federalist essays he identifies seven “republican” attributes. These are neatly summarized by Scott T. Whiteman in his short essay What is a Republic Anyway?[i]

They include:

  1. A government operating under separation of powers; Federalists Nos. 9, 47, 28, 76
  2. Representatives governing during a limited term and/or during good behavior; Nos. 9, 39
  3. Representatives elected by the people; Nos. 9, 39
  4. Power residing in the People; No. 39
  5. A government that is deliberative in action; No. 71
  6. Acknowledging the right of the people to alter or abolish their government; No. 78
  7. A government that prohibits grants of entitlement or nobility; No. 84

Contemporary authors believe additional attributes should be included, such as the Rule of Law and absence of a Monarchy.[ii]

It is easy of course to distinguish a republic from direct democracy, but must all of Madison’s seven features be present before a political entity can be declared “republican?”

When a U.S. territory applies for statehood, Congress first passes an Enabling Act which gives the applying territory the authority to draft a proposed constitution, which is then approved by the state’s citizens and submitted for review by Congress to ensure it reflects the “republican form.” Beyond allowing Congress to ensure the basic requirements of republicanism are met, this also provides Congress the opportunity to identify anything else it objects to in the way the state intends to conduct its affairs. On rare occasions Congress has insisted upon changes to the proposed state constitution before admission, such as when Congress insisted that Utah (the 45th state) first prohibit polygamy.[iii] Similar polygamy prohibitions were required of Oklahoma (46th state), New Mexico (47th state), and Arizona (48th state).

How does Congress ensure a state maintains its republican form? Here is where it gets sticky.

In 1841, Rhode Island was still operating under a government established by their royal charter of 1663. The charter strictly limited suffrage and made no provision for amendment. Groups protesting these restrictions in the charter held a popular convention to draft a new constitution and to elect a governor. In response, the existing charter government declared martial law and set out to “put down the rebellion” (called the Dorr Rebellion, after ringleader Thomas Dorr). One of the “rebels,” Martin Luther (no relation to the 1517 reformer), whose house was damaged during a search by law officers, brought suit claiming the old state government was not “a republican form of government” and all its acts, including its declaration of martial law, were thereby invalid. In Luther v. Borden. (1849)[iv], the Supreme Court declared in dictum that interpretation of the Guarantee Clause is a political, not a judicial question. Said another way: a “Republican Form of Government,” like “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” is whatever Congress says it is. As noted in the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, “Citizens of a state who believe their state government has departed from the “republican form” should apply to Congress for relief rather than to the courts.”[v]

More modern charges of departure from a “republican form” involve the issue of popular referendums, which critics say embrace direct democracy. By way of review, in a referendum, the voters decide a policy issue outside the purview of their elected representatives. A referendum obtaining a majority vote generally goes into effect without further action by the legislature. The use of initiatives and referendums is written into the constitutions of twenty-six states, particularly those in the west, and these states contain over fifty percent of the U.S. population so many Americans encounter them. Popular initiatives, referendums, or popular recall of elected representatives are admittedly all forms of direct democracy, but does the use of one mean the government is no longer republican? Every state except Delaware ratifies state constitutional amendments through a vote of their citizens rather than by their elected representatives. This is similar to one of the two methods of ratifying a U.S. Constitutional amendment, does this depart from “republicanism.” No one has complained of this to the courts. Ironically, as morbid proof that we don’t have a democracy in America, in the thirty-one states where voters popularly- approved constitutions prohibitions of same-sex marriage, all it took was one Supreme Court decision (Obergefell v. Hodges) to overturn them all.

Turning to local government and the question of republicanism, we find that local government can take many forms.

In the Commission form of government, often encountered in cities or counties, voters elect a small commission, typically of five to seven members who comprise the legislative body of the city or county and, as a group, are responsible for taxation, appropriations, ordinances, and other general functions. Individual commissioners are also usually assigned specific executive responsibilities such as public works, finance, or public safety. This form of government thus combines legislative and executive functions in the same body.

In the County Administrator form, an Administrator is usually appointed by an elected council/commission. The Administrator then is responsible for administration of all governmental departments, subject to the council’s control.

The Elected Executive form is similar except that the Executive is elected by the polity instead of being appointed by the council or commission.

Constitutional Row Officers derive their name from the fact that the departments were first listed in a row on election ballots. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for example, row officers include: Clerk of Court, Controller, Coroner, District Attorney, Prothonotary, Recorder of Deeds, Register of Wills, Sheriff and Treasurer.

Home Rule Authority describes the power of a local city or county to set up its own system of self-government without requiring a charter from the state. Full home rule is allowed in thirty state constitutions and limited home rule in another nine.[vi] A city or county that adopts a home rule charter has the ability to amend its governmental organization and powers to suit its needs; in essence, they establish a local constitution.

As you can see, each of these forms embraces a republican form of government, at least in that elected representatives are used for day-to-day governing rather than involving the people themselves.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012, there were 89,004 local governments in the United States.[vii] This included such things as school boards and regional planning authorities.[viii] Compare this with the fact that there are only 50 state governments and one (albeit ginormous) national government and you can see where the bulk of governing takes place in these united States: at the local level. Americans interested in serving their fellow citizens are advised to set their sights on local government. However, a brief and certainly not statistically significant analysis of current U.S. Representatives found only three in ten first served in local government. Twice as many held their first elective office in one of the 7,383 state legislature seats (nationwide).[ix]

While many Americans seem to give little attention to their national government, even fewer are interested in their local governments, particularly who is to represent them in those governments and how they actually govern. Voter turnout in national elections is alarmingly low, but turnout in state and local elections even worse;[x] some school board and city council members have reportedly been elected by only 10-15 percent of the eligible voters. And elections at the state and local level are often decided by amazingly small margins, even by a single vote.[xi] Our citizens’ lack of interest in local government can be confirmed by attending or viewing any televised city council or county board of supervisors meeting. There, with few exceptions, you’ll find a nearly empty room with the council members speaking, if to anyone but themselves, to a small handful of citizens. This is ironic since the day-to-day lives of Americans are arguably more influenced by local laws, codes and ordinances than those of their state or nation, local zoning laws being a prime example. On the other hand, polls show more Americans (71%) trust their local governments than their state governments (62%).[xii]

The cry of: “take back our democracy” is often heard these days, particularly from many on the political left. It is a silly notion, considering that our republican form of government is what is really at stake. But the phrase is useful; it brings in donations, lots of donations. Instead of waving “take back our democracy” signs , might I instead suggest we form a line and register as candidates for every elected office, from dog-catcher on up?

Next time you see your Congressman or Congresswoman, ask them how Congress guarantees to each state a republican form of government and see what response you get.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text.  Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes a weekly essay: Constitutional Corner which is published on multiple websites, and hosts a weekly radio show: “We the People, the Constitution Matters” on WFYL AM1140.  Gary has also begun performing reenactments of James Madison and speaking with public and private school students about Madison’s role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and Constitution.  Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

 

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[i] https://www.theamericanview.com/constitution-course-supplemental-assignments/what-is-a-republic-anyway/.

[ii] Heritage Guide to the Constitution, David F. Forte and Matthew Spalding, ed., Washington, D.C. 2014, Guarantee Clause, p. 369.

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utah#Utah_Territory_(1850%E2%80%931896).

[iv] Luther v. Borden. Luther v. Borden, 48 U.S. (7 How.) 1 (1849).

[v] Heritage Guide, p. 370.

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_rule_in_the_United_States.

[vii] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/governments/cb12-161.html.

[viii] The 89,004 includes 3,031 counties, 19,522 municipalities, 16,364 townships, 37,203 special districts and 12,884 independent school districts.

[ix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_state_legislatures.

[x] https://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-voter-turnout-municipal-elections.html.

[xi] https://www.npr.org/2018/11/03/663709392/why-every-vote-matters-the-elections-decided-by-a-single-vote-or-a-little-more.

[xii] https://news.gallup.com/poll/195656/americans-trusting-local-state-government.aspx.

Guest Essayist: Bethany Marcum

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Known as “The Last Frontier,” Alaska was the forty-ninth to ratify the U.S. Constitution and be admitted to the United States. The Alaska State Constitution currently in use was actually ratified in 1956 before Alaska entered the Union, and went into effect upon statehood January 3, 1959

While there are in theory strict limits on federal governing powers as laid out in the Tenth Amendment to our U.S. Constitution, in the real world of at least one state, Alaska, the federal government wields enormous power and control. To understand how this came to be, one must look at Alaska’s history.

The area now designated as the state of Alaska was originally inhabited by indigenous people. Russians and European explorers visited and settled in the 1700s. Expeditions found the region rich in natural resources, with particular interest to the fur traders of that day. Russian settlement grew, but in 1867, the area was purchased from Russia, and became a department of the U.S. government.

The military was the most obvious presence in Alaska until the 1890s when gold was discovered. That brought a rush of miners and other settlers, causing much activity, and reorganizing the region into a federal government district.

In 1912, another reorganization designated the area as the Territory of Alaska. As airplanes became more prominent, settlement continued away from the road system, and the population increased.

Due to its strategic location, Alaska was very important during the war years and as it grew, so did a movement for statehood. The issue caused fierce debates. The state’s small population relative to the rest of the country made it obvious that residents couldn’t produce the revenue needed to develop the immense land mass and to create a viable economy. The rest of the country feared Alaska could not even take on the responsibility of creating a formal state government.

Eventually, however, statehood proponents prevailed and on January 3, 1959, Alaska entered the union as a full-fledged state. But it came at a high price: the federal government retained title to the majority of lands. In fact, even today, over 60% of the land in Alaska is owned by the federal government.

Contentious deliberations over land and resource ownership and control continued for decades, resulting in two landmark federal laws, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971 and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. Even so the problems were not resolved; today, management of the resources on lands in Alaska continues to create friction between D.C. agencies and the state. The most recent example of this was the case of Sturgeon v. Frost, heard twice by the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision was a victory for Mr. Sturgeon and the State of Alaska, over the National Park Service. Still, overzealous federal agencies continue to lock up Alaska’s land and resources as political winds blow first one direction, then the other.

The population of Alaska is small even today, and just as feared during the statehood debates, the 49th state remains heavily dependent on the federal government. This dependency comes in many forms, from federally subsidized bypass mail for sparsely populated Alaskan villages (essentially an air freight service), to federal obligations to the state’s indigenous people through special health care and other programs.

Due to the large amount of federal land, and as a result of the federal government’s role in funding so many programs and projects in Alaska, it is often the federal government which makes the rules—not the state.

This has led to great difficulty for Alaska in developing its resources. In the area of natural resource development, federal overreach is particularly devastating. Resource development is the predominant driver of Alaska’s private economy. Lack of infrastructure, a harsh climate and distance from markets and populations have resulted in Alaska having very few industries. Most of its non-governmental economy is based in resources: oil and gas, mining, and commercial fishing. As the federal bureaucracy grows and with it, the number of regulations on these industries, the ability for Alaska to move toward less federal dependency is reduced even further.

If Alaska is ever to take its rightful place as a strong and independent state, it must be freed from the constraints of federal overreach, and from the lures of federal funding. It must be allowed to develop and manage the land and resources within its borders so that it can create the revenue needed to support its residents. Only then will Alaskans be truly free to govern themselves.

Bethany Marcum has made Alaska her home for over 20 years. She currently works as Executive Director of the Alaska Policy Forum. She also serves as a citizen airman in the Alaska Air National Guard. She worked as legislative staff for State Senator Mike Dunleavy from 2013 to 2017. She is currently the Alaska Republican Party Region V Representative and has held a variety of other positions at the district and state level. She is a former president, long-time board member and life member of the Alaska Chapter of Safari Club International and is a life member of the NRA. She serves in her church with the children’s ministry and is a volunteer “big” with Big Brother Big Sisters of Alaska. She and her husband Conley enjoy hunting together.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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The state and constitution of Kansas was born amid arguably the most contentious controversy than any other state. The 1850s witnessed fierce national debates over slavery and its expansion westward with such key events as the Compromise of 1850, the furor over the Fugitive Slave Act and slavecatching, the Dred Scott (1857) decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and the Harpers Ferry raid. These and the violent and bloody birth of Kansas helped spark the descent into the destructive Civil War.

The Kansas controversy originated in the Mexican War and the peace treaty ceding an immense tract of land to the United States in the West. Partisan and sectional arguments tore at the nation’s political system as proposals such as the Wilmot Proviso offering to ban slavery in all the territory acquired from Mexico. Finally, the congressional statesmen engineered a compromise in 1850 to save the republic which included “popular sovereignty” in New Mexico and Utah, meaning that the territorial legislatures could allow slavery though no one expected slavery to take root in those areas.

In 1853 and 1854, Stephen Douglas of Illinois engineered the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Settlers in search of good agricultural land had moved to the area, and Douglas supported a transcontinental railroad running through that part of the country. Both required the area to be organized into a territory for statehood. He was agnostic on the morality of slavery and wanted to leave it up to the territorial legislatures according to “popular sovereignty” which explicitly contradicted the Missouri Compromise of 1820 for the territory.

The Congress narrowly passed the bill into law on May 30, 1854. The sectional breach in the Democratic Party damaged it for decades, while the sectional divide within the Whig Party was fatal, paving the way for the birth of the Republican Party. More immediately, abolitionist New York Senator William Seward asserted: “I accept it in behalf of the cause of freedom. We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give victory to the side which is stronger in numbers as it is in right.” Southern Democrat Senator David Atchison of Missouri agreed that, “We are playing for a majority stake….The game must be played boldly.”

Northerners and southerners rushed into Kansas to make it a free or slave state respectively. Pro-slavery southerners won the first round as Missourian “border ruffians” crossed into Kansas, cast thousands of illegal ballots, and elected a pro-slavery territorial legislature in Lecompton. It legalized slavery and passed a harsh slave code. President Franklin Pierce and the Democratic Senate endorsed this government. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives endorsed a rival free-state government that was established in Lawrence, called for a constitutional convention for the territory, and adopted a free constitution in Topeka in 1855.

Violence erupted in the territory. Radical abolitionist John Brown and his band murdered five pro-slavery southerners in cold blood. Southerners sacked and burned Lawrence. Other deadly incidents provoked the nickname “Bleeding Kansas” to describe the volatile situation. The violence in Kansas spread to Congress during a debate over the issue as South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks caned Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner nearly to death.

In 1857, the Lecompton legislature called for a state constitutional convention that wrote a pro-slavery document. Both sides boycotted the other side’s referendum on the Lecompton constitution with pro-slavery voters supporting it in late 1857 and free-state voters opposed.

In 1858, the U.S. Senate voted for the Lecompton Constitution, but the House defeated it replete with an indecorous fistfight. The constitution was sent back to Kansas voters who rejected it, leaving the state’s status in limbo. At the same time, yet another constitution, the free-state Leavenworth Constitution, provided for the natural rights of African Americans but was also rejected by the Congress.

The following year, Kansans adopted the Wyandotte Constitution, which was approved by Congress in 1860 as the South seceded. Congress finally admitted Kansas as a free state and banned slavery on January 29, 1861. It was the 34th state in the Union. This constitution opened with a preamble asserting the significance of civil and religious liberty: “We, the people of Kansas, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious privileges, in order to insure the full enjoyment of our rights as American citizens, do ordain and establish the Constitution of the State of Kansas.” The constitution remains the constitution of Kansas though it has been amended since ratification including the addition of women’s suffrage.

The Kansas constitution was born in one of the most tumultuous periods of American history related to the causes of the Civil War. Nevertheless, it endorsed the maxims of a free society and was part of the confirmation of the principles of the Founding that occurred with the Civil War and ending of slavery in the United States.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow for the Bill of Rights Institute and a Fellow for Constituting America. He is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America.

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Guest Essayist: Will Morrisey

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Such radically changed circumstances, which would lead to the world wars of the next century, presented American strategists with a set of problems noticeably different from those seen by Washington and his successors. Would the strengthening empires block American trade? Would they again threaten American shores, as they had not done since 1812? Further, having fought a devastating civil war, we were less likely than ever to invite the prospect of another war on our own territory—especially given the increasingly devastating power of modern weapon wielded by the well-organized and trained mass armies raised by modern states. We needed to re-think the question of strategic depth, a question we thought we’d answered by turning the middle part of North America into an empire of liberty. And we also needed to re-think our policies regarding international commerce. All without eradicating the constitutionally legitimate powers of the state governments.

American strategists proposed several policy choices. The first, advocated by German immigrant and old Republican Party ally of Abraham Lincoln, Carl Schurz, was simply to continue Washington’s policy: to eschew not only empire beyond our own continent (“overseas empire,” as he called it) but even to eschew any major strengthening of the military—this, on the traditional grounds that big military establishments threaten republican regimes. By far the most distinguished American statesman to advocate this policy in the next century was Herbert Hoover, whose “magnum opus” (as he called it), Freedom Betrayed, lays out an argument for staying out of the Second World War, and for what critics called ‘isolationism’ generally. Whatever one thinks of this as a realistic foreign policy for the modern world, it would surely have kept American federalism intact.

The second, opposite, policy was advocated by the young Indiana Republican Senator Albert J. Beveridge, who called for a vast imperial project based upon the alleged superiority of the white race, a notion itself based upon the ‘race science’ that formed part of early Progressivism. The most famous of Beveridge’s speeches remains “The March of the Flag,” delivered at a Republican Party convention in Indiana. In it, Beveridge called for American conquest of the rest of the Americas and their incorporation into the United States—not, to be sure, as equal states, but as colonial territories. At the time, theories of racial superiority were very much a part of the Progressive movement, and Beveridge might be described as the most vocal representative of the militarist wing of Progressivism, which ranged from the militarism of Beveridge to the pacifism of Jane Addams. This policy would have ended the American practice of considering newly-acquired territories as future states, instead turning the New World into a facsimile of European empires.

It took President Theodore Roosevelt to find a more realistic solution to the problem, the one that has prevailed for more than a century. Theodore Roosevelt advocated the use of a greatly-expanded navy, which he eventually succeeded in obtaining, and peacetime military conscription for the army, which he hinted at but never formally proposed. These forces, but especially the navy would be used not so much for imperial expansion but for obtaining naval bases throughout the world, usually but not always with the consent of foreign governments. These bases would counterbalance the much more expensive (and, as it turned out, untenable) imperialism of the Europeans. While happy to seize Cuba and the Philippines from the Spanish, he had no interest in retaining them, but he very much liked the idea of establishing naval bases at Guantanamo and Subic Bay. As for permanent acquisitions, he intended to hold on to Hawaii and Puerto Rico as outposts complicating foreign naval attack on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

To reinforce America’s opposition to European imperialism in the New World, and to answer Beveridge, Roosevelt also propounded his well-known “Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine, stipulating an American right to intervene in Latin American countries if they fell down on their debt payments to European nations. Such refusal to repay loans, if it became “chronic” (as Theodore Roosevelt put it), would invite European military intervention into the Western Hemisphere—exactly the thing the original Monroe Doctrine was intended to discourage. This policy soon provoked anger from the people it was intended to protect, and President Franklin Roosevelt replaced it with his “Good Neighbor” policy in the 1930s.

From this perspective, Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy becomes quite coherent: Drive the weakened Spanish imperialists out of the Caribbean and the Philippines while blocking other empires (especially the Brits and the Germans) from seizing them; then spur the peoples of the newly-acquired countries to govern themselves. This meant recurring to the old American policy of regime change (first used by the Washington Administration in the southeastern states in its dealings with the Cherokee and other nations in that area), while obviating the need to (quite implausibly) make them into U.S. states and avoiding their (un-American) use as permanent colonies of our own. Add the Panama Canal, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans for both trading and military purposes, and you see that Theodore Roosevelt aimed at recovering America’s strategic depth under the circumstances caused by the new technologies of war.

Such a policy held out the prospect of retaining American federalism while avoiding ‘containment’ strategies Great Britain and other regimes, then and in the future, would deploy against us.  American federalism was compromised in any event, by Presidents Wilson, FDR, Lyndon Johnson and their allies, but this was done for domestic reasons, although sometimes under the cover of the quite different policy of liberal internationalism, which looks forward to the weakening not only of American federalism but of American sovereignty altogether.

Will Morrisey is William and Patricia LaMothe Professor Emeritus of Politics at Hillsdale College, and is a Constituting America Fellow; his books include Self-Government, The American Theme: Presidents of the Founding and Civil War and The Dilemma of Progressivism: How Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson Reshaped the American Regime of Self-Government.

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Guest Essayist: Will Morrisey

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For one hundred years—roughly between the ratification of the United States Constitution and 1890—the “extended republic” James Madison described in The Federalist did indeed extend, from sea to shining sea. As Americans settled each new swath of territory they sought and received recognition as states of the Union, equal to all states that preceded them, including the original thirteen. This great period of American empire-building far exceeded anything done subsequently (for example, the acquisition of territories from Spain in the late 1890s) and proved far more lasting than the ‘scramble for empire’ undertaken by the European states during that time. America became what Jefferson wanted it to be: an “empire of liberty,” that is, a union of free and equal states, with republican regimes securing the natural rights of all its citizens in principle and of most if not all in practice.

The question of the exact terms and conditions of American federalism, especially the status of the states within it, was answered in principle by Abraham Lincoln in his speeches and in practice by the Union armies in the Civil War. The pseudo-republican oligarchies of the states that formed the Confederacy were defeated, although they reconstituted themselves to a substantial degree, in different form, after Reconstruction ended. States’ rights could no longer serve as a carapace for slavery, although it would so serve for legal racial segregation for much of the next century. But the Union had survived.

The year 1890 saw another, less stark but still unsettling crisis. For the past century, the migrations of Americans to the West had relieved the older states of the need to address the worst economic and social tensions modern industrial societies had faced. Now, however, the United States effectively had become an island, bordered by oceans on each side, the Caribbean in the south, and to some extent the Great Lakes in the north. It was a giant island, but an island nonetheless. With immigrants still coming in from Europe, with industrialism and urbanization intensifying in the East and Midwest, what would become of the country? Could the regime of commercial republicanism sustain itself against populist and socialist ideologues who sought to exploit these pressures? Could federalism withstand pressures to ‘nationalize’ everything—that is, bring it under the rule of the central government to the diminution of the state governments?

The historian Frederick Jackson Turner framed perhaps the most high-level expression of this anxiety. In his 1893 paper presented to the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Chicago, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Turner argued that it was the settlement of the frontier, fostering the character of Americans as independent, self-governing yeoman farmers, which had (to coin a phrase) made America great. Not so much Christianity, not the principles of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, and surely not any biologically-based racial superiority over the American Indians, but the frontier itself, the virtues the cultivators cultivated along with their crops, gave Americans the moral fiber needed to make them a strong, free, and united people. With the closing of the frontier, the elimination of the conditions of this character-building way of life, would Americans not succumb to moral decline, and ultimately lose both their empire and their republicanism? The ‘Turner thesis,’ as it came to be called, galvanized academic and even journalistic discussion for decades thereafter.

Not only professors and pundits saw this problem, however. As it happened, an ambitious young politician named Theodore Roosevelt had already published two volumes of his book The Winning of the West, in the years immediately preceding Turner’s study. The young civil service reformer from New York City, who had ‘gone West’ himself, to the Dakotas, after his beloved wife’s death in 1884, also argued for the importance of the frontier in forming the American ethos through its rugged way of life. Roosevelt understood the West not so much as a land for peaceful if rugged farming as an arena for warfare pitting semi-civilized Americans against uncivilized Indians. The West built not only the steady, yeoman virtues of Jeffersonian agrarianism but also and above all the martial virtues of George Washington. Whereas Europeans (so long as they stayed in Europe) could only exercise those virtues against other civilized nations, with all the moral hazards attendant—most spectacularly—in Napoleonic despotism; and whereas if Europeans abandoned such ambitions, as proposed in projects for “perpetual peace” such as that proposed by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, only to risk a softening of spirit, moral decay, Americans had solved the problem by advancing civilization without colonization—that is, without keeping newly-won territories in political subservience to the ‘Mother Country.’

Whether one argued for Turner’s yeomanry or Roosevelt’s militias and posses, or some combination of them, as the inspiriting conditions of American courage and self-government, the dilemma of the 1890s remained the same: How will Americans perpetuate their republican regime and empire, now that the frontier has closed?

Roosevelt also saw another danger, outlined in the 1890s by the British naval strategist, Alfred Thayer Mahan. As far back as 1787, in The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton had argued that oceans are as much highways as they are barriers; as a Caribbean-born transplant to New York, he needed no book to teach him that. By 1890, technology had made this obvious to everyone, as steam-powered vessels having replaced the old sailing ships and telegraphs making ‘messaging’ nearly instantaneous. These improved means of transportation and of communications had strengthened European empires; by Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Britannia not only ruled the waves but about one-fourth of the land on earth and about one-fifth of its population, while France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and even Belgium had substantial holdings as well.

Will Morrisey is William and Patricia LaMothe Professor Emeritus of Politics at Hillsdale College, and is a Constituting America Fellow; his books include Self-Government, The American Theme: Presidents of the Founding and Civil War and The Dilemma of Progressivism: How Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson Reshaped the American Regime of Self-Government.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

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To date, fifty states have been admitted to the United States, with the last one, Hawaii, having been admitted on August 21, 1959.  However, in addition to the states, the United States has a number of major territories, including American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Establishment of a United States Territory and Its Governance

As many of the essays after the first states’ ratification of the Constitution have described, the way to statehood has typically been through first being a territory or part of a territory, and then seeking statehood.  A territory is established by the passage of an organic act to organize it. Many have been enacted by Congress over the nation’s history, with the first being the Northwest Ordinance, passed in 1787 by the Continental Congress.

Current Major Territories and History

Currently, the United States has five major U.S. territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each such territory is partially self-governing that exists under the authority of the U.S. government.

Pursuant to the Organic Act of 1900, or Foraker Act, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States. Puerto Rico became a possession pursuant to the Spanish-American War.  It has been a territory since that act passed.  It has often been mentioned as a new state, but no serious effort has been made by Congress.

Pursuant to the Organic Act of the Virgin Islands of the United States of 1936, the United Stated added the U.S. Virgin Islands to its territories.  In 1950, Guam became a territory pursuant to the Guam Organic Act of 1950.  In 1954, the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands replaced the original 1936 act.

The Northern Mariana Islands have been administered by the United States since Japan surrendered in World War II, pursuant to Security Council Resolution 21.  The people of the Islands have by referendum voted to join with Guam, but in 1969, Guam rejected the proposal. American Samoa has no organic act, and as such is considered unorganized.  Despite that, American Samoa has remained connected to the United States. In addition to the five major territories, the United States has a number of other territories that are uninhabited.

Limitations of Territories

Territories are not states and do not have full recognition that states enjoy.  Notwithstanding not being states, each territory can send a delegate to the House of Representatives. With the exception of American Samoa, whose residents are U.S. nationals, those in the other four territories are U.S. citizens. Citizens of the territories can vote in primary elections for president, but they cannot vote in the general elections for president.

In 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States held, in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, 579 U.S. ___ (2016), that territories do not have sovereignty.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rico governor and others argued that the territories were powerless and had little understanding or support.  As noted, they send delegates to the House, but have no vote, and cannot vote in the general election for president, despite being citizens in four of the five territories.  While they have some self-governance, they do not have sovereignty, and the reality is that there are significant limitations when a land is a territory rather than a state.

Conclusion

In our nation’s history, many of the states that today constitute the fifty were originally territories or parts of larger territories.  Thirty-one territories or parts have eventually become states.  For example, from the Missouri Territory, we have Missouri, and then from the unorganized territory once Missouri became a state, we later had Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, most of Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana, and parts of Colorado and Minnesota become states.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. His book, “The Chief Justices,” (April 2019, Twelve Tables Press), is available now. He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

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Admitted to Union July 10, 1890, Wyoming became the forty-fourth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Known as “The Equality State,” it currently uses the Wyoming State Constitution adopted in 1889.  While amended many times, it is the only state constitution Wyoming has had in its history, last amended in 2008.

Becoming a State

In 1869, the Wyoming Territory organized after Congress passed an act creating the territory in July 1868, with the territory seeking statehood from the beginning. Despite statehood being more than thirty years in the territory’s future, Wyoming’s first territorial governor, John A. Campbell, signed the “Female Suffrage” in 1869 and Wyoming became the first territory, then when admitted as a state, to grant voting rights to women.

In addition to that act, Wyoming has been a leader in equal rights from its organization as a territory.  Women served on juries beginning in 1870, the first female court bailiff was in Wyoming in 1870, and the first female governor in the nation, Nellie Tayloe Ross, was sworn into office in January 1925.

In 1888, the Territorial Assembly petitioned Congress for statehood, but that effort was not successful.  Despite not being approved for statehood in 1888, Wyoming Territory Governor Francis E. Warren and other territorial leadership decided to hold an election for delegates to a constitutional convention.  On September 30, 1889, the Constitutional Convention was held and a state constitution was drafted that was submitted to voters. A short time later, on November 5,1889, the constitution was approved by an overwhelming majority of Wyoming voters, 6,272 to 1,923.

With a new constitution, the Wyoming Territory pushed for statehood again, and after President Benjamin Harrison signed Wyoming’s statehood bill, Wyoming became the 44th state on July 10,1890.

The Wyoming Constitution

The state has been known as “The Equality State” from its early days, with the Suffrage Act passed and also the state constitution, which provides at Article 1, Declaration of Rights, Sections 2 and 3 the strong belief in equality, stating:

Sec. 2. Equality of all. In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal.

Sec. 3. Equal political rights. Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is only made sure through political equality, the laws of this state affecting the political rights and privileges of its citizens shall be without distinction of race, color, sex, or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than individual incompetency, or unworthiness duly ascertained by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Forty-six delegates assembled in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in September 1889, and on September 30, 1889, the delegates signed the constitution.  Although amended on numerous occasions (the changes can be seen in the document at https://soswy.state.wy.us/Forms/Publications/09WYConstitution.pdf), the bulk of the Wyoming Constitution has remained unchanged since its origins almost 130 years ago.

The Wyoming Constitution has other rights that are consistent with the United States Constitution Bill of Rights, and its right to bear arms provision makes it clear it is a right to defend oneself and the state, providing:

Sec. 24. Right to bear arms. The right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and of the state shall not be denied.

In addition to the extensive Declaration of Rights, the Wyoming Constitution is very detailed in terms of limitations on the state’s public indebtedness.

Conclusion

Wyoming became the 44th state to join the United States, but in equal rights, stands out as the first, earning its nickname as “The Equality State.”  Wyoming is also known as the “Cowboy State” in homage to its use of the bucking bronco as its symbol.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. His book, “The Chief Justices,” (April 2019, Twelve Tables Press), is available now. He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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When the Constitution was submitted to the American people in conventions in the several states, many objected that the lack of a bill of rights made the general government a dangerous tool of oppression. They looked to English antecedents, such as the English Bill of Rights of 1689, their historical colonial charters, many of which had contained express reservations of rights, and their existing state constitutions, many of which–but not all–had bills of rights. Some supporters of the Constitution, such as Alexander Hamilton, considered bills of rights empty verbiage at best, and dangerous implications of general governmental powers at worst. Moreover, Hamilton pointed out–in some tension with his previous argument– that the Constitution already contained limitations on the general government, for example, in the important provision in Article I, Section 9, against ex post facto laws. However, the need to get favorable outcomes in some closely-divided conventions persuaded the Constitution’s supporters to agree to promote a bill of rights once the new government was successfully established.

The First Congress set to that task. The initial set of amendments drafted by Representative James Madison were distilled from those submitted by the various state ratifying conventions, with the author declaring to Congress “I shall not propose a single alteration but is likely to meet the concurrence required by the constitution.” While most of those changes dealt with the powers of the general government or with limits to be imposed on that body, one group did not. Hamilton had also criticized the fact that the New York constitution, like that of some other states, lacked an explicit bill of rights. If anything, he noted, states needed bills of rights more than the federal government did, because they were governments of general and inherent legislative power, while the federal government was one of limited and delegated powers. For the former, then, any restriction on its powers had to be express.

Madison proposed to amend Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution (which dealt with restrictions on state governments), to add, “No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.” The House Committee of Eleven, to whom Madison’s proposal was referred, modified his language somewhat and added a protection of the freedom of speech. The House of Representatives made several changes. First, it changed the basic approach. Rather than revise the text of the original Constitution by interlineation of these changes, the original text would remain, and the changes would be separated and formally styled “Amendments.” Second, it rephrased the proposal as “ARTICLE the FOURTEENTH,” which declared, “No State shall infringe the right of trial by Jury in criminal cases, nor the rights of conscience, nor the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Two weeks later, the Senate passed its own version, which omitted all references to limitations on state governments. The Senate’s version of the proposed amendments was, in essence, what was finally submitted to the states for approval. It is not entirely clear why the Senate dropped the restriction on state governments, though their selection by the state legislatures may have made Senators reluctant to impose express limits on those bodies. As a result, the Bill of Rights (and the 27th Amendment, which was proposed then, but failed to get the requisite state support until 1992) is concerned entirely with powers of the general government and with limits thereon.

In 1833, Chief Justice John Marshall, in Barron v. Mayor of Baltimore, confirmed that neither the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment at issue there, nor any other provision of the Bill of Rights, applied to the states. Referring to the constitutional settlement of 1789 that resulted in the adoption of the Bill of Rights, Marshall noted that the amendments “demanded security against the apprehended encroachments of the general government–not against those of the local governments.” There matters remained, formally, for nearly a century. Any restrictions on state governments, other than those in Article I, Section 10, had to come from the respective states’ constitutions.

In a society as locally-focused as Jefferson’s “Yeoman Republic” of artisans and farmers, such an arrangement made sense. But with the growing industrialization and its accompanying commercial intercourse shaping stronger regional and–more gradually, national–bonds, a new constitutional settlement was needed. The social dislocations caused by the “Industrial Revolution” were increasingly the targets of state law. Direct federal regulation of peacetime commerce did not occur until near the end of the 19th century with the Interstate Commerce Act, directed at the railroads, and the Sherman Antitrust Act, directed at John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust and similar “malefactors of wealth.” The new entrepreneurial class that opposed state interference in their economic activities was frustrated by the variability of protections offered by the state constitutions and, if they were interstate companies, by the inconvenience and potential contradictions of state-by-state litigation to protect their interests.

There was the germ of another constitutional approach during this time, in the form of Corfield v. Coryell, a case in 1823 from the federal circuit court. Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington (George Washington’s nephew), as circuit judge, declared that the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV, Section 2, protected a citizen of one state travelling to another state against discriminatory legislation by the latter, at least as to the exercise of certain fundamental rights. The “P & I Clause” had its antecedent in the Articles of Confederation. Washington wrote, “We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign.” Washington’s opinion reflected the “higher law” reasoning, based on theories of natural law, natural rights, and broad principles of freedom reflected in the social contract, to which the courts of that time had frequent recourse to limit the actions of state governments.

The drawback of Corfield was that Washington correctly held that the P & I Clause only applied to state laws that targeted out-of-state visitors. It was an anti-discrimination protection, not a guarantee of basic rights to anyone. Since state laws typically restricted in-state businesses as well as interstate enterprises, Corfield was of limited use initially.

Further change came through the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. That amendment contains protections against laws by state and local governments that infringe the privileges or immunities of citizens, that deprive persons of life, liberty or property without due process of law or that deny a person the equal protection of the law. The first Supreme Court decision to address the application of the Fourteenth Amendment to safeguard property and economic liberty against state regulation came in the Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873. An association of butchers in New Orleans challenged a state-created slaughterhouse monopoly. The Court rejected their claims and held that the privileges and immunities clause only protected rights of national citizenship, that is, rights that arise directly from a citizen’s connection to the federal government, such as the right of access to federal instrumentalities, and certain rights protected in the Constitution itself, such as the right of assembly and petition. As to due process, that clause only protected rights of fair trial. The equal protection clause only protected Blacks against racially discriminatory state laws.

The dissent in the Slaughterhouse Cases envisioned much greater protections. Using remarks made during the congressional debates on the amendment, Justice Stephen Field claimed that the privileges and immunities protected were those listed in the Bill of Rights, as well as those that would be within Justice Washington’s expansive description in Corfield. This would include the right to pursue any lawful trade or profession without the restriction posed by a state-licensed monopoly. Justice Joseph Bradley proposed an alternate theory, that the Louisiana law’s substance was an unconstitutional deprivation of property and liberty without due process.

The Slaughterhouse justices generally agreed that the Fourteenth Amendment applied some or all of the Bill of Rights to the states. Moreover, the dissenters argued that broad conceptions of privileges and immunities, and of property and liberty also restricted the states. Both approaches subsequently were used by the Supreme Court to overturn state laws. While Justice Field’s broad reading of privileges and immunities did not catch on, Justice Bradley’s views became the majority’s in Allgeyer v. Louisiana in 1897 and Lochner v. New York in 1905. There, the Court overturned economic regulations as a violation of the “liberty of contract” protected under the Due Process Clause. This doctrine of “substantive due process” is no longer used to invalidate federal laws (under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause) or state laws (under the Fourteenth Amendment’s) that regulate economic liberty, but has been used to strike down laws that violate various ill-defined aspects of the “right of privacy,” including long-standing laws that defined traditional marriage, prohibited certain forms of sexual conduct, and restricted access to contraception and abortion.

In addition to such “unenumerated” rights, the Supreme Court gradually applied the specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights to the states. Scholars debate about which case first “incorporated” specific provisions of the Bill of Rights into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At the turn of the 20th Century, the Supreme Court began to acknowledge that some rights protected by that clause were similar to those in the Bill of Rights. In any event, beginning in the 1930s, the Court over the next three decades clearly moved to incorporate, first, the Free Speech and Free Press Clauses and, second, various criminal procedure protections.

Three factions developed among the Supreme Court justices. One group, led by Justice Benjamin Cardozo, argued that only certain “preferred freedoms” within the Bill of Rights are incorporated into the Due Process Clause. Under this process of “selective incorporation,” only those freedoms that are “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” would be applied against the states in the same manner that they applied to the federal government. Writing in Palko v. Connecticut in 1938, Cardozo defined these as the “fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions,” a vague and flexible formulation reminiscent of that by Bushrod Washington in Corfield a century earlier.

Justice Felix Frankfurter leaned towards Cardozo’s approach, but argued that the federal government and the states had different roles in our federal system. Particularly in the traditional state law domain of criminal law and procedure, the interests of the states must be balanced against the right at issue. As a result, the scope of the Bill of Rights protections when incorporated against the states should be similar to, but not necessarily identical with, those protections when they directly limit the federal government.

Justice Hugo Black urged “wholesale incorporation” of all of the first eight amendments of the Constitution. Black relied on his reading of the congressional debates over the Fourteenth Amendment, and on what he saw as the main purpose of that Amendment. The Court rejected Black’s approach as unsupported by the historical record. However, even though Black lost that battle, he effectively won the war. On recognition of the increased mobility and homogenization of our population across the country, the Court has come to incorporate almost all provisions of the first eight amendments. Only the Third, Seventh, and small parts of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments so far have avoided the process of the nationalizing of rights through their incorporation into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

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How the Bill of Rights Was Aimed at the Federal Government Because States Had Their Own Bills of Rights

James Madison was suspicious of a Declaration of Rights at the national level. In a letter to his friend Thomas Jefferson, then serving as Minister to France, Madison confessed that his “own opinion has always been in favor of a bill of rights; provided it be so framed as not to imply powers not meant to be included in the enumeration.”[1] He was particularly concerned “that a positive declaration of some of the most essential rights could not be obtained in the requisite latitude. I am sure that the rights of conscience in particular, if submitted to public definition would be narrowed much more than they are likely ever to be by an assumed power.”[2] But Madison had seen, first-hand, the obstinacy of the states under the Articles of Confederation towards the rights of their citizens.  In his “Vices of the Political System of the United States,” Madison decried the “Injustice of the laws of States.” While the “multiplicity” and “mutability” of state laws showed a “want of wisdom,” their “injustice” was “still more alarming: more alarming not merely because it is a greater evil in itself, but because it brings more into question the fundamental principle of republican Government, that the majority who rule in such Governments, are the safest Guardians both of public Good and of private rights.”[3]

Madison told Jefferson that in their home state he had “seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it [was] opposed to a popular current.” His precious “rights of conscience” were particularly vulnerable.  Madison was livid over the jailing of Baptist preachers in the neighboring Culpeper County, calling it “that diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution” in a letter to his College of New Jersey classmate William Bradford.

In 1776, Madison had the opportunity to strike a blow for liberty of conscience by successfully arguing, as Virginia’s Declaration of Rights was being drafted, that the principle of “toleration” towards other Christian denominations, even if it was fullest toleration, was simply not enough.  Citizens would not enjoy complete liberty of conscience until “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion.”

It comes as no surprise then to see Madison try once again to protect liberty of conscience in 1789 when drafting his proposed amendments to the new Constitution. One proposed article read: “No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.”  In the ensuing floor debate it was argued that this amendment was improper; the Constitution gave the federal government no authority to alter the state constitutions, and such an amendment would certainly amount to such an alteration, at least in the state constitutions where a right of conscience was not already secured.  Madison, however, viewed this as the most important amendment in the whole list, his reason being, “If there were any reason to restrain the Government of the United States from infringing upon these essential rights, it was equally necessary that they should be secured against State Governments.” Madison was eventually outvoted and the “infringement” on the states was “left on the cutting room floor.”

The Constitution already contained some specific words concerning state powers; Article 1 Section 10 enumerated several tightly targeted prohibitions, and the 10th Amendment made clear that any power not specifically granted to Congress was reserved to the states and/or the people.

Congressmen in the summer of 1789 were well aware that the constitution of nearly every state predated the new U.S. Constitution and that they had been working well.  Almost all of them contained either Declarations of Rights or specific protections in the body of the constitution; some of these protections were more elaborate even than those which ended up in the U.S. Bill of Rights.[4]

That’s the way things would stand for the next 136 years; but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the early 1830s, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, began a public works project that required the modification of several streams that emptied into Baltimore Harbor. Construction resulted in large amounts of sediment entering the streams, which flowed into the harbor near a wharf owned and operated by one John Barron.  The sediment eventually reached the point where it became nearly impossible for ships to approach Mr. Barron’s wharf and his business dropped precipitously. Barron sued the City of Baltimore for his financial loss, arguing that the city’s action “took” his property without the due process promised him by the Fifth Amendment. He was awarded $4,500 in damages by the trial court, but a state appellate court reversed the decision.  Barron appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled[5] that the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of just compensation when private property is taken for public use is a restriction on the federal government alone. The opinion in Barron v. Baltimore by Chief Justice John Marshall held that the Constitution’s first ten amendments[6]contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments.”

This made perfect sense.  The first five words of what became known as the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law…” make clear the target of the amendments – Congress (and by implication, the rest of the federal government), not the states.

On February 26, 1866, in debate over what became the 14th Amendment, the amendment’s principal author, Rep. John Bingham, was asked whether he intended the amendment to apply, as some perceived, “only to the eleven states lately in rebellion.”  Bingham replied: “It is to apply to other States also that have in their constitutions and laws to-day provisions in direct violation of every principle of our Constitution.”[7]

The following day, Rep. Bingham rose to elaborate upon the preceding day’s debate.

“Excuse me. Mr. Speaker, we have had some most extraordinary arguments against the adoption of the proposed amendment…

“Mr. Speaker, I speak in behalf of this amendment in no party spirit, in no spirit of resentment toward any State or the people of any State, in no spirit of innovation, but for the sake of a violated Constitution and a wronged and wounded country whose heart is now smitten with a strange, great sorrow. I urge the amendment for the enforcement of these essential provisions of your Constitution, divine in their justice, sublime in their humanity, which declare that all men are equal in the rights of life and liberty before the majesty of American law.

“Representatives, to you I appeal, that hereafter, by your act and the approval of the loyal people of this country, every man in every State of the Union, in accordance with the written words of your Constitution, may, by the national law, be secured in the equal protection of his personal rights. Your Constitution provides that no man, no matter what his color, no matter beneath what sky he may have been born, no matter in what disastrous conflict or by what tyrannical hand his liberty may have been cloven down, no matter how poor, no matter how friendless, no matter how ignorant, shall be deprived of life or liberty or property without due process of law—law in its highest sense, that law which is the perfection of human reason, and which is impartial, equal, exact justice; that justice which requires that every man shall have his right: that justice which is the highest duty of nations as it is the imperishable attribute of the God of nations.”

Representative Robert Hale of New York rose to ask whether he might be allowed “to ask a single question pertinent to this subject?” Bingham accepted.

(Hale) “I desire … to ask [Mr. Bingham], as an able constitutional lawyer, which he has proved himself to be, whether in his opinion this proposed amendment to the Constitution does not confer upon Congress a general power of legislation for the purpose of securing to all persons in the several States protection of life, liberty, and property, subject only to the qualification that that protection shall be equal…”

(Bingham) “It certainly does this: it confers upon Congress power to see to it that the protection given by the laws of the United States shall be equal in respect to life and liberty and property to all persons.”

(Hale) “Then will the gentleman point me to that clause or part of this resolution which contains the doctrine he here announces?”

(Bingham) “The words ‘equal protection’ contain it, and nothing else.”

It would take the Supreme Court 39 years to come around to Bingham’s thinking on the 14th Amendment.

Eight years after the 14th Amendment was ratified, in fact, in United States v. Cruikshank, the Court affirmed, once again, that the Bill of Rights did not apply to the states.  In Cruikshank, it meant that the First Amendment’s right to assembly “was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens, but to operate upon the National Government alone.”[8]

We skip forward to July 1919. Benjamin Gitlow, a member of the Socialist Party of America, who had served in the New York State Assembly, published a document called “Left Wing Manifesto” in The Revolutionary Age, a newspaper for which he also served as business manager.  The State of New York charged Gitlow with criminal anarchy under New York’s Criminal Anarchy Law of 1902.

At trial, Gitlow insisted that his “Manifesto” consisted of historical analysis and did not advocate anarchy. Nevertheless, he was convicted and sentenced to five to ten years in prison.  He appealed, and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court.

The question presented to the court was: “Does the First Amendment prevent a state from punishing political speech that directly advocates the government’s violent overthrow?” The Supreme Court said “No,” finding that “Freedom of speech and of the press, as secured by the Constitution, is not an absolute right to speak or publish without responsibility whatever one may choose or an immunity for every possible use of language.”  They upheld Gitlow’s conviction with the explanation that the government may suppress or punish speech that directly advocates the unlawful overthrow of the government, but the Court took the unprecedented step in announcing that, for the purposes of the case, that freedom of speech and of the press are among the personal rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the States.[9] (Emphasis added) This became what is now called the “Incorporation Doctrine.”

After Gitlow, the Court began the tedious process of clause by clause incorporation as specific cases allowed. Not every clause of the Bill of Rights was deemed worthy of incorporation; in Palko v. Connecticut, the Court ruled that only those rights that were “of the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty” should be incorporated.[10]  We should note that the phrase “scheme of ordered liberty” appears nowhere in the Constitution. To mold a court-invented doctrine so that it aligns with a syrupy but entirely unconstitutional phrase would seem the height of judicial hubris.

Some notable exceptions to incorporation thus far include the entire Third Amendment (outside the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals), indictment of a Grand Jury (Fifth Amendment) and the right to a jury selected from residents of the state and district where the crime occurred (Sixth Amendment).

A list of those clauses incorporated can be found on Wikipedia.[11] The most recent addition to the list is the “Excessive fines” clause of the Eighth Amendment in February 2019 (in Timbs v. Indiana)

The incorporation Doctrine is not without its critics,[12] this writer being one of them.  While it may be appropriate for the states to be held responsible for protecting the rights specified in the Bill of Rights, having the Supreme Court invent the doctrine of incorporation without input from We the People is blatantly unconstitutional.  The American people should have been allowed to conduct a national conversation over the idea, an appropriate Constitutional amendment should have been proposed and, if ratified, the feat would have been accomplished, constitutionally.  Instead, the court, never intended by the Framers to be representative of the people, took it upon itself to act.  This is certainly in line with the view of Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes that “[w]e are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is….”[13] The acquiescence of the American people since 1925 has been perceived as their acceptance.

Bryan Keith Morris, in The Incorporation Doctrine: A Legal and Historical Fallacy, takes a textualist instead of original intent position (as taken by the Court) in arguing that the Incorporation Doctrine should be discarded.  John P. Frank obliterates the originalist position in “The Original Understanding of “Equal Protection of the Laws.[14]  Both essays should be read before someone comes to a conclusion on the matter.

Today, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and others maintain that the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and not the due process clause should provide the anchor for the Incorporation Doctrine. Thomas recently reiterated this view in his concurring opinion in Timbs v. Indiana.

No matter what your position of the rectitude of the Incorporation Doctrine today, it is indisputable that those who approved and ratified the Bill of Rights had no intention of infringing on the powers of the several states.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text.  Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes a weekly essay: Constitutional Corner which is published on multiple websites. Gary has also begun performing reenactments of James Madison and speaking with public and private school students about Madison’s role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and Constitution.  Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[1] James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 17 Oct. 1788.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-09-02-0187.

[4] See https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2018/12/state_bills_of_rights_have_the_real_protections.html

[5] Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 243 (1833).

[6] The Constitution had 12 amendments by then.

[7] https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/congress-debates-fourteenth-amendment-1866.

[8] https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/92/542.html.

[9] https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/268/652/.

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palko_v._Connecticut.

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incorporation_of_the_Bill_of_Rights.

[12] https://lonang.com/wp-content/download/TheIncorporationDoctrine.pdf.

[13] Speech before the Chamber of Commerce, Elmira, New York (3 May 1907); published in Addresses and Papers of Charles Evans Hughes, Governor of New York, 1906–1908 (1908), p. 139.

[14] https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2738&context=law_lawreview.

Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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The thirty-sixth state admitted to the Union was Nevada, having ratified the U.S. Constitution October 31, 1864, and currently uses the Nevada State Constitution adopted in 1864.

The relationship between Nevada and the federal government is as much a matter of the history of how Nevada became a state as it is the conditions under which it was granted statehood.  Like many western states, states whose territories were carved out of the lands gained by the United States as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848.

Until that point, states entering the union retained title to “unappropriated public lands” within their boundaries.  But states entering the Union after 1848, by and large, ceded all title to these unappropriated public lands—i.e., lands that were neither privately owned, nor were they dedicated to some official public purpose—to the federal government as an incident of their becoming a state.  As a result, these states, which were also much, much larger than their eastern counterparts, came into the Union with massive amounts of federal land within their midst.

There were a number of reasons for this.  Keeping in mind that Nevada was admitted to the Union during the height of the civil war—the state was also rushed to admission because Republicans wanted to ensure President Abraham Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 (it turned out that Lincoln won handily, but the party politicians at the time wanted to make certain of it).

But the transfer of title of unappropriated public lands from the territories to the federal government upon statehood had a lesser-known (and from an academic perspective, really not understood at the time) benefit.

In his book, The Mystery of Capital, the Peruvian economist and political scientist Hernando DeSoto talks about the importance of “clearing title” to real property (i.e., land) in order to facilitate its purchase and development.  The concept is simple and straightforward:  people will invest in real property only when they have certainty that they have clear legal title to that land, and that this title will be protected under the rule of law.

In order to make certain that these newly-born states would be settled, it was essential that prospective residents be assured that the land they were settling would actually be theirs-that nobody else would lay claim to them down the road.

But part and parcel of this conversion of state territorial lands to federal ownership was a secondary agreement—that the federal government would “dispose” of these lands (with the exception of lands that would be used for governmental or educational purposes).  In Section 10 of the Enabling Act for Nevada, passed by Congress in 1864, Congress agreed that the state would be paid a percentage of the sale of all public lands, “which shall be sold.”  It was an agreement which essentially admits that Congress didn’t envision, at the time, that the federal government wouldn’t retain these lands in perpetuity.

It’s the same agreement, incidentally, that the Federal Government agreed to in essentially every enabling act after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was ratified… and yet these states still contain tremendous federal land ownership.

The reason for this is straightforward.  For many years, these lands were remote, inaccessible, and in many cases inhospitable.  While much of it is used for ranching and timber production, it was many years before some of the more desolate public lands were seen as possibilities for mineral, petrochemical or recreational usage.  So there was no demand for many of these lands.

But as that demand began to grow, push-back against this longstanding contractual agreement to dispose of these lands began as well—especially from recreation enthusiasts, who saw no distinction between National Park lands (clearly managed for recreational use) and lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service (which, as an agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture are managed for timber production), the Bureau of Land Management (which manages lands used by ranchers) and a host of other agencies which lease lands out for private use.

It was out of this attitude that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 was created.  FLPMA, as it is better known, “flips” the duty to dispose on its head—and for nearly the last half-century there is instead a “duty to retain” these public lands, but the onus on localities, states, or private parties to make a heavy case for why a parcel of property ought to be disposed.

As a result, states like Nevada have huge parcels of federal land in their midst—more than 4/5 of Nevada is federally-owned.  This has huge impacts on the ability of the state government and local governments to effectively exercise their authorities.

Take Nye County, NV—Nye is the third-largest county in the United States, the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.  It is more than 90% federally-owned.  When the county makes land-use decisions, in many case, these decisions have to be reviewed by a host of federal agencies, by personnel thousands of miles away working within enormous bureaucracies.  At many points, there has been conflict—for instance, in the mid-1990s, a road was washed out connecting two Nye towns.  Because the road crossed US Forest Service lands, the county had to work with the USFS to try and get the road reopened since, absent the road, Nye residents would have to go, literally, hundreds of miles out of the way to get from City A to City B.

The County Commissioners felt that the USFS was dragging its feet and, in fact, the forest service was reluctant to reopen the road.  It came to a head when a frustrated county commissioner got on a county-owned bulldozer and opened up the closed road himself.

The federal government sued Nye County, and despite state law saying that the counties had some powers with regards to utilization of these lands, when the Nevada Attorney General refused to defend that law, the federal government won that lawsuit—leaving counties like Nye powerless in the face of massive government retention of public lands.

We continue to see flare-ups in the tension between local landowners and federal land management authorities.  Despite the fact that obligations exist since states like Nevada became members of the Union, existing federal law will make it hard for land management and ownership to devolve to the states.  Which means that state and local governments will still have to contend with the federal government as a massive partner in non-federal decision-making.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty and host of the Andrew Langer Show on WBAL NewsRadio 1090 in Baltimore.

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Guest Essayist: Anthony Sanders

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Minnesota has a proud constitutional tradition of protecting individual liberties. This short essay provides an overview of its constitutional history, and a few examples of the rights that the state constitution protects.

Northwest Ordinance

Minnesota’s constitutional roots go all the way back to before the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

As Minnesotans will tell you, the state is the source of the Mississippi river. The land east of the river was recognized as part of the United States in 1783, after the United States won the Revolutionary War. A few years later in 1787, Congress, acting under the Articles of Confederation, drafted the Northwest Ordinance. The Ordinance included a set of requirements for new states to be formed out of the Northwest Territory, the area which today includes Minnesota east of the Mississippi, as well as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It required new states to guarantee many individual liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of navigation on public waterways, and the prohibition of slavery.

The land west of the Mississippi was not claimed by the United States until 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Constitutional Convention

After the rest of the old Northwest Territory and some of the Louisiana Purchase had become states, it was Minnesota’s turn. The Minnesota Territory was formed by Congress in 1849. Further legislation in 1857 allowed for the formation of a state, while narrowing the territory’s size in the process (shaving off the westernmost areas, which eventually became part of both North and South Dakota).

The residents of the territory then came together to form a constitution, and planned a convention for the summer of 1857. Tensions between Democrats and members of the new Republican Party were high. It did not help that this was the year of the infamous slavery case Dred Scott v. Samford and the Supreme Court’s ruling that blacks are not citizens, and only four years before the eventual outbreak of the Civil War. Scott himself had actually resided in Minnesota while his owner was stationed at Fort Snelling, an Army outpost at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

On the first day of the constitutional convention, July 13, 1857, all elected delegates sat together to open the proceedings. And that was the only time they did so. The bad blood between the parties boiled over and the rest of the convention was really two “conventions” where Democratic and Republican delegates held parallel sessions. In these they each drafted and debated a constitution for the state, denigrating the members in the other group in the process.

Newspapers continually published drafts of a constitution that each party created as they moved along. This created a dynamic where for several weeks each “convention” could follow and copy the other. Thus, despite their differences, when the parties published their separate final drafts, it turned out that the versions were very similar. Finally, each side appointed a five-member delegation to hammer out a final copy.

The resulting constitution contained many provisions drawn from the Northwest Ordinance, including strong protections for individual liberties. As with most other state constitutions, its bill of rights protected freedom of worship, freedom of the press, property rights, and due process. It also prohibited unreasonable searches and seizures. The constitution created a House and Senate, known as a bicameral legislative system, a governor and other elected officials (including a secretary of state and auditor), an elected judiciary, a quasi-independent state university (the University of Minnesota, later sometimes called a “constitutional agency”), and a guaranteed system of public schools.

Amendments Since 1857

Unlike many other states, Minnesota has had only the one constitution in its history, although it has been amended over one hundred times, and substantially reorganized once. The numerous amendments—which are written by the legislature but have to be voted on by the citizens—are too many to list here, but the author will note a couple.

In 1881, the state adopted a ban on “special legislation,” which is legislation that concerns a particular person or class of people. The ban’s language was then amended several times over the ensuing decades. Advocates rightfully noted that the legislature was corruptly being used to grant special favors to individuals and specific corporations.

Another amendment, unique to Minnesota, was a protection on the right to farm and peddle. Adopted in 1906, it reads “[a]ny person may sell or peddle the products of the farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor.” The clause has been interpreted narrowly by the state courts, but its text promises a great deal of protection to family farmers and others, such as home bakers.

Redraft in 1974

In 1974, after years of study, the legislature proposed, and the voters adopted, a large reorganization of the state constitution. About a third of it was eliminated, largely where the text was redundant. However, unless stated otherwise, the changes were not meant to alter the meaning of the constitution. After the amendments many of the old provisions were found in new articles and clauses, and anyone studying caselaw or text from before 1974 must keep this in mind.

Jurisprudence

The interpretation of its constitution in Minnesota’s courts has varied over the years, as with any state. In its first few decades the state supreme court, for example, limited the power of cities by invalidating many protectionist local licenses. That approach, however, fell out of favor in the twentieth century.

Many provisions in the Minnesota Constitution mirror those in the U.S. Constitution. Minnesota has at times followed the jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court on interpreting this parallel language, but in recent decades the state supreme court has been more willing to distinguish itself in protecting certain individual liberties. One prominent example has been in search and seizure cases, where the court at times has rejected allowing the police to conduct searches that the U.S. Supreme Court would have upheld.

Anthony Sanders is a Senior Attorney at the Institute for Justice. He is the author of several articles on constitutional law and jurisprudence, including pieces appearing in the Iowa Law Review and American University Law Review.

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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Admitted June 20, 1863 by ratifying the U.S. Constitution, West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state. The West Virginia State Constitution in current use was adopted in 1872.

The origins of West Virginia, its current challenges, and its political dynamics are all embodied in a unique case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1870.

In Virginia v. West Virginia, 78 U.S. 11 Wall. 39 39 (1870) 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 39 two counties demanded to be reinstated into Virginia.  The Court ultimately prevented Berkeley and Jefferson Counties from returning to Virginia.  In the process, the Civil War and the battlefield origins of West Virginia were reviewed in detail.  Three Justices dissented, asserting that the birth of West Virginia was chaotic and violated the rights of local citizens in the Eastern Panhandle.

The three judge dissent reveals origins of the state’s current political tensions.  Citizens in the Eastern Panhandle continue to agitate against the highly centralized state government.

Virginian political leaders initiated a process to secede from the Union in January 1861.  As a Commonwealth, Virginia gave deference to county representation.  Initially, the 152 delegates were solidly pro-Union.  However, old regional rivalries surfaced.

Delegates from the western counties of Virginia raised the issue of unequal political power with the eastern sections of the state.  This east-west divide had been simmering since the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829.  That State Constitution required a property qualification for voting. This disenfranchised many yeoman farmers in the more mountainous western counties. It also embraced counting slaves on a three-fifths basis for apportioning representation. Every county beyond the Alleghenies, except one, rejected the 1829 constitution, which still passed with overwhelming eastern support. The issue of regional inequality erupted again during the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850-1851.

On the morning of April 12, 1861, Confederate cannons opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. After the Fort’s surrender on April 13, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to forcibly return the rebellious states to the Union.  This was enough for the secession proponents in the Virginia Convention to prevail on April 17, 1861.

A formal vote, by county, was scheduled for May 23, 1861. Secessionists took matters into their own hands and attacked the Federal Arsenal in Harpers Ferry on the evening of April 18.

The Eastern Panhandle became the site for over 60 Civil War Battles.  Local communities descended into chaos as Union and Confederate armies competed for control of this critical north-south gateway.  Some towns changed hands dozens of times.

Pro-Union forces in western Virginia formed a separate state in June 1861.  Former Virginia Governor, and Confederate General, Henry Wise reported that, “The Kanawha Valley is wholly traitorous…You cannot persuade these people that Virginia can or ever will reconquer the northwest.”

Early in the Civil War, Union forces solidified control of northern Virginia (Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax). President Lincoln and the U.S. Congress merged this Unionist beachhead with the western counties as the “free” state of Virginia.

On August 20, 1861, President Lincoln empowered this military-backed civilian entity to establishment the separate state of West Virginia from the pro-Union western counties that opted-out of the Secession Convention.

A “free” state convention met in Wheeling, November 26, 1861, and drafted the “Constitution of West Virginia.”  It designated forty-four counties, “formerly part of the State of Virginia,” to be “included in and form part of the State of West Virginia.” The Counties of Pendleton, Hardy, Hampshire, Morgan, Frederick, Berkeley, or Jefferson were not named as part of the state.

The new West Virginia constitution left open the possibility of adding additional counties:

“if a majority of the votes cast at the election or elections held as provided in the schedule hereof, in the district composed of the Counties of Pendleton, Hardy, Hampshire, and Morgan, shall be in favor of the adoption of this constitution, the said four counties shall be included in and form part of the State of West Virginia, and if the same shall be so included, and a majority of the votes cast at the said election or elections, in the district composed of Berkeley, Jefferson, and Frederick, shall be in favor of the adoption of this constitution, then the three last-named counties shall also be included in and form part of the State of West Virginia.”

Under the terms of this Constitution, an inclusion vote was held on the first Thursday in April 1862 for citizens in the original forty-four counties, and those living in Pendleton, Hardy, Hampshire, and Morgan.

Significantly, no one in the counties of Berkeley, Jefferson, or Frederick voted on the matter, because:

“from the 1st of June, 1861, to the 1st of March, 1862, during which time these proceedings for the formation of a new state were held, those counties were in the possession and under the absolute control of the forces of the Confederate States, and that an attempt to hold meetings in them to promote the formation of the new state would have been followed by immediate arrest and imprisonment.”

A series of laws were passed within the “free” state of Virginia authorizing the military-backed State Legislature to certify popular support for counties being added to the new state of “West Virginia.” On January 31, 1863, the “free” state of Virginia gave consent for the counties of Berkeley and Jefferson to be transferred to the State of West Virginia.  Frederick County, still under Confederate control, remained in the old Virginia.

At the national level, an enabling act was approved by President Lincoln on December 31, 1862 for admitting West Virginia, on the condition that a provision for the gradual abolition of slavery be inserted in the state constitution.

The West Virginia state convention reconvened on February 12, 1863, and passed a new constitution including the abolition provision. The revised constitution was adopted on March 26, 1863.  On April 20, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation admitting West Virginia as the 35th state effective on June 20, 1863.

West Virginians in the eastern panhandle bridled under being forcibly included in a Union state.  Rumors were rampant that the owners of the B&O Railroad engineered their inclusion because they did not want their rail line going through a southern state.  This led to the 1870 Supreme Court decision. As recently as the 1990s, the Mayor of Charles Town, the county seat of Jefferson County, explored reopening the case.

Unlike its origins, West Virginia chose not to be a Commonwealth.  It remains one of the most centralized state governments in America, possibly for maintaining unity among entrenched regional interests.  Only recently did the West Virginia legislature authorize limited home rule for certain municipalities.  The power of counties to control growth and levy impact fees is less than 20 years old.

West Virginia’s turbulent genesis, and its Charleston-centric political power, has led to the state earning a reputation for corruption and incompetence.  “Democrats are controlled by the coal mining unions; Republicans are controlled by the coal mining executives” observed a Republican legislator.

The state is challenged in finding its economic bearings as coal use declines.  It lacks internet access (West Virginia has the worst connectivity of the fifty states, while neighboring Virginia has the best).  Teacher unions and a bloated state bureaucracy make West Virginia one of the most expensive per-student school systems in the country, while consistently placing 49 or 50 in academic achievement.  The state steadily loses population, except for the eastern panhandle and the state Capitol of Charleston.

Except for recent Presidential elections, Democrats dominate the state.  In 2016, Republicans won control of both the House of Delegates and the State Senate for the first time in 82 years.  In Jefferson County, formed in 1803, it took until 2004 for the first Republican Clerk to be elected. The first Republican Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney was elected in 2018.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

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Admitted in June 20, 1863 by ratifying the U.S. Constitution, West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state. It is known as “The Mountain State” with the West Virginia State Constitution in current use adopted in 1872

The story of how West Virginia became a state is an amazing story; full of constitutional intrigue and slight-of-hand worthy of Houdini himself.

Our story begins, where else, in 1776 Virginia.  Virginia’s Constitution of 1776 was a rush-job.  War with Britain was eminent and Virginia would need a new government to see it through this war; time was fleeting. Anticipating that the Continental Congress then meeting in Philadelphia would consider and likely approve a call for independence,[1] forty-five delegates assembled at Williamsburg, Virginia on May 6th. Seven weeks later, on June 29, Virginia had a new Constitution.

Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, which preceded the Constitution itself, is one of the finest written during the founding period.  Largely the work of George Mason of Fairfax, VA (with some important input from a 25-year old James Madison) it elucidates several enduring principles of constitutional liberty absent even from the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

The new Constitution was put into effect immediately upon its signing, without even so much as a nod to the people of the state.  When this “non-ratification” was challenged in 1793, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that “This constitution is sanctioned by the consent and acquiescence of the people for seventeen years…” Case dismissed.

The new Constitution immediately attracted critics, among them Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  Jefferson had wanted to remain in Williamsburg and work on the Virginia Constitution; instead he had been sent north to Philadelphia and on July 4th 1776, America benefited from the decision to send Jefferson north.   From Philadelphia, Jefferson had sent back to Williamsburg his ideas for the state constitution.  Unfortunately, they arrived too late for consideration.[2]

Among its many features, the 1776 Constitution limited the right to vote primarily to property owners and men of wealth. This coupled with malapportionment of voting districts, concentrated power in the hands of the landowners and aristocracy of Southeastern Virginia.  In the only book he ever wrote, “Notes on the State of Virginia” (1785), Jefferson listed several “capital defects” of the Virginia Constitution, including the unequal representation in the legislature.

Year after year, petitioners, largely from the western counties, called on the Virginia Assembly to initiate a constitutional convention to correct this and other deficiencies; to no avail. The House of Delegates twice passed a bill calling for a convention only to have it fail in the more conservative Senate. Western counties in the state continued to experience continued growth and increasing irritation at their lack of representation in the Assembly.

Finally, from October 5, 1829 to January 15, 1830, a convention met to “fix” the defects in the Constitution.  It has been termed the last “gathering of giants.”  Present were two former U.S. Presidents (James Madison and James Monroe) and the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall (the Court’s case load was apparently not as pressing as it is today).  This august group of 96 men would eventually supply three presidents, seven U.S. Senators, fifteen U.S. Representatives and four governors.[3]

Despite the pleading of James Madison and others, the convention failed to fully rectify the Constitution’s malapportionment problem. They loosened the requirements for suffrage, but kept representation by county, which failed to solve the basic problem facing the western counties, and their residents would continue to feel under-represented and disenfranchised for the next 30 years.  The 1829 constitution was put to a popular vote and passed, even while many residents in the west voted against it.

Over the next 20 years the western half of Virginia experienced a flood of new settlers.  Attracted by cheap plentiful land, these hardy souls set up much smaller farms than those in the east — farms manageable without resorting to slave labor.  Calls for emancipation of the slaves and more equitable representation in Virginia’s government continued to be heard from the west.

Another constitutional convention in 1850-1851 eliminated the property requirement for voting, established popular election for the Governor and all Virginia judges, and created the office of Lieutenant Governor, also elected.  Delegates took note of the rising tension between the slave-owning east and the emancipation-interested western counties.[4]

Rising tensions in the United States between the manufacturing North and the agrarian South, exacerbated by the issues of slavery, tariffs, nullification and state’s rights reached a breaking point on December 20th, 1860 when South Carolina seceded from the Union.  In response, the Virginia General Assembly called for a convention, to meet in Richmond on February 13, 1861,[5] to consider whether Virginia should join South Carolina.  By the end of January, six additional southern states had seceded.

On April 12, Fort Sumter was attacked and taken over by the South.  Three days later President Lincoln issued a call for the states to provide 75,000 Union troops, including three regiments of 2,340 men from Virginia. Although a previous resolution to secede had been defeated in the convention, on April 17, 1861, Lincoln’s call for troops became too much: the convention approved an “Ordinance of Secession,” by an 88-85 vote.  All of the western and several of the northern counties objected to the Legislature’s decision to secede, but Virginia voters overall approved the ordinance by a wide margin and the convention formally ratified the Constitution of the Confederate States of America on June 19, 1861.

Virginia’s western counties conducted “anti-secession” conventions in Wheeling, Virginia on May 11, and June 11, 1861.  The Second Wheeling Convention declared the offices of all government officials in Richmond who had voted for secession to be vacant and promptly filled them with their own people. Viewed from another perspective, the Restored Government seceded from the state of Virginia.  The “Restored Government of Virginia,” with Francis H. Pierpont as their Governor, next appointed two Senators and two Representatives, who were immediately recognized by the U.S. Congress (Lincoln welcomed the votes).

Once that was complete, the “Restored Government of Virginia” moved itself to Alexandria, where it operated until 1865, while the “Secession Government of Virginia” continued to meet in Richmond.

At this point, there were two Virginia governments in existence, one meeting in Richmond and considering itself part of the Confederacy and one meeting in Alexandria considering itself part of the Union.  Each claimed the entirety of the land mass of Virginia as its own.  Was any of this legal?  The plot thickens.

The “Restored Government,” acting in accordance with Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, passed a resolution allowing the counties of northwest Virginia to split off and form their own state called West Virginia.  Before West Virginia is admitted to the Union as a distinct state (in 1863) there were actually three separate governments operating within the confines of the state of Virginia: one part of the confederacy, one part of the Union and one hopeful of becoming a separate state.  The “Restored Government” approved a new constitution in 1864.  Since this constitution was enacted under wartime conditions and the “Restored Government” stood on rather shaky ground to begin with, the 1864 constitution is not recognized as part of the constitutional history of Virginia.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights contains a statement that “all [political] power is … derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.”  When “the people” delegate their sovereign power to a government, is that a one-way trip, is the power forever surrendered?  No, no, a thousand times no!  Virginia’s Ratification Convention of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 made this crystal clear by writing: “WE the Delegates of the people of Virginia…, DO in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.”[6]

How much political power did the “Restored Government of Virginia” actually enjoy?  That’s certainly debatable; same for the government of West Virginia, and the Secession government for that matter.  Certainly possessed some legitimate political power resulting from the people each government represented.

But wait, there’s more!

There is also a provision in the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 (Section 14) that reads: “…the people have a right to uniform government, … therefore, … no government separate from, or independent of the government of Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.” How was the “Restored Government” not in violation of the 1776 constitution?  The “Restored Government” saw no problem, they considered the secessionist government officials to have vacated their offices, which the “restorers” gladly “filled.” Problem solved.

On December 5, 1865, however, the Virginia Assembly in Richmond passed legislation repealing all the acts of the “Restored Government” regarding secession of the 39 counties and the admission of Berkeley and Jefferson counties to the state of West Virginia.

In response, on March 10, 1866, Congress passed a resolution acknowledging the transfer of Berkeley and Jefferson counties from Virginia to West Virginia.

The Virginia Assembly in Richmond sued.  With not a single Justice from any of the southern states on the bench, the odds were stacked against Virginia.  In Virginia v. West Virginia (1871), the Court avoided the question of whether West Virginia’s existence as a state was constitutional and instead focused on the specific counties referred to in the trial. They quickly dispensed with a challenge by West Virginia that they lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and then sided with the “Restored Government of Virginia” that what had occurred was all right and proper, that Congress had properly approved West Virginia’s proposed Constitution and that the polling of the citizens that had been conducted during this process was legitimate.[7]

After the war concluded in favor of the Union, the “Restored Government of Virginia” moved its operations to Richmond and operated under the Constitution of 1864 until Virginia was placed under the military rule of Lieutenant General John M. Schofield.  Schofield called for a new constitutional convention, which meet in Richmond in December 1867.  They enacted a constitution containing a provision that prevented Virginia from ever again leaving the Union.

On October 8, 1869, Virginia voted to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and by doing so began the process of re-admittance to the Union, which concluded on January 26, 1870 when President Ulysses S. Grant signed an act culminating the process (But wait, wasn’t the restored “Virginia” back in the Union as of April 1861?).

The present West Virginia Constitution, enacted in 1872, begins: “Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia, in and through the provisions of this Constitution, reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God and seek diligently to promote, preserve and perpetuate good government in the State of West Virginia for the common welfare, freedom and security of ourselves and our posterity.”

The Bill of Rights, which comprises Article 3, not surprisingly borrows heavily from the Virginia Declaration of Rights. It is not without its unique elements, however.

Section 11 states: “Political tests, requiring persons, as a prerequisite to the enjoyment of their civil and political rights, to purge themselves by their own oaths, of past alleged offences, are repugnant to the principles of free government, and are cruel and oppressive.  No religious or political test oath shall be required as a prerequisite or qualification to vote, serve as a juror, sue, plead, appeal, or pursue any profession or employment.  Nor shall any person be deprived by law, of any right, or privilege, because of any act done prior to the passage of such law.”  The first clause is a reaction to the state government passing imposing loyalty oaths in the aftermath of the Civil War.  The repugnancy of such oaths, in fact, provided much of the impetus for the 1872 Constitution.

Section 15a is also unique.  It reads: “Public schools shall provide a designated brief time at the beginning of each school day for any student desiring to exercise their right to personal and private contemplation, meditation or prayer.  No student of a public school may be denied the right to personal and private contemplation, meditation or prayer nor shall any student be required or encouraged to engage in any given contemplation, meditation or prayer as a part of the school curriculum.”

Section 22 makes it clear that “A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state, and for lawful hunting and recreational use.” No confusing militia clause here.

Some other interesting provisions include a prohibition against duels, but only on the part of those who might later seek public office (Article 4 §10).

Since 1872, West Virginians have added more than fifty amendments to their Constitution and the rate of amendment gradually accelerated (there were only three amendments in the 19th century). There have been occasional calls for a new constitution. In 1964, the legislature passed a law that authorized the election of delegates to a constitutional convention. The movement then stalled after the state Supreme Court invalidated the law because it improperly apportioned delegate selection.

One is hard pressed to find any of the fifty United States with a more convoluted tale of statehood.  Welcome to “The Mountain State.”

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text.  Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes a weekly essay: Constitutional Corner which is published on multiple websites, and hosts a weekly radio show: “We the People, the Constitution Matters” on WFYL AM1140.  Gary has also begun performing reenactments of James Madison and speaking with public and private school students about Madison’s role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and Constitution.  Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[1] Delegate to the Continental Congress Richard Henry Lee had in fact been provided a resolution for independence to introduce in the Congress.  He did so on June 7, 1776.

[2] The Virginians did adopt much of the Declaration’s “grievances” section (from Jefferson’s initial draft) as the preamble to their new Constitution.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Constitutional_Convention_of_1829%E2%80%931830

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Constitutional_Convention_of_1850

[5] https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Virginia_Constitutional_Convention_of_1861

[6] http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/ratva.asp

[7] Virginia v. West Virginia, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 39 (1871)

 

Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Louisiana, the eighteenth admitted to the United States, ratified the U.S. Constitution April 30, 1812 just before the start of the War of 1812. The current Louisiana State Constitution in use was adopted in 1975.

Louisiana was one of the flashpoints in the European struggle for empire in North America throughout the eighteenth century. It soon became one of the key points in the expansion of the United States both in terms of domestic sectional tensions and American foreign policy in the new nation.

The French owned the Louisiana Territory through the French and Indian War in the middle of the eighteenth century. The British made incursions into the Great Lakes area and erected a series of forts. The defeated French ceded the territory to the victorious British at the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and Spain gained possession of the territory around New Orleans. Carlos III wanted the territory as a base from which to safeguard treasure fleets coming from Mexican silver mines.

New Orleans was an area steeped in diversity and a rich exchange of different cultures that more or less mingled easily. The area from New Orleans to Baton Rouge grew quickly through end of the century, more than quadrupling from about 4,000 free persons and 5,000 enslaved persons to 19,000 free persons and 24,000 enslaved. Likewise, commerce expanded along the Mississippi.

Spain allowed the Americans to trade on the Mississippi during the Revolutionary War. However, after the war, Spanish officials feared that the new nation was expanding rapidly and moving westward to the Mississippi. Those fears were justified as American settlers flooded the frontier now that the old 1763 Proclamation Line that had banned their settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains was negated by victory in the American Revolution. Kentucky became a state in 1792 followed by Tennessee four years later. Southern slaveowners brought their slaves to lands in what is now Alabama and Mississippi especially to grow cotton. As a result, Spain clamped down and restricted American trade on the Mississippi to the outrage of southern planters and statesmen.

Many of the founders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson envisioned a growing empire of liberty in the West. They made personal investments in western lands and schemes to build canals. One of their guiding principles was to link the original thirteen colonies to the Americans on the frontier. Washington and others were profoundly concerned that the settlers would lose their attachment to republican principles and to the United States. Instead, they would be drawn to the monarchical empires in the West and switch their allegiance.

Part of the reason for the land ordinances of the 1780s was to provide for the orderly settlement of western lands. In 1784, the Congress voted down a Jeffersonian provision for the exclusion of slavery in the entire West—a provision that would have fundamentally altered the character of settlement in Louisiana. But, there was an even larger concern that caused sectional friction in the new nation.

In 1784, the Spanish formally closed the Mississippi to American trade again (though despite the official restrictions, the Spanish still traded with American smugglers in New Orleans). Southerners were outraged, thought northerners were more concerned about fishing rights in Newfoundland. John Jay of New York began negotiating with Spanish minister Don Diego de Gardoqui for the free navigation of the Mississippi. In August 1786, Congress erupted in fierce debates over Jay’s negotiations when southerners discovered Jay was going to give up navigation rights for 25 years. Spain eventually made a few territorial concessions in modern-day Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama because of the presence of American settlers but refused to budge on the question of the Mississippi.

The issue was finally settled in the fall of 1795 with Europe in flames due to the wars of the French Revolution. Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina negotiated Pinckney’s Treaty which won additional territory in Spanish Florida and more importantly secured the American right of free navigation of the Mississippi and New Orleans to trade.

When Spain ceded the Louisiana Territory to France in 1800, Americans were concerned about Napoleonic designs in North America. However, the continuing wars in Europe and the French failure to suppress a slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) led Napoleon to consider selling the territory to the United States. President Jefferson dispatched New Yorker Robert Livingston and Virginian James Monroe to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans as a critically-important port.

The shocked diplomats discovered that Napoleon was offering the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States at a paltry $15 million, or three cents an acre. While the purchase exceeded their instructions, they knew that it was an offer too good to be refused. Jefferson was torn because his scruples about a strict reading of the Constitution gave him pause, but he eventually decided that it was for the country and could be reasonably justified under the treaty-making power.

In 1804, the president sent the Corps of Discovery under Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the lands of the purchase, map the area, record scientific observations, and establish friendly relations with the Native Americans. The purchase and exploration of the territory had hardly been completed when American settlers and their slaves moved into the area.

Louisiana quickly entered the Union as a slave state in 1812. The strategically-important port was the site of Andrew Jackson’s overwhelming victory over the British in 1815 during the War of 1812. By the time of the Civil War, Louisiana joined the Confederacy, and control of the Mississippi and New Orleans became a key theater of the war. Louisiana played a very important, if often underappreciated, role in the struggle for empire in North America and the history of the early republic.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow for the Bill of Rights Institute and a Fellow for Constituting America. He is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America.

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

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Known as “The Gem State,”  Idaho ratified the U.S. Constitution July 3, 1890 admitting the forty-third state to the Union. The Idaho State Constitution currently in use today was adopted on the same day as the state’s admission to the Union, July 3, 1890.

“We, the people of the State of Idaho, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare do establish this Constitution.” So begins the Idaho Constitution.

I’ve been to Idaho, many times. I’ve fished its waters, hiked its trails, hunted its elk (successfully), eaten its potatoes and golfed its links; it’s a beautiful state which also gave birth to a beautiful woman who would eventually become my wife. You should visit.

You may recall that, thanks to President Thomas Jefferson’s foresight and his Secretary of State, James Madison’s constitutional interpretation, the United States gained title to what was commonly called the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, extending the United States of America all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Two years later, on their way to that ocean, Lewis and Clark entered present-day Idaho on August 12, 1805, at Lemhi Pass, bringing with them the first black man to also enter the land. In 1819, a treaty with Spain removed that country’s claim to the same land. One would think these two actions, with France and Spain, would settle the question of who owned the land that would one day become Idaho. One would be wrong; one more treaty would be required. In the 1820s, the British-owned Hudson’s Bay Company moved in and soon controlled the fur trade in the Snake River area. They encountered competition from French fur trading companies, and before too long, additional Americans. British claims to the land were settled in 1846 by the Oregon Treaty and the area became undisputed U.S. territory for the first time. Under U.S. jurisdiction over the next few years, the land mass of what would become Idaho was alternately made part of the Oregon Territory and Washington Territory.

Idaho’s gold rush began in 1860 when placer gold was discovered at Pierce, Idaho, and the industry continues to this day, 3 million troy ounces (more than 90 tons) later. Three years after the gold rush began, a silver rush followed that has produced 1 million troy ounces to date.[i]

Captivated by the thought of siphoning off some of the newfound wealth, Congress began encouraging the land be recognized as a distinct territory.

On December 15th, 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, Congressman William Kellogg of Illinois, introduced the following resolution in the House of Representatives: “Resolved, That the Committee on Territories be instructed to inquire into the propriety of establishing a Territorial government for that region of country in which are situated the Salmon river gold mines; and that they report by bill or otherwise.” Two months later, the “Organic Act of the Territory of Idaho,” passed by both Houses and signed by the President on March 3, 1863, provided a temporary government for the territory.

As created by Congress, the Territory extended across an area one-quarter larger than Texas. Today’s state is much smaller but still as large as all six of the New England states combined, with New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware thrown in for good measure. Traveling from Bonner’s Ferry in the north of the state to Montpelier in the extreme southeast requires a trip of nearly 800 miles, only slightly shorter than a trip from New York City to Chicago.[ii]

Idaho’s Constitution,[iii] which forms the basic governing document of the state, was adopted on August 6, 1889 by a constitutional convention. After the convention concluded its work, the proposed constitution was submitted to a vote of the people with this caution:

“You will bear in mind that there has, never will be, nor is it in the  power of men to frame, a constitution that will meet the views of all. The framers of the constitution fully realizing this fact, labored  earnestly to harmonize all conflicting interests. If twenty  conventions were held it is not probable one of them would frame a constitution with as few defects as the one now submitted for your  examination, and upon which you are to vote.”

These words bring to mind similar remarks of Benjamin Franklin on September 17, 1787:

“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others… I doubt … whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?”

Constitution-making can indeed be messy.

Back in Idaho Territory, the convention approved the proposed constitution by a hefty margin and it was ratified in a statewide vote in November, 1889. Congress approved the ratified constitution on July 3, 1890 and President William Henry Harrison signed the bill creating the state the same day, making Idaho our 43rd state, with, at that time, a population of 88,548.

The “Idaho Admission Bill” reads: “Therefore, Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representative of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That the State of Idaho is hereby declared to be a State of the United States of America, and is hereby declared admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever; and that the Constitution which the people of Idaho have formed for themselves be and the same is hereby, accepted, ratified and confirmed.”

Idaho’s Declaration of Rights, forming the Constitution’s Article 1, borrows heavily from that of Virginia, which, as a Virginian, I find flattering. There are also many features copied from the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Some unique and interesting features of the Declaration include:

In Section 7, dealing with juries, only three-fourths of the jury is needed to render a verdict in civil actions, and in misdemeanors cases five-sixths of the jury can render a verdict.

Section 9 holds citizens responsible for abusing their right of free speech.

Section 11 prohibits any confiscation of firearms except when they are used in the commission of a felony.

Section 15 provides that there will be no imprisonment for debt in the state except in cases of fraud (i.e., no debtors prisons needed!).

In Section 19, the right of suffrage is guaranteed. “No power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere with or prevent [its] free and lawful exercise.”

Section 20 prevents any property qualification from being imposed on the citizens in order to vote “except in school elections, or elections creating indebtedness, or in irrigation district elections, as to which last-named elections the legislature may restrict the voters to land owners.

Section 22, added in 1994, contains an extensive list of the rights of crime victims. I couldn’t determine when this was added to the Constitution.

Finally, Section 23 of the Declaration of Rights, its final section, guarantees Idaho citizens the right to hunt fish and trap. “Public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife.”

In the main body of the Constitution we find a few unique features.

Article 3, Section 20 prohibits gambling in the state, it being “contrary to public policy.” This prohibition does not extend to Indian tribal lands.

Section 24, entitled “Promotion of Temperance and Morality,” is interesting. It reads: “The first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home. The legislature should further all wise and well directed efforts for the promotion of temperance and morality.” Wouldn’t it be nice if all states did this?

And in Section 28 we find the now ineffective statement: “A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Controller, State Treasurer, Attorney General and Superintendent of Public Instruction all hold their offices for a four year term. The Governor enjoys a line-item veto on appropriations bills, joining 43 other U.S. governors with similar powers.

Interestingly, the legislature must maintain a balanced budget and is prohibited from incurring any debt unless they do so by law and provide, in the authorizing legislation, a plan to pay off such debt within 20 years.

Article 9, dealing with education and school lands, begins with the declaration: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” (Emphasis added)

Idaho was early settled by Mormons, especially in its southeast sections. We may detect a bit of Mormon backlash in Section 6 of Article 9, when we read: “No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools, nor shall any distinction or classification of pupils be made on account of race or color. No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article, nor shall any teacher or any district receive any of the public school moneys in which the schools have not been taught in accordance with the provisions of this article.” Compulsory attendance is mandate between the ages of 6 and 18.

Article 10 provides that Boise shall be the state’s capitol, at least for the first 20 years, after which the state legislature can vote to move it elsewhere, something they have yet to get around to do. Incidentally, ever mindful of their natural resources, Idaho’s State Capitol building is the only one in the nation to be heated by geothermal water from a source 3,000 feet below the ground.[iv]

Article 14, dealing with the Militia makes “all able-bodied male persons, residents of this state, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years,” a member of the militia, and requires that they “perform such military duty as may be required by law;” unless they have “conscientious scruples against bearing arms.”

Idaho has abundant streams and rivers, but getting precious water to arable lands takes an extensive network of irrigation canals. Not surprisingly, there is an extensive section of the Constitution devoted to “Water Rights.” (Article 15)

Taken in the whole, Idaho’s is a well-constructed Constitution, perhaps explaining why it has remained in force (albeit extensively amended) since 1890.

On March 25, 2016, the state carried on its tradition of being a gun-friendly state by legalizing the carry of concealed firearms without a permit.[v]

Oh, and Idaho’s Great Seal was designed through a contest won by Emma Edwards Green, apparently the only woman to design the official seal of a U.S. state.[vi]

Idaho’s current 1,754,208 residents[vii] wait to welcome you.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text.  Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes a weekly essay: Constitutional Corner which is published on multiple websites, and hosts a weekly radio show: “We the People, the Constitution Matters” on WFYL AM1140.  Gary has also begun performing reenactments of James Madison and speaking with public and private school students about Madison’s role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and Constitution.  Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[i] https://www.goldmapsonline.com/idaho-gold-rush-history-and-districts.html.

[ii] https://www.idaho.gov/about-idaho/history/.

[iii] https://sos.idaho.gov/elect/stcon/index.html.

[iv] https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/idaho.

[v] http://concealednation.org/2016/03/permitless-concealed-carry-in-idaho-passes-takes-effect-july-1st-2016/.

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_and_seal_of_Idaho.

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idaho.

Guest Essayist: James D. Best

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“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” —Declaration of Independence

In 1776, the world was ruled by royalty. Then some upstart colonialists penned the most revolutionary document in the history of man. The Declaration of Independence flipped the world upside down. The Divine Right of Kings became the consent of the governed. The individual was now “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” This was a world-shattering concept.

The people were now in charge. Our national heritage is a written constitution that sets the rules for governance between the people and their elected representatives. When Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, they almost immediately sat down and wrote a constitution called the Mayflower Compact. When our forefathers wanted independence, they felt a need to express their grievances and philosophy of government in a written Declaration of Independence.  At the time of the Constitutional Convention, all thirteen states had written constitutions.

Prior to the United States Constitution, monarchies wielded general power, and since the Founders had just escaped a monarchy, they would give their national government only defined powers. If a specific power was not expressly listed in the Constitution, then that power remained with the people who could further delegate powers to the state through a state constitution.

Nebraska Constitution

Nebraska was admitted to the union after the Civil War, on March 1, 1867, based on the organic law of 1866. Nebraska adopted their constitution on June 12, 1875, eight years after becoming a state.

The preamble reads, “We, the people, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, do ordain and establish the following declaration of rights and frame of government, as the Constitution of the State of Nebraska.”

The Nebraska preamble diverts from the United States Constitution preface by calling out “Almighty God” and putting rights ahead of the “frame of government.” Nebraskans gave priority to rights, both in the preamble and organization of the document. The United States Constitution did not initially include a bill of rights and never directly referenced God. (Ratification, however, depended on a promise to immediately amend the Constitution with a list of rights.)

After amendments, the Nebraska State Constitution has the following characteristics:

  • Nebraska legislature is unicameral and nonpartisan. (Unique in the United Sates)
  • Limited to 49 seats. (Smallest legislature in United States.)
  • The legislature is part-time and pays $12,000 per year. Some contend that this make it difficult to find good candidates. Many must drive long distances in bad weather or find temporary lodging in Lincoln. As a result, legislators tend to be wealthy or retired.
  • Nebraska allows a split in the state’s allocation of electoral votes in presidential elections. (Maine is the only other state.) Since 1991, two of Nebraska’s five votes are awarded to the winner of the statewide popular vote and three go to the candidate with the highest vote in each congressional district.
  • The Nebraska Legislature can override the governor’s veto with a three-fifths majority. (36 states require a two-thirds vote)
  • Nebraska has amended their Constitution to provide for an initiative and referendum process. Nebraska’s initiative and referendum process can add or change law or amend the state constitution. Twenty-six states allow for initiatives or referendums and only sixteen states allow for constitutional initiates.

The Nebraska Constitution has been amended 228 times. On November 6, 1934, an amendment converted the legislature to unicameral. Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont were originally unicameral, but all three switched to bicameral in the early nineteenth century. There were no unicameral legislatures in the United States until Nebraska switched. The amendment also reduced the number of legislators from 133 to 43 (since increased to 49).

What are the ramifications?

According to Patrick J. O’Donnell, long-time clerk of the Unicameral Legislature, the nonpartisan nature of the state’s legislative body remains apparent in several meaningful ways.

Legislative officers and committee chairs are elected by members themselves instead of appointed by partisan caucus leaders, and minority party members still do get elected to serve as committee chairs.

O’Donnell says that policy debates frequently tend to be less partisan in tone because of the unique nature of the Nebraska Unicameral and that final decisions are usually made on the merits of an issue rather than on the basis of political considerations alone.

Seventy-four years after its inception, the Nebraska Unicameral remains one-of-a-kind among U.S. state legislatures. O’Donnell says that other states have frequently visited Nebraska over the years to study the workings of the Unicameral, but so far at least, no other state has followed Nebraska’s lead. *

The Nebraska legislature generally has more power than other state legislatures. The unicameral nature removes an internal legislative check and the small size gives each member more authority than their counterparts in other states. Additionally, to override a governor veto requires only 60% of the legislature, rather than the 67% required for a two thirds majority.

The Nebraska Constitution is not controversial and state residents seem content with it. The only current issue deals with the wording of Section I-1, which reads, “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” A 2020 ballot measure will eliminate the potential of slavery as punishment for crime. Nebraska does not use chain-gangs, so the change will have no practical effect.

The United States Constitution 10th Amendment reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Many believe that powers not defined in the Constitution are reserved to the states. They forget the last two words of the amendment. State power, like national power, is delegated by the people to the respective governments within our federal system.

Politicians may need occasional reminders that all governmental power resides with the people.

*       Council of State Governments, A legislative branch like no other

James D. Best, author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Principled Action, Lessons From the Origins of the American Republic, and the Steve Dancy Tales.

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Guest Essayist: Patrick M. Garry

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South Dakota was admitted to the Unites States November 2, 1889 as the fortieth state. In the same year of 1889, the South Dakota State Constitution in use today was adopted.

On March 2, 1861, President Buchanan signed the bill that created the Dakota Territory. Within this territory were included the present states of North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. After creating the Dakota Territory, the federal government paid relatively little attention to it, given the preoccupation with the war. But as soon as there was sufficient population in the territory, the settlers in the Dakota Territory began taking steps to achieve statehood. Starting in 1868, efforts intensified toward the admission of Dakota, either as a single state or two different states.

Even though the Dakota Territory was being settled during the Civil War, South Dakota did not become a state until 1889.  This long delay in the pursuit of statehood stemmed from political conflicts at the national level.  During the 1880s, for instance, the Democratic Congress opposed statehood for South Dakota, which was seen as a strongly Republican-leaning state. The Democratic Congress resisted admitting a state that was certain to send two more Republicans to the United States Senate. Consequently, the congressional debate on the issue of South Dakota statehood rested largely on a partisan basis.

However, the obstacles to statehood for South Dakota largely disappeared when Benjamin Harrison won the presidential election of 1888, beating Grover Cleveland. President Harrison had been a strong supporter of statehood for South Dakota during his time as senator from Indiana. At the same time, the Republican Party won control of Congress, and the national Republican Party platform of 1888 had stated that South Dakota should be immediately admitted as a new state.

The statehood bill was passed in February of 1889 and authorized the state constitutional convention of 1889, which was to be the first constitutional convention in South Dakota legally recognized by Congress.  The resulting constitution was approved by the people at an election held in October. And on November 2, 1889, President Harrison issued his proclamation admitting South Dakota as a state.

Although the 1889 convention produced the Constitution in effect today, it was not the first constitutional convention convened by statehood advocates.  The first constitutional convention for South Dakota took place in 1883, even though that convention was not authorized by Congress.

The 1883 constitution reflected the political concerns of the times.  South Dakotans sought statehood at a time when railroads and corporate conglomerates played powerful roles on both the state and national scene.  Although the railroads greatly contributed to South Dakota’s development and population, they also threatened to corrupt state legal and political processes.

At the 1883 convention, there were concerns that corporations should pay the same rate of taxes as private individuals, should not be allowed to consolidate, and should receive no aid that is not given private parties. The Convention also required the legislature to regulate railroad rates and prohibit unjust rate discrimination. The convention delegates feared that railroads or other large corporations could exercise excessive influence over the legislature.

A second constitutional convention convened on September 8, 1885.  This convention has been called the most important ever held in South Dakota, insofar as the constitution produced by that convention, with a few minor changes, became the constitution authorized by Congress and ratified by the voters in 1889.

The South Dakota statehood bill passed by Congress in February of 1889 necessitated a third constitutional convention so as to make the 1885 constitution conform to federal law.  By the time the 1889 convention occurred, the Farmers’ Alliance of Dakota Territory was playing a major political role. With declining prices for farm crops and higher production costs, many farmers had fallen deep in debt. For political relief, they turned to the Alliance, which played an influential role in securing the Initiative and Referendum provisions in the Constitution.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the South Dakota Constitution was its provisions on the Initiative and Referendum. South Dakota was the first state in the Union to adopt the Initiative and Referendum, which was later adopted by dozens of other states.

Whereas the Initiative allows the public to bypass the legislature and directly pass new laws in a general election, the Referendum allows the public to repeal a law previously enacted by the legislature. Initiative and Referendum was one of the hallmark causes of the Populist movement of the late nineteenth century.

The Populist movement promoted the Initiative and Referendum as an essential means of achieving economic reforms aimed at controlling the political power of railroads and eastern banks. South Dakota was the first state in the nation to have an active Populist Party, which in 1892 made the Initiative and Referendum a central part of its platform.

The campaign to bring Initiative and Referendum to the Dakota Territory was fueled by the economic events of the time, with Dakota farmers attributing declining commodity prices to the manipulations of railroads and eastern banks, and believing that rural interests would be better able to control those outside entities through the Initiative and Referendum process.

Patrick Garry is professor of law at the University of South Dakota and is the author of Limited Government and the Bill of Rights and The False Promise of Big Government: How Washington Helps the Rich and Hurts the Poor.

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Guest Essayist: Sam Houston

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While the states which comprise the United States of America each have a unique story and history, the political and constitutional evolution of the great state of Texas is a compelling story in and of itself. I know, for you non-Texans your first response might be “there goes another one of those Texans who believes everything about Texas is bigger, brighter, bolder and more significant than everyplace else in the world”! Admittedly, true Texans are unabashedly proud. They hold an opinion which tends to advance the idea Texas is first in everything and the rest of the world can at best be “first runner up.” However, when one considers the fascinating history of Texas, the uniqueness of her size and the role she played in the growth and development of the United States, her role cannot be overlooked even by the most objective analysis.

Originally explored by the Spanish Conquistadors, Texas was a remote and dangerous land; vast in area and boundaries vague in definition. The aggressive nature of the Lipan Apache, as well as the Comanche and several other tribes, made ordinary settlement almost impossible. After the turn of the 18th century the Mexican government wished to establish a presence in its vast territories and set forth to establish a number of military outposts and Catholic missions, but they were wildly scattered and grew very slowly. Seeking a way to initiate colonization the Mexican authorities ultimately reached out to a gentleman who was from New England, by the name of Moses Austin. In exchange for receiving a significant land grant, Moses agreed to relocate 300 families at this own expense to this raw land called Tejas. This initial land grant to the Austin Colony which became known as San Felipe De Austin, was the beginning of mass immigration to Mexican Tejas from the United States.

At the time in the United States there was what they called an “economic panic” (a recession) and to purchase land from the U.S. Government cost $1.25 an acre and had to be paid in cash. Quite frankly, not many people at the time had cash money and there were not banks, mortgage companies, or savings and loans and the like in which to be able to secure a loan to purchase land. However, in Mexican Tejas, the holders of these huge land grants could give a settler 4,428 acres for ranching, and 177 prime acres for farming, and it was all free! FREE! Can you just imagine? Soon citizens of the United States were pouring into Tejas like water from a bucket with a hole in the bottom!

For these Anglo immigrants coming into Mexican territory, they were accustomed to certain rights, privileges and protections which were guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution; however, in Mexican Tejas these rights simply did not exist. The newly created Mexican government had only recently gained its Independence from Spain and its legal background was based on a far different set of values and priorities than the U.S. Constitution. These differences were even more brazenly made apparent when in the fall of 1835 the President of Mexico, Santa Anna replaced the Constitution of Mexico with the Siete Leyes (Seven Laws). These changes effectively eliminated all state governments in Mexico including Tejas and made Santa Anna a military dictator in command of the entire Mexican nation.

For the Anglo Americans who had immigrated to Texas this elimination of state government and a creation of a conservative, strong, Catholic dominated, centralized government was simply too much and too foreign an idea to accept. Armed conflicts arose and soon the citizens of Texas eventually were in open revolt: declaring their independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836.  Santa Anna attempted to enforce his authority by armed action against the Texicans and was successful at the Battle of the Alamo.  A few weeks later at Goliad, Texas Commander James Fannin surrendered his out-manned and outmaneuvered men, believing they would be treated as prisoners of war by the Mexican authorities. However, under Mexican law the Texicans were nothing other than “pirates” and on Palm Sunday of 1836, all 376 men were shot and their bodies burned as a warning to all who opposed Mexico.

At the Battle of San Jacinto in April of 1836, Texas forces under the command of Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna and ended the Texas Revolution, resulting in the creation of the independent Republic of Texas. The Texas Constitution of 1836 was largely modeled after the U.S. Constitution except it expressly permitted slavery and forbid Indians or slaves to roam freely or to become Texas citizens.

Texas subsequently had revised Constitutions in 1845,1861,1866,1869 and 1876. These changes largely coincide with the significant historical events of Texas joining the Union, seceding to join the Confederacy, and then rejoining the Union of the United States. The current constitution, (the 1876 Constitution), is one of the longest state constitutions in the United States and one of the oldest still in effect. Amendments have been adopted 456 times; an additional 176 have been passed by the Texas State Legislature then rejected by voters.

Most of these amendments are due to the document’s highly restrictive nature. It states that the State of Texas has only those powers explicitly granted to it; there is no state equivalent of the necessary and proper clause to facilitate controversial legislation. Thus, the Texas Constitution functions as a limiting document, as opposed to the U.S. Constitution’s purpose as a granting document.

Right from the very start, the citizens of Texas wanted political power to vest in its individual citizens and for their government to be unable to “expand” their power at its own whim. In Texas, the right of the individual to be free from government intrusion, to be free from an expansive government, to be free from tyranny began with the societal experience of its American immigrants and was sharpened by the authoritarian rule of Santa Anna. Forever more its founding fathers wanted Texas to be free from abuse, intrusion, and over reaching by its government. The constitution of Texas so reflects this attitude and the attitude which formulates much of the current political climate of Texas today.

Sam Houston has had the good fortune to experience a wide variety of professional endeavors. He was an award-winning trial lawyer and the 1992 recipient of the Oklahoma Bar Associations “Courageous Advocacy Award”. He has been heavily involved in the horse industry having served on the Board of Directors of the National Reining Horse Association for many years. He created and hosted a national television show “Inside Reining” which received the coveted Vaquero Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame for excellence in promoting the Cowboy lifestyle. He is a playwright, author, actor, public speaker, and the star of “The Lion of Texas-An Evening with Sam Houston”; a one man play about his namesake and most iconic character in Texas history. Currently he is the General Manager of the Granbury Live Theater in Granbury Texas where he proudly lives with his wife Teresa.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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After the adoption of the Constitution, the next significant use of this compact theory occurred in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798/9, authored by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, and triggered by the Adams Administration’s Sedition Act. These resolutions held that Congress had only limited and delegated powers. If Congress legislated beyond those powers, it invaded the reserved powers of the states and threatened to consolidate power in itself. Division of powers existed to protect the people’s rights against tyranny. A state government could, perhaps even must, then declare the unconstitutional nature of the Congressional action. Beyond that, matters got murky. The means of redress were left to each state. For Virginia, this included interposition of state authority between its citizens and Congressional usurpation of their rights. Whether this went beyond seeking political change by pressuring Congress to repeal the law or petitioning that body to call a constitutional convention under Article V of the Constitution, to actively using state executive authority to prevent enforcement of the federal law, was not discussed. Though it was implied, there was no clear assertion that the state’s action (by itself or in concurrence with others) outright nullified the offensive law. The more radical Jefferson, however, did allow that a state could nullify the offending federal law within its territory.

The 1798/9 Resolutions and the earlier debates on the Constitution featured prominently in subsequent national controversies. Similar expositions of the federal structure were used to justify the actions of New England Federalist Party politicians at the Hartford Convention in 1814 and the more radical ideas–such as secession–that were proposed there for future consideration.

Calhoun proposed his doctrine of state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws in his Exposition and Protest against the Tariff of 1828. In subsequent writings, such as his 1831 Fort Hill Address, he further developed and refined the constitutional foundation for nullification. At the same time, he also undertook to provide a constitutional basis to protect the rights of political minorities through his doctrine of “concurrent majorities.” Acts of government whose burdens fell heavily on a particular (geographical) minority had to be approved both by the national majority and that minority.

While Calhoun began with the same assumptions about the “compact nature” of the Constitution and the political structure which it comprised, he added some important refinements. Each part, the Union and the States, had their assigned powers. Neither could invade the powers of the other, as delegated to the former and generally reserved to the latter. The difficulty lay in resolving conflicts that might arise over their relationship. Interposition, as accepted in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, and nullification, as asserted by Jefferson in the latter, were prerogatives retained by the States against constitutional usurpations by the general government. But those tools were forms of protest, not resolution of conflict. The general government, being a creature of the Constitution, could not, through its agents, sit as judge in its own cause.

Calhoun relied on that 18th-century American contribution to political theory, the constitutional convention, to supply the remedy. Sovereignty lay in the people, as both sides agreed. As shown by the process of the Constitution’s adoption in the 1780s, an ultimate act of political association–and, by analogy, disassociation–by the people of a state required their consent. Since nullification of a federal law placed the state on a path to secession, the people must approve that initial step.  It was not possible, as a practical matter, to gather the people as a whole to debate and decide the matter. Hence, the action had to be undertaken by a special body elected by them and assembled for only that purpose. Only if the convention voted to nullify the federal law might the state legislature enact an ordinance of nullification. If the proper process of nullification was completed, it was up to Congress to resolve the controversy by calling a convention under Article V of the Constitution. If that convention voted in agreement with the state, and the convention’s action was approved by three-fourths of the states, the federal law was nullified. If the nullification was not approved either by the convention or the other states, the original state might vote to rescind the nullification or move to secede.

Calhoun’s proposal was built on existing constitutional process in Article V. However, he cleverly extended its reach because Article V required two-thirds of the states to petition Congress for a convention, while Calhoun’s convention was precipitated by the action of a single state. On the other hand, Calhoun stopped well short of the most rigid states’ rights position that potentially would legitimize nullification of a federal law within a state by the action of that state alone. Enough other states still had to concur to satisfy Article V, which assured against frequent resort by states to such a destabilizing course. Calhoun struck a balance between the interests of “Liberty and Union” in a manner that sought to avoid the extreme confederationalism of the unconditional nullifiers and secessionists, on the one hand, and of the biased nationalism of Congress and the Supreme Court. The former, after all, had been rejected by the language of the Articles of Confederation, in the ratifying debates on the Constitution, and in the formal rejection by many states of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. At the same time, neither the Congress–despite the structure of the Senate–acting politically, nor the Supreme Court, acting judicially to balance Congress’s powers under the Constitution with the Tenth Amendment, could be relied on as fair arbiters of national-state disputes.

Today, Calhoun’s approach lacks constitutional legitimacy, as do more radical theories of nullification and secession. Yet, one can detect more than a faint connection between the broad claims of earlier nullifiers and secessionists and what has sometimes been called the “neo-Confederate” position of California and other “sanctuary” cities and states regarding the harboring of aliens living in the United States in violation of immigration laws. But, as Calhoun and the earlier Antifederalists worried, the other constitutional protections against “consolidation” have proven inadequate to the task. The states can go, hat in hand, to plead their case politically to Congress or in litigation to the Supreme Court. But the Senate is, as often as not, a happy collaborator in expanding federal power at the expense of state autonomy. The Supreme Court, in turn, has declared the Tenth Amendment a mere “truism” and, excepting a few timid anomalies, appears content to strain constitutional language ever-more to extend the reach of federal power. Perhaps it was inevitable due to human nature and the inbuilt structural imperfections of the system, as the Antifederalists charged, or perhaps it is the result of the complexities of a massive modern industrial society, but today’s “federalism” is patently not the Founders’ declared vision.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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A persistent controversy during the Founding Period was the nature of the union and its relationship to the states. The issue had its antecedents during the colonial period in Benjamin Franklin’s proposed Albany Plan of Union in 1754. That unsuccessful proposal for–mostly–a defensive alliance among the colonies sought to produce a federation, “by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America…within and under which government each colony may retain its present constitution, except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said act.” Franklin’s proposal bore a striking resemblance to more far-reaching subsequent attempts at union, such as the unsuccessful plan by Joseph Galloway in the First Continental Congress and the even more ambitious Articles of Confederation in the Second Continental Congress.

Common to all of these constitutional efforts was the confederal nature of the structure, with power emanating from the constituent colonies (or states) and granted to the federal “head.” Thus, the colonial assemblies or state legislatures selected the members of the union’s policy-making body, the powers of that body were limited to enumerated objectives that affected the union as a whole, and all other powers were expressly reserved to the constituent colonies or states. The Articles of Confederation–the most important effort until then, in that they created a more sophisticated and consummated plan of government–struck a delicate balance between federal power and ultimate state sovereignty. While the Congress had fairly significant powers that could be exercised either by a majority of the assembled states or, sometimes, by nine out of thirteen in the potentially delicate areas of taxation, commerce, and military mobilization, the Congress acted on the constituent states, not on the residents directly. As well, while states were authorized by the Articles to send multiple delegates to represent them in Congress, each state could cast only one vote. Finally, each state was described as having acted in its corporate capacity to create the union, and, to be part of the union, each had to approve the Articles, thereby clearly anchoring the locus of sovereignty in the independent founding states.

Debate over the Constitution of 1787 in the Philadelphia drafting convention and in the subsequent state ratifying conventions also focused significantly on the nature of the union and the relationship of the state and federal sovereignties. Opponents of the Constitution claimed that the states’ sovereignty had been destroyed. They warned, loudly, frequently, and widely, that the states’ republican essence was threatened by this new “consolidated” government, a freely-hurled epithet that threw the Constitution’s proponents on the rhetorical and political defensive.

As evidence for alarm, the Constitution’s opponents pointed to the broad new powers through which Congress acted on individuals directly and by-passed the states; the supporters pointed out that those powers were few in number. The opponents raised the availability of further implied powers, especially as embodied in the “necessary and proper” clause; the supporters (eventually) agreed in the Tenth Amendment that the states retained all powers not given to the general government; the opponents charged that this assurance fell far short of the Articles which had declared that the states retained all powers not expressly conferred on the Congress. Opponents claimed that the Constitution shunted aside the state sovereignty by declaring that the “People of the United States” had established the Constitution; supporters responded that the original draft had been that the “People of the States of [named 13 states]” had established it, but that there was no assurance that all thirteen states would eventually approve it, so the language was changed as a matter of form, not substance. Opponents pointed out that state conventions, not legislatures as constituent part of the state sovereignties, would approve the Constitution, and that only nine were necessary to do so; supporters rejoined that this reflected the ultimate sovereignty of the people and that, in any event, each state that wanted to be part of this new arrangement had to approve the Constitution.

James Madison in Federalist 39 made an earnest, though not always convincing, effort to minimize the changes from the Articles, by explaining how some of the Constitution’s characteristics indeed were national but that in many fundamental ways the new system retained its federal essence. Both sides were deeply at odds in their perceptions about the nature of the new constitutional structure. The position of Madison and other supporters of the Constitution was that there existed a dual sovereignty in this new federalism undergirded by the ultimate sovereignty of the people acting in and through the several states. Their critics dismissed this as nonsensical. Ultimately, practical sovereignty had to lie either with the state governments acting on the people or with the national government doing so. To the critics, the answer was clear, that the national government would expand its reach and destroy the state governments, consolidating all power within itself. The republic would end, and tyranny would rule.

Once the Constitution was adopted, the struggle turned to the issue of how, as a practical matter, to preserve state sovereignty and self-government within this novus ordo seclorum. One tool lay in the structure of the government itself. The Senate not only was a political counterweight for the small states against the larger states’ general influence in the economic and political direction of the union and their numerical power in the House of Representatives. That argument had been the tool to broker the great compromise in the early summer of 1787 that prevented the looming break-up of the convention. As well, the Senate, with its equal votes for each state, and a selection process that tied the membership directly to the legislatures of their state governments, represented what remained of the constitutional idea of a federalism resting on the constituent states. At least until the fundamental constitutional change wrought by the 17th Amendment, the state governments’ control of the Senate would negate or, at least, blunt efforts by the “popular” branch, the House of Representatives, to accrete power in the federal government at the expense of the states.

The extent to which the Framers’ envisioned role for the Senate was realized is unclear. The emergence of organized programmatic political parties introduced a variable that might redirect the loyalty of a senator from his state to a party and its national policies. On the other hand, senators were remarkably able in matters of great national controversy to focus on their home state governments’ political preferences and oppose their same-party fellows from other states who entertained contrary political positions. Senators’ votes on great national issues in the first half of the 19th century on war policy, tariffs, slavery, and, indeed, the nature of the union itself typically reflected whatever benefitted those Senators’ states, even at the risk of tearing apart the parties with which they were affiliated. The respective positions of Senators Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina on these matters are examples, even as they switched positions as their states’ interests required.

Calhoun, especially, recognized the increasingly tenuous hold of Southern states on the Senate and sought to develop a systematic constitutional theory to protect particular state institutions from national control. His specific concerns were, initially, the matter of protective tariffs sought by Northern manufacturing interests and opposed by Southerners as economically ruinous and, subsequently, preservation of the “peculiar institution” of slavery. As a more fundamental objective, he sought to bolster the ability of states generally to resist the consolidation of government in an increasingly self-regarding and confident American “nation.”

The constitutional case for vigorous state sovereignty to counter the dangers from a consolidated general government had been made frequently by the Constitution’s critics during the ratification debates. Their claim rested on the principle that the union was a compact of States. They pointed to the fact that the Constitution’s legitimacy rested on approval by the states; that the Constitution’s proponents frequently had asserted that the plan was not a revolutionary new system but an improvement of the extant one, as expressed in the Preamble’s objective to “form a more perfect Union;” and that failure to adopt the new plan would not mean the creation of 13 fully independent entities, but, rather, continuation of the earlier plan that had established a “perpetual union.” The shift from approval by the state legislatures under the Articles of Confederation to approval by state conventions under the proposed document merely reflected a more refined understanding of republican theory that fundamental alterations must reflect as clearly as practicable the consent of the governed.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

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Thirtieth to join the United States, Wisconsin, known as “The Badger State,” ratified the     U.S. Constitution May 29, 1848. The Wisconsin State Constitution currently in use was adopted in 1848.

“On Wisconsin!” were words exclaimed by Arthur MacArthur Jr. at the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 urging his fellow Badgers on during an important phase of the battle for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The state’s official slogan is “Forward!” which embodies the spirit of LTG MacArthur and the spirit of the people who live here today. Citizens of Wisconsin are always looking to innovate, expand and advance, but they are appreciative of their past as well.

Wisconsin received its name from the river that runs through the center of the state named by the Miami Indians. The word “Wisconsin” means “river running through a red area” and may possibly refer to the beautiful red bluffs located near today’s city of Wisconsin Dells. For 10,000 years, Wisconsin has also been home to various Native American tribes including the Oneida, Chippewa, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Sauk and Mahican.

In 1634, European explorer Jean Nicolet was the first European to have landed in Wisconsin near the present city of Green Bay. The French attempted to colonize the area and operated a very successful fur trade in Wisconsin. The French established a military and commercial presence in Wisconsin until after the French and Indian War, when the Great Britain assumed control of the area. The U.S. acquired what is today Wisconsin after the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the American Revolution.

In 1836, the Wisconsin Territory was organized and the first territorial legislature met in Belmont, Wisconsin. In 1848, Wisconsin was admitted to the Union as the 30th state with Madison being designated as its capital city.

The Wisconsin Constitution was written at the state’s Constitutional Convention in Madison in December of 1847 and was approved by the citizens of Wisconsin Territory in 1848. This original Constitution has been amended over 100 times but is still in use today, making it the oldest state constitution outside of the New England states. At first, the Wisconsin Constitution granted suffrage to white male citizens over 21 and to Native Americans who were citizens of the United States but it did allow suffrage to change over time as the state legislature intended it to. The banking industry was very controversial in Wisconsin at this time and the idea of the state chartering a bank was voted on at the same time as the state Constitution was ratified. With this vote, the citizens of Wisconsin allowed the state to charter banks within its borders.

Today’s Wisconsin Constitution consists of a Preamble, thanking Almighty God for the freedoms that citizens of the state are blessed with, and then 14 Articles. The first article is a general declaration of rights as citizens of Wisconsin. This allows Wisconsin citizens to live under the same freedoms as the United States Bill of Rights, to prohibit prison sentences for debt, place military under the control of civil authorities, and guarantees our citizens the right to fish and hunt.

The Wisconsin State Legislature is described in Article Four of the state Constitution and is a bicameral lawmaking body comprised of the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate. The 4th Article allow states how state representatives are elected and sets forth the powers and limitations of our state legislature.

Article Five establishes the Legislative Branch in Wisconsin. The state’s executive branch consists of a governor and a lieutenant governor, who are each elected to serve four year terms. The powers and duties of the state executive are also outlined here as well, including the line-item veto over appropriation bills. The succession chain of governance is also outlined here, should the governor resign, be recalled or pass away.

The Judicial branch is established in Article Seven and grants the state a Supreme Court, composed of seven Justices, each holding 10-year terms. The Constitution also creates the Wisconsin Circuit Court system, as well as the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The state may also set up courts and jurisdictions over cities, towns and villages within the state. The impeachment process of state officials is outlined here as well.

The original Wisconsin Constitution document is unfortunately missing and the copy on display in our state capitol building is a replica. The original may have been sent to a publisher and lost somewhere along the way. Fortunately for the citizens of Wisconsin, the words and ideas embodied within the document still exist and will endure far into the future. On Wisconsin!

Val Crofts is a Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches at Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin and has been there 16 years! He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and is honored to participate in this Study on the States!

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Guest Essayist: Samuel Postell

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“The Show-Me State” of Missouri ratified the U.S. Constitution August 10, 1821 making it the twenty-fourth state to join the United States. The Missouri State Constitution currently in use was adopted in 1945.

Missouri’s application for U.S. statehood was not only an important event in the state’s history, but is among one of the most important events in our nation’s history. Before Missouri’s application for statehood, the abolitionist factions of the Union were relatively quiet and the Southern defense of slavery as a “positive good” had not yet begun. After Missouri’s application for statehood, it became clear that slavery would become a national issue that would divide the sections of the Union, perhaps to the point of civil war.

Missouri first applied for statehood in 1817, but Congress did not begin to consider enabling acts to allow the territory to create a state constitution until February of 1819. At the end of the day on February 18, 1819, James Tallmadge introduced his amendment which would spark the controversy between the Northern States and the slaveholding states. Tallmadge proposed an amendment that would free all children born of slaves after Missouri had become a state, as well as free all slaves in the state of Missouri once they had reached the age of 25. Various Northerners, particularly from New York and Pennsylvania, began to see such an amendment as a necessary condition for Missouri to become a state.

The Southerners responded with gusto. They feared that such amendments coming from the national congress infringed on the right of a state to determine its own laws, and they feared that such legislation would upset the balance between free and slave states in Congress. The consequence of this, they believed, would be the ultimate extinction of slavery in the Union. And perhaps they were correct: Representative Livermoore urged the House, just before it voted upon the Tallmadge Amendment, that “An opportunity is now presented, if not to diminish at least to prevent, the growth of a sin that sits heavy on the soul of every one of us.” The House voted to include the Tallmadge amendment in a vote of 79 to 67.

But that was not the last word on the Tallmadge Amendment. Although it had passed the House, it had to be accepted by the Senate which was composed of a majority that was principally opposed to the Federal government meddling with slavery in the territories. Thus, the Senate immediately rejected the Tallmadge amendment as part of the Missouri enabling act. Throughout the rest of the Congressional session, the two houses would deliberate upon the Missouri issue, but neither the Northerns in the House nor the Southerners in the Senate would give way. The Congressional session would end with Thomas Cobb’s admonition to Tallmadge that “the Union will be dissolved. You have kindled a fire which all the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood only can extinguish.” Tallmadge merely responded “so be it.”

The deliberation over Missouri not only occupied the House for the months of February through May of 1819, but it took the Congress the remainder of that year and half of the next to sort out the Missouri question. While the Congress was out of session several petitions were generated in Northern states urging their representatives to deny Missouri’s statehood if that entailed the spread of slavery, and some Southern petitions were signed that threatened secession if Congress blocked Missouri. The nation was on the brink of civil war, the representatives of the people were threatening one another in the chamber, and the nation was facing the greatest economic recession that it had yet seen. What was to be done?

As the Speaker of the House, Henry Clay did something that seems counterintuitive: he delayed the Missouri question for the first half of the following Congressional session, and created a committee. He placed a New Yorker who had been involved in the debates over the Tallmadge Amendment at the head of that committee, and he placed a balance of Northerners and Southerners on that committee. Only in that committee could Missouri be spoken of. Clay attempted to stall while the Senate prepared its bill for the House. He wanted to quell the passions of the much larger body of representatives in order that they not evoke civil war throughout the debates that were to come.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives began to speak of Maine’s admission to statehood. The first day of deliberation upon Maine, Henry Clay left the Speaker’s chair in order to set the stage for debate. He wanted to assure the Northerners that they had much to lose with the debates over Maine if they continued to give the Southerners ultimatums regarding Missouri. If Maine could not be accepted as a state, then the Northerners would lose any opportunity of equaling the Southern representation in the Senate, and this could have long term consequences.

Eventually, the Senate decided to tie Missouri and Maine together as an enabling act, and add an additional proviso excluding slavery from all remaining lands of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30′ parallel, thanks to Jesse B. Thomas of Illinois. What followed was much heated debate within the House over the bill, eventually leading Clay to organizing a joint committee of representatives in the House and the Senate to deliberate upon the bill. In order to finally pass the bill through the House, Clay had to separate the three bills and pass each individually. Each bill passed by a narrow margin, but what was most important was that the nation averted civil war in the process of accepting two new states.

Henry Clay would thenceforth be known as the “Great Pacificator” for his work in promoting compromise within the House of Representatives. At the end of that session, he would leave the house with a challenge to preserve Union and liberty. He told his colleagues,

“I shall regard (this House) as the great depository of the most important powers of our excellent constitution; as the watchful and faithful centinel of the freedom of the people; as the fairest and truest image of their deliberate will and wishes; and of that branch of government where, if our beloved country shall unhappily be destined to add another to the long list of melancholy examples of the loss of public liberty, we shall witness the last struggles and its expiring throes”

Although the Union had been threatened, and civil war had been evoked, the nation proved its fitness to brave the sirens of civil war through representative deliberation and choice led by selfless compromise.

Sam Postell is a current Graduate Student at the University of Dallas and a former literature teacher at a high school in Dallas Texas. He has two book chapters under publication with the University of Missouri Press, one on the Missouri Compromise, and another on Henry Clay as Speaker of the House. He is currently working on a book on Henry Clay’s Political Thought

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

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Admitted to the Union December 3, 1818, Illinois is the twenty-first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Known as “The Prairie State” as well as the “Land of Lincoln,” the Illinois State Constitution adopted in 1970 is the version currently used.  The first state constitution, however, was adopted on August 26, 1818.

Becoming a State

In April 1818, Congress passed a bill, contemplating admitting Illinois as a state if it could show that it had a population of at least 40,000 in the territory.  As my friend, Ann Lousin, notes in an excellent Chicago Daily Law Bulletin column published in August 2018, that was a tall order for the territory to complete, because the territory was well short of the required number set by Congress.  Nonetheless, the territorial governor and associates submitted to Congress that the population of white residents exceeded 40,000, and that part of the process was done.

The Illinois Constitution

Congress required that each new state have a constitution.  Delegates were selected and they met in Kaskaskia, Illinois, thirty-three men gathered at a tavern to draft a constitution.  Borrowing heavily from the Kentucky constitution, where many delegates had come to Illinois from, as well as the constitutions of Ohio and Indiana (two states that were part of the Northwest Territory), a very small group drafted the constitution.  Except for one issue, there are not records of much debate over this constitution to be submitted to Congress.

The one issue that the delegates debated heavily was the question of slavery.  Factions for pro-slavery and abolitionists sought compromise and while most of Illinois was “free soil” the Illinois Salines were permitted to have slavery.  In addition, a compromise was agreed upon, with any slave who was currently in the state remaining a slave, though their children would become free upon reaching adulthood. With this agreed upon as well as the seat of the new state’s government, the constitution was adopted on August 26, 1818. That date is proudly displayed on the Illinois state flag in the center.  The adopted constitution was submitted to Congress and, on December 3, 1818, President James Monroe signed the enabling act that admitted Illinois as the 21st state to the United States.

The initial constitution of Illinois has been amended on three occasions since 1818- in 1848, 1870 and 1970.  The last constitution granted home rule powers for certain municipalities, including the City of Chicago.

The preamble to the Illinois Constitution has a flavor that is definitely familiar, stating:

We, the People of the State of Illinois—grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He has permitted us to enjoy and seeking His blessing upon our endeavors—in order to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the people; maintain a representative and orderly government; eliminate poverty and inequality; assure legal, social and economic justice; provide opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; insure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; and secure the blessings of freedom and liberty to ourselves and our posterity—do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of Illinois.

In 1968, the question of whether to hold a constitutional convention was on the ballot, and it passed.  As noted, a big feature of the new constitution that came out of that convention was home rule, which transferred power from the smaller rural communities to the more urban centers.  Ratified on December 15, 1970, Illinois adopted a new, modern constitution, one of the few post-World War II constitutions among the states.  The fourteen articles of the current constitution create the traditional three branches of government.  The 1970 Constitution also includes an extensive Bill of Rights and Article X guarantees a free public education for all Illinois residents.

Conclusion

Illinois became the 21st state to join the United States.  During the Civil War, it contributed the fourth greatest number of men who served in the Union Army.  President Abraham Lincoln, who was born and raised in Kentucky, was president during the Civil War and “The Prairie State” has become known as the “Land of Lincoln” to honor the 16th President of the United States.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. His book, “The Chief Justices,” (April 2019, Twelve Tables Press), is available now. He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

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Guest Essayist: Samuel Postell

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The seventeenth state to enter the Union, known as “The Buckeye State,” Ohio ratified the U.S. Constitution on March 1, 1803. The current Ohio State Constitution in use was adopted in 1851.

The study of state constitutions is perhaps the most important study that Americans can undertake, yet the most neglected. Understanding the constitution of the state within which one holds residence is important for two reasons. First, because understanding the laws closest to oneself equips one to become a citizen in the truest sense, one who participates in the city with his fellow citizens and engages in the community. And second because the state constitutions, in preserving the past while being layered by amendments of the present, reveal the history and development of the American regime.

Ohio’s state constitution is paradigmatic in the latter sense. The Buckeye State was the 17th state to join the Union, and it was accepted to statehood in 1803. The year in which Ohio was accepted to statehood is important insofar as it forms the essential character of the Ohio Constitution: joining a mere 27 years after the nation declared independence, and a mere 14 years after the Federal Constitution’s ratification, it preserves much of what was original to the Union itself. However, the Ohio Constitution, being ratified after the election of 1800, just after the first major shift in party control, gives Ohio an important place in the new notions of politics that developed during Jefferson’s term as president. Jefferson himself referred to the election of 1800 as the “revolution of 1800”, and considered it in many respects more important than the revolution of 1776 because it marked a dedication to a more democratic mode of politics.

Nevertheless, Ohio’s Constitution was decidedly anti-revolutionary. For example, the original 1803 Ohio Constitution was a work of brevity; the entire 1803 Constitution is shorter than “Article VIII: Public Debt and Public Works” which was added in 1851 and amended various times throughout the 21st century. Further, the 1803 Ohio Bill of Rights mirrors the philosophy and form of the constitutions of the original 13 states. For example, the Bill of Rights begins by setting forth the ends of government, emulating the Declaration of Independence: “That all men born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights… every free republican government, being founded on their sole authority, and organized for the great purpose of protecting their rights and liberties, and securing their independence.” Like other state constitutions, point 3 of the Ohio Bill of Rights aims to protect the “natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of conscience” and asserts

“But religion, morality and knowledge being essentially necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of instructions shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision not inconsistent with the rights of conscience.”

Thus, Ohio, like other States of the Union at the time, saw establishments such as religious schools absolutely necessary and conducive to free government. Like other states of the Union, the original Ohio Constitution saw religious establishments and public schools dedicated to advancing Christianity as perfectly consistent with separation of church and state. What the state did reject as inconsistent with separation of church and state was coercion, forced attendance to a certain church, and religious tests for office.

In addition, the original Ohio Constitution embraced the republican spirit of the entire country by adopting a structure which empowered the Congress and weakened the governor. The 1803 Ohio Constitution established a bicameral House consisting of a Senate and a House, called the “General Assembly.” Section 1, Article 16 reads “bills may originate in either house, but may be altered, amended or rejected by the other.” Article 2, however, gives the governor of the state no power to alter, amend, or reject legislation. Additionally, the Congress has the power of impeachment. The Governor, on the other hand, only has the power to propose general elections to fill vacancies in the Congress, and he may call a special session, on the condition that he openly declare before the members of Congress the reason for convening them. In other words, the Governor had little to do with the creation of the laws of the state, he merely wielded the power of enforcement.

However, over time the Ohio Constitution has departed drastically from its original form. The most clear departure from the original constitution was the 1912 Ohio Convention. The most striking contrast between the Constitutional Convention held in 1802, and the convention held in 1912, was the national attention that each convention garnered. At the time of Ohio’s original convention, it was widely held as a principle of federalism that the federal government ought to allow people of a territory to craft a constitution for their own governance. By 1912, the understanding of federalism had shifted and all eyes were on the Ohio Convention of 1912. For example, Teddy Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryant, William Howard Taft, and even California’s Governor Hiram Johnson addressed the convention in order to advise it.

The convention assembled to rewrite the constitution, but after much debate they settled on proposing several amendments. In the end 41 were proposed and 33 were accepted and added to the constitution after a special election that allowed the people to vote upon the proposed amendments. Most of these amendments aimed at fixing the constitution because it was believed by many to be “outdated” and “inefficient.” The most important of the amendments accepted were the “line item veto” and the “initiative and referendum.” These and similar reforms were grafted onto many of the original constitutions of the states throughout the progressive era and drastically changed the way in which the people in the states, and therefore the nation, governed itself. Unlike the original constitution which left little room for the enervated governor to operate, the line item veto greatly increased his power by giving him the authority to reject certain parts of a bill passed by the legislature without vetoing the entire bill. Similar amendments providing a line item veto were adopted by 43 of the states throughout the progressive era. However, the initiative and referendum is perhaps the most pronounced change from the original constitution. The initiative and referendum gives the people of the state the power to overturn or even pass laws by popular ballot, entirely circumventing the legislative process.

In short, the changes to the Ohio Constitution mirror the changes of the nation. As Ohio has weakened the legislature and expanded the executive power while affording the power to the people through the initiative and referendum, so has the nation chipped away at the federal legislature and empowered the executive. The progressive era fostered many reforms which sought to make the people more directly participate in their government, and strengthened the executive in order that he represent the will of the people. These changes first took place in states such as Ohio, but slowly began to penetrate the nation and become the new norm. All in all, the original Ohio Constitution differs drastically from the constitution which governs Ohio today, so much so that one may conclude that the state adopted an entirely new form of government in the year 1912.

Sam Postell is a Graduate Student at the University of Dallas and a former literature teacher at a high school in Dallas Texas. He has two book chapters under publication with the University of Missouri Press, one on the Missouri Compromise, and another on Henry Clay as Speaker of the House. He is currently working on a book on Henry Clay’s Political Thought

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Robin Smith

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Who knew that the land mass of Tennessee was represented at the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Who knew that the geography that has earned the moniker, the Volunteer State, was first governed by another state’s constitution?

That’s right. Tennessee was first part of North Carolina. Looking at the map[i], deduction proves accurate noting the “Overmountain Region” that formed western North Carolina until the area had ample population to seek statehood. America’s sixteenth state at its founding was comprised of a small number of counties that formed the District of Washington in the now northeast portion of Tennessee and an area called Davidson, which included today’s Sumner County, helped form the County of Tennessee in 1788 along with modern-day Montgomery, Stewart, Dickson, Robertson and Cheatham Counties. The District of Washington spawned several other counties, such as Sullivan, Greene and Hawkins. The remaining expanse of Tennessee was identified as “Indian Lands.”[ii] But, the organization of inhabitants in the Appalachians credited to have the first constitutional government west of the mountains, dates back to 1772 with the Watauga Association, a frontier pact, that lasted just a few years but became the basis of the District of Washington of North Carolina.[iii]

It’s now understandable why the Tennessee Historical Magazine of 1915 features a writing entitled, “The Development of the Tennessee Constitution” with the subtitle, “The North Carolina Constitution of 1776” with the first line to read: The constitutional history of Tennessee properly begins with the adoption by the revolutionary congress of North Carolina, in 1776…[iv] The appointed governor of Tennessee immediately following the acceptance of the cessation papers by the U.S. Government in 1790 was William Blount, who served from 1790 until official statehood in 1796 in what was deemed the “Southwest Territory.”

During this time a 4-week convention comprised of 55 delegates was held in Knoxville to establish the first constitution of a new state. Upon completion, the governing document was sent to Philadelphia, home to young America’s seat of governance, for review by the U.S. Congress and ultimately signed by President George Washington giving Tennessee immediate statehood on its day of birth, June 1, 1796. It would be later said by Thomas Jefferson of Tennessee’s Constitution, based on its North Carolina’s parent and Pennsylvania’s, to be “the least imperfect and most republican of the state constitutions” as it featured specifics on rights, taxes and legislative authority.[v]

The first Tennessee Constitution, handwritten in ink, included provisions related to suffrage that awarded the right to vote to men, without reference to color. A foreshadowing of Tennessee’s stance on slavery in the Civil War to come, Article III, Section 1 enumerated that all freemen (white and black) who were twenty-one years of age and owned a freehold or who had resided in the county six months the right to vote. The document also provided that men serving in the state militia had the right to elect their own officers.[vi]

But, the newly formed state, led by its first elected Governor John Sevier, would not provide that same right to women at its founding. But, fear not. True to its independent spirit, the story of women’s suffrage in Tennessee would prove not just important to its own citizens, but historic to all of American women.

Despite states efforts to award suffrage to females beginning in the late 1840s for local and state elections, the same right to vote had eluded them for federal elections. Finally, on May 21, 1919, the U.S. House voted 304-89 to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that featured 39 words that would forever change American politics if thirty-six states, the requirement at the time to amend the U.S. Constitution, voted to support the 19th Amendment. It wasn’t until June 4, a few weeks later, that the U.S. Senate finally followed suit with a 56-25 vote margin. [vii] The effort then ensued to reach that needed thirty-six states to reach the constitutional threshold to amend the U.S. Constitution.

While Wyoming was the first state to award women the right to vote in 1890, the first states to pass the necessary legislation to ratify the U.S. Constitution following Congressional action were Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan in 1919. As the Woman Suffrage Movement organized, mobilized and energized state legislative leaders with their efforts to pass the needed enabling ratification proposals, the Summer of 1920 shaped up to be a made-for-the-big-screen drama.

Coming down the homestretch to obtain the threshold 36 states for ratification, Delaware’s state body voted in opposition on June 2, 1920. All eyes and efforts turned to Tennessee to obtain the last needed state with hope fading. Suffragists key to the success in Tennessee who worked with their national leader Carrie Chapman Catt were Ann Dallas Dudley of Nashville, Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga, and Sue Shelton White of Jackson.[viii]

A special session was called in the summer of 1920 by then Governor Albert H. Roberts, a Democrat seeking re-election in August of the same year. Both the Suffragists and the Anti-Suffragists set up their headquarters at The Hermitage Hotel that featured a frequented watering hole that afforded women access for their lobbying efforts. Adopting roses to don the lapels of legislators to serve as emblems of support or opposition, roses – either yellow or red – became the sign of Tennessee’s War of the Roses.

Quickly passing the Senate Chamber, the battleground was set in the TN House Chamber comprised of 99 members. Men wearing the yellow rose boutonnière were counted as supporters and those sporting the red rose were in the camp of the “Anti’s.” A couple of weeks of motions and parliamentary maneuvers with efforts to table the legislation since defeat was not as simple as anticipated by the majority of Democrats in the chamber, recorded the youngest member of the General Assembly, Harry T. Burn (R-Niota), elected at 22-years-young, voting with the Anti’s while wearing his red rose boutonnière.[ix]

On August 18, 1920, Rep. Harry Burn took the floor of the Tennessee House with a letter in his coat pocket from his mother, Phoebe Ensminger Burn – Febb to her friends. As the votes were cast, the 24-year-old stood, red rose and all, to cast his vote for the yellow rose caucus – he supported women’s suffrage. After a few moments of confusion, House Speaker Seth Walker changed his vote in support to attempt a parliamentary move that would allow subsequent debate and votes. Nevertheless, a stunned crowd watched the momentum shift with little notice.

According to varying accounts, some a bit more dramatic than others, Burn was the recipient of much anger and, tales being tall, was chased up the stairs of the Capitol to find refuge after scurrying out a window, inching along a ledge to safety. Neither historical documents nor interviews with the famed legislator prior to his death in 1977 hold these same details, but the monumental nature of the vote could certainly have generated such high drama.[x]

So, exactly what was written in the seven-page letter that accompanied TN Rep. Harry T. Burn to the House floor on August 18, 1920? His mom had composed a passing notation, squeezed between references to rain and a house and farm purchased by various locals: “Hurray and vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt.” On page six, as the letter seems to draw to a close, Mrs. Febb, a widow declares, “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. ‘Thomas Catt’ with her ‘Rats.’ As she [is] the one that put the rat in ‘ratification.’ Ha, no more from mama this time. With lots of love…” The postscript, as any mom will do, was a request for a music selection she wanted her city-going son to pick up to bring home.[xi]

Governor Roberts, formerly opposed to the suffrage amendment, signed the passed legislation into law on August 24, 1920 and transmitted the document to Washington. [xii]

As women look to 2020 to celebrate the Centennial of the Women’s Right to Vote on August 26, the influence of a mother’s love, grassroots activity and yellow roses prove not just a part of history, but historical. Tennessee’s slogan proves true. The Volunteer State, rich with a pioneering spirit and people who’ve been leaders across the years is certainly “America at its best.” From its founding to its future, Tennessee is home to our greatest treasure…her people.

Robin Smith represents the 26th district of Tennessee in the House of Representatives. She chairs the Life and Health Insurance Subcommittee. Before serving for the people of Tennessee, she owned her own business and was the GOP State Chair.

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END NOTES

[i] Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_the_southern_states_of_America,_comprehending_Maryland,_Virginia,_Kentucky,_Territory_sth_of_the_Ohio,_North_Carolina,_Tennessee_Governmt.,_South_Carolina,_%26_Georgia_(4584052548).jpg

[ii] https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/genealogy/tn-counties

[iii] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watauga_Association

[iv] https://www.jstor.org/stable/42637325?seq=10#metadata_info_tab_contents

[v] https://sos.tn.gov/products/tennessee-state-constitution

[vi] https://cdm15138.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/tfd/id/421

[vii] https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/19thamendment.html

[viii] https://sos.tn.gov/products/tsla/womens-suffrage-tennessee-and-passage-19th-amendment

[ix] https://teva.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15138coll27/id/75/

[x] https://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/17/us/tennessee-journal-one-small-vote-for-a-man-brought-one-giant-leap-for-women.html

[xi] http://cmdc.knoxlib.org/cdm/ref/collection/p265301coll8/id/699

[xii] http://suffrageandthemedia.org/source/tennessee-governors-proclamation-suffrage/

Guest Essayist: William J. Federer

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On March 4, 1791, Vermont was the first state admitted to the Union after the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the original thirteen colonies. The current Vermont State Constitution in use was adopted in 1793

The French fortified Lake Champlain by building Fort Sainte Anne on Isle La Motte in 1666. It is considered the first settlement in what would later become the State of Vermont. In 1690, some Dutch Reformed Protestant settlers arrived in the area.

Colonial wars followed between the French and the British:

-King William’s War, 1689;
-Queen Anne’s War, 1710;
-Father Rale’s War, 1722;
-King George’s War, 1744;
-Father Le Loutre’s War, 1749;
-French and Indian War, 1754.

The British finally expelled all French from Acadia. Many were deported back to other colonies, or back to France, or fled south to the Caribbean and French Louisiana, where the name “acadian” became pronounced “cajun.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of this expulsion in his epic poem “Evangeline.”

Britain’s King granted a Royal Charter in 1679 to the fur trading company — The Hudson Bay Company — giving it monopoly control over such a large area that for a long period of time it was the largest landowner in the world, comprising 15 percent of North American acreage. The Hudson’s Bay Company is the oldest continuously operated commercial corporation in North America.

When the British began encroaching further south, the French built Fort St. Frederic in 1734 on Lake Champlain. When the British began encroaching further south, the French built Fort St. Frederic in 1734 on Lake Champlain. In 1759, during the French and Indian War, British commander Jeffrey Amherst advanced with 11,000 soldiers, forcing the French to abandon Fort St. Frederic. The French moved 15 miles further south and built Fort Carillion at a strategic point where Lake George flows into Lake Champlain.

British commander Jeffrey Amherst captured Fort Carillion and renamed it Fort Ticonderoga. “Ticonderoga” is the Iroquois word meaning “where two waterways meet.” The capture of the Fort Ticonderoga allowed the British to begin crossing into French territory west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Mohawks sided with the British, and killed many of the French survivors.

Part of the former French territory was called “Ver Mont,” French for “Green Mountain.” British Colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York tried to lay claim to Vermont.

Massachusetts relinquished its claims, but New Hampshire issued land grants to proprietors, who subdivided it into lots. Some lots were set aside for a missionary organization of the Church of England by the name the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and some lots were for the first clergyman who would settle in each township.

In 1775, just three weeks after the Revolutionary War Battles of Lexington and Concord, Ethan Allen led 83 Green Mountain Boys of Vermont on a courageous expedition to capture Fort Ticonderoga. In the early morning of MAY 10, 1775, Ethan Allen, accompanied by Colonel Benedict Arnold, made a surprise assault on Fort Ticonderoga. The bewildered British captain asked in whose name such a request was being made. Ethan Allen reportedly shouted: “In the Name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” The British surrendered in what was one of America’s first victories of the Revolutionary War.

Three weeks after the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Harvard President Samuel Langdon told the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, May 31, 1775:

“If God be for us, who can be against us?

..May our land be purged from all its sins!

Then the Lord will be our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble, and we will have no reason to be afraid, though thousands of enemies set themselves against us.”

A little over seven months later, 25-year-old Colonel Henry Knox incredibly moved 59 cannons from Fort Ticonderoga over 200 miles across Vermont, New York and New Hampshire to Massachusetts. The cannons were put on a high hill overlooking Boston’s Harbor – Dorchester Heights. This forced British ships to evacuate Boston.

During the Revolution, Vermont not only fought the British but also New York, resulting in Vermont becoming its own independent nation for 14 years, similar to Texas. The people of VERMONT wrote in their original Constitution, 1777:

“Whereas, all government ought to … enable the individuals who compose it, to enjoy their natural rights, and the other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed upon man;

and whenever those great ends of government are not obtained, the people have a right, by common consent, to change it, and take such measures as to them may appear necessary to promote their safety and happiness …

And whereas … the King of Great Britain … continues to carry on, with unabated vengeance, a most cruel and unjust war against them; employing therein, not only the troops of Great Britain, but foreign mercenaries, savages and slaves,

for the avowed purpose of reducing them to a total and abject submission to the despotic domination of the British parliament, with many other acts of tyranny …

Therefore, it is absolutely necessary, for the welfare and safety of the inhabitants of this State, that it should be, henceforth, a free and independent State …

We the representatives of the freemen of Vermont … confessing the goodness of the Great Governor of the Universe, (who alone, knows to what degree of earthly happiness, mankind may attain, by perfecting the arts of government,)

in permitting the people of this State … to form for themselves, such just rules as they shall think best for governing their future society.”

VERMONT’s 1786 Constitution stated:

“That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments; therefore, the freedom of the press ought not be restrained.

That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State;

and, as standing armies, in the time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up …

And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz.

‘I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and Punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration, and own and profess the Protestant religion.’

VERMONT’s 1790 Constitution stated:

“All persons have a natural and unalienable right, to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of their own consciences and understandings, as in their opinion shall be regulated by the word of God…

No authority can, or ought to be vested in, or assumed by, any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner control the rights of conscience …

Nevertheless, every sect or denomination of Christians ought to observe the Sabbath or Lord’s Day, and keep up some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed Will of God.”

The United States Government accepted Vermont as the 14th State of the United States in 1791, being approved by President George Washington. Denominations grew in numbers, most notably Congregationalists, Episcopalians and Baptists, followed by Methodists, Presbyterians, Free Will Baptists and Quakers. In the early 1800’s, there were also Unitarians, Universalists, and unconventional sects, such as Millerites and Perfectionists.

Beginning in 1820 with the Second Great Awakening, revivalism swept Vermont and academies with religious affiliations were founded. The anti-slavery sentiment was strong in Vermont. In the 1840’s the Catholic Church increased with French Canadians and Irish immigrants. In the late 1800’s, Judaism, Welsh Presbyterianism, Swedish Lutheranism and Greek Orthodoxy made a presence in Vermont. In 2006, the Pew Religious Landscape Survey listed VERMONT as:

-11 percent Evangelical Protestant
-23 percent Mainline Protestant
-0.5 percent Black Protestant
-29 percent Catholic
<0.5 percent Orthodox
<0.5 percent Other Christian
1.0 percent Mormon
<0.5 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses
1.0 percent Jewish
<0.5 percent Muslim
1.0 percent Buddhist
<0.5 percent Hindu
<0.5 percent Other World Religions
7 percent Other Faiths
26 percent Unaffiliated
<0.5 percent No Answer

The State of Vermont put a statue of Ethan Allen in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. On January 9, 1872, Senator Henry Bowen Anthony gave a speech in the U.S. Capital’s Statuary Hall (Washington: F & J. Rives & Geo. A. Bailey, 1872):

“My colleague has well said that it was a happy idea to convert the old Hall of the House of Representatives into the Pantheon of America.

The idea originated with my distinguished friend who sits upon my right, (Senator Justin Smith Morrill of VERMONT,) then a leading member of the House …

It was indeed a happy idea to assemble in the Capitol the silent effigies of the men who have made the annals of the nation illustrious …

I anticipate … every State shall have sent her contribution … of heroes and patriots …

Vermont shall send us the stalwart form of that hero (Ethan Allen) who thundered at the gates of Ticonderoga ‘in the name of the Continental Congress and the Great Jehovah!”

Excerpt reprinted with permission from: The American Minute with Bill Federer, “How America was Almost New France? Jacques Cartier, Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga, Vermont, Ethan Allen” https://myemail.constantcontact.com/How-America-was-almost-NEW-FRANCE–Jacques-Cartier–Champlain–Fort-Ticonderoga–Vermont–Ethan-Allen.html?soid=1108762609255&aid=ct2wE5T0eKc

William J. Federer is a nationally known speaker and best-selling author of many books including “America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations” which has sold over a half-million copies. He is president of Amerisearch.net, a publishing company dedicated to researching America’s Christian heritage. Bill’s American Minute radio feature is broadcast daily across America and via Internet. His Faith in History television program airs on the TCT Network on stations across America and via DIRECTV. A former U.S. Congressional Candidate, Bill has appeared on CSPAN, FOXNews, MSNBC, ABC, FamilyNet, The Eric Metaxas Show, Starnes Country on FOX Nation, Coral Ridge Hour among many others; numerous television documentaries, and radio programs.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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Ratified in 1781, the Articles of Confederation had significant problems. The Congress was unicameral, and the national government did not have an independent executive or judiciary. The states were sovereign, and the national government did not have the power to tax or regulate commerce. It was essentially just a league of friendship.

Yet, the national government under the Articles did achieve some notable successes. The nation made peace with the British in 1783 and secured its independence. Moreover, the Confederation Congress established policies for the settlement of land in the West and principles for the integration of new states into the national Union, weak though it was.

Several states had claims to western lands from royal land grants as British colonies and relinquished those claims. As a result, the Confederation Congress was able to formalize the process by which territory could become states once enough Americans populated the area.

Congress passed the 1784 Ordinance written by congressman Thomas Jefferson. It would have made ten states out of the Northwest Territory, and each territory was eligible for statehood when its population reached 200,000. More importantly, it laid down important principles for the addition of new states to the Union. First, the new states would be admitted as equals to the original thirteen states. Second, the residents of the new states were also guaranteed republican self-government. Significantly, Jefferson proposed to ban slavery in all western territories, but it failed by a single vote.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 authorized the survey of the Northwest Territory and the land was to be sold at a dollar an acre to encourage settlement and raise revenue for the national government.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was passed by the Confederation Congress while the Constitutional Convention was meeting. It authorized three to five states in the territory and set up a specific path to statehood in which 5,000 settlers could elect an assembly and 60,000 residents could adopt a constitution and apply for statehood.

The principles of state equality in the national Union and the guarantee of republican governments were prominent again. The purpose was “for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions, are erected.”

In addition, the Northwest Ordinance protected the rights of the accused including the right to a trial by jury. Freedom of religion was protected, and education to promote civic virtue was key to republican government. “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Slavery was banned in the territory as the framers of this document tried to restrict it to the South and put it on the road to ultimate extinction. Primogeniture was banned and equality in the distribution of property instituted to prevent an aristocracy from arising on American soil. The Northwest Ordinance was strongly bent toward fundamental liberties, republican government, and national Union.

The Constitution restated these principles yet again in Article IV, section 3 when it asserted that new states may be admitted into the Union and that Congress “shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States. In section 4, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion.” The Constitution added the principle of federalism to the relationship of the national government to the states.

Rapid westward expansion over the next century built a continental republic rooted in a national Union of equal republican states. However, the expansion was marred by the expansion of slavery and contention about the constitutional authority of Congress to regulate territories as in the Dred Scott (1857) case.

In his Farewell Address, President George Washington expressed the importance of national Union:

That you should cherish a cordial, habitual and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned, and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our Country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

President Abraham Lincoln concurred with Washington that the national Union and the republican principle were core ideas of the American Creed: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Tony Williams is a Constituting America Fellow and a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute. He is the author of six books including the newly-published Hamilton: An American Biography.

 

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Guest Essayist: NorthCarolinaHistory.org

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Aside from the federal Constitution, North Carolina has had three state constitutions since separation from Great Britain. One in 1776, one in 1868, and one in 1971.

Although different, the North Carolina constitutions have similar passages, and it is evident how elements of the 1776 constitution were incorporated into the 1868 constitution and how many parts of the 1868 constitution were incorporated into the 1971 constitution. Each version has a Declaration of Rights, albeit the number of declarations is different. All three, however, include a reminder that the study of history can affect current policy: “a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty.”

The 1971 State Constitution of North Carolina is the governing document of Tar Heels.

During the past several presidential elections, North Carolina has been described as a “purple” or battleground state. As more people move to The Old North State for work or retirement, pundits are often unsure if the state will lean to the left or to the right in an upcoming election.

North Carolina has been a battleground state and a determining factor in national debates many times. The 1787-89 debates over ratifying the federal Constitution offer an example of North Carolina’s longstanding role in our country’s political history.

During the debates, the state’s population was divided over the necessity of a U.S. Constitution and what became known as the Bill of Rights. North Carolina refused to ratify the constitution without the promise of a Bill of Rights, fearing that a federal government would become too powerful without it. The Bill of Rights would protect citizens’ individual liberties from government.

After the framers drafted the constitution at the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, the document was submitted to respective state ratification conventions for approval. In order for the new union to be formed, nine states had to ratify the Constitution. Nine states did so and, soon after, two more gave approval, for a total of 11. North Carolina was not one of these states. North Carolina became one of only two states to hold out on ratifying the constitution and joining the union.

In North Carolina, there was much debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists over whether or not the state should ratify the constitution. James Iredell, using the pseudonym Marcus, explained the Constitution’s meaning and pointed out the necessity of its adoption. Tar Heel Federalists, such as Iredell and William Davie, believed the “general government” needed more “energy,” such as more authority to tax and be able to have an army to defend the fledgling nation.

A strong Anti-Federalist sentiment, however, remained in North Carolina. Many from the Tar Heel state remembered the Parliamentary abuses before the Revolutionary War and questioned giving more authority to what would become the federal government. Anti-Federalists, Willie Jones and Judge Samuel Spencer, questioned handing any more power over from the individuals and the states to the general government.

Unlike other states, there were two state ratification conventions in North Carolina. One was in Hillsborough (1788) and the other in Fayetteville (1789). Many historians consider North Carolina’s ratification convention minutes to be the most revealing and balanced regarding the debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists.

In most states, Federalists paid for transcribers, and many times convention minutes give the impression of erudite Federalists engaging Anti-Federalist ignorance; the Hillsborough minutes instead reveal a sophisticated exchange among delegates with opposing beliefs.The Hillsborough Convention offered opportunities for leading Federalists and Anti-Federalists to put forth their arguments.

Iredell, a key federalist who had gained widespread respect during the American Revolution for challenging William Blackstone’s ideas regarding parliamentary sovereignty, had been declaring the necessity of the document. He showcased great oratorical skill and answered many Anti-federal questions concerning the nature of the Constitution and the threat it made regarding individual liberty. He championed the document as a protector of rights because it incorporated rights into the document by limiting the central government’s power.

Willie Jones led the Anti-Federalists; however, Samuel Spencer became their spokesman. Anti-Federalists distrusted the central government and believed states’ rights best protected individual liberties. After debating for 11 days, it became clear the Constitution would not be ratified in North Carolina until a Bill of Rights was added. By a vote of 184 to 83, North Carolina decided not to ratify or reject the Constitution and provided a list of rights and suggested amendments for Americans. Many call the Hillsborough Convention “the great refusal.”

In subsequent months, George Washington had been elected President of the United States and debate continued not only in North Carolina but also in other states regarding the necessity of the Bill of Rights. After being assured that a declaration of rights would be added to the Constitution, in November 1789 North Carolina ratified the Constitution by a vote of 195 to 77 at the Fayetteville Convention. The Old North State finally had joined the new union.

North Carolina’s prominent influence over the Bill of Rights and structure of our Constitution is highlighted in Howard Chandler Christy’s famous painting of the assembly at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The painting is on a 20 x 30 foot canvas. Washington is the commanding figure, standing on the platform, behind the desk. Benjamin Franklin is a prominent figure, too, although sitting down. Alexander Hamilton is depicted, leaning forward as Franklin lends an ear to the junior statesman’s opinion — something Hamilton was willing to share to whomever may listen. The South Carolina delegation, including Charles Pinckney and John Rutledge, are also prominent while standing at the back of Independence Hall, with outstretched arms, indicating they are ready to be the next to sign the document.

So, who is signing the document in that massive portrait that now hangs in the east stairway of the Capitol building? Well, it is North Carolinian Richard Dobbs Spaight. Standing behind him is another Tar Heel, William Blount. The last member of the North Carolina delegation to sign the Constitution is stepping up on the platform — Hugh Williamson.

Often overlooked in histories regarding the founding, the North Carolina delegation is front and center in Christy’s portrait, showing the Old North State’s vital role in the framework of our nation’s Constitution. North Carolina’s heated political debate and strong dissent contributed significantly to ensuring that Americans would have a Bill of Rights.

Information courtesy of www.northcarolinahistory.org, a project of the John Locke Foundation, and Anna Manning of the John Locke Foundation

Anna Manning serves as Marketing and Operations Specialist at the John Locke Foundation. She works with the Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Marketing and Communications to facilitate day to day operations and develop strategic marketing plans for social media and fundraising. Previously, she worked as a legal research intern for the John Locke Foundation. Prior to that, Anna interned in Governor McCrory’s Department of Administration with the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service. Anna has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from North Carolina State University and is currently working on a Master of Public Administration from UNC Chapel Hill. In her free time, Anna likes to travel, hunt, and hang out with her dog.

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Guest Essayist: Kyle A. Scott

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Last of the thirteen original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, Rhode Island was admitted to the Union May 29, 1790. The Rhode Island State Constitution in current use was adopted in 1986.

Rhode Island is known to school children outside of the Ocean State only for its size. One should not be deceived by its diminutive size and think it inconsequential in the nation’s history. Space does not permit a complete history of the state, but an overview of its involvement during the ratification of the U.S. Constitution is enough to justify it as being a power player in our nation’s politics.

Around 1781 Rhode Island began carrying the moniker of “Rogue Island” for its opposition to commonly accepted measures in the Second Continental Congress. Under the Articles of Confederation unanimity of the former colonies was required for the Confederation to take action. Rhode Island was known for casting the lone dissenting vote in many circumstances that prevented action from being taken.

Although, as the first colony to renounce allegiance to King George III on May 4, 1776—two months before the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress—the other former colonies should not have been surprised that a state willing to lead the way in throwing off the yoke of its colonial oppressors would be willing to go against popular sentiment during and after the fight for independence.

The rebellious streak was put on full display as it once again lived up to its moniker as Rogue Island when it was the only state to boycott the Philadelphia Convention in the summer of 1787. The product of that convention was the U.S. Constitution that still governs us today. Rhode Island was so opposed to overturning the Articles of Confederation, or any move that may threaten state sovereignty, that it simply refused to take part. However, Rhode Island had—at least somewhat—overvalued its importance to the process.

Article VII of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that only 9 out of 13 states were required for ratification. On June 21, 1788 New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify thus putting the new constitution into effect. However, three of the largest and most powerful states—Virginia, New York and North Carolina—had not yet ratified which meant the nation was still not solidified. But with Virginia ratifying on June 25 and New York on July 26 of 1788, the first Congress convened on March 4, 1789 nearly seven months before North Carolina ratified and more than a year before tiny Rhode Island would be the final state to ratify. Once a Bill of Rights was proposed it would not be long before North Carolina would agree to enter the Union as its primary opposition was based on a lack of clearly defined rights in the Constitution. Rhode Island, on the other hand, had a broad base of opposition.

Rhode Island was not motivated by a single group or ideology. It wanted guarantees that it would have control over its own monetary policy. It had pursued inflationary policy during and after the war that entailed printing money to pay off its war debts. It feared that under a national structure its currency would be devalued and the state would be saddled with excessive war debts thus hobbling its economic and social well-being.

The fear of losing control over its monetary policy was consistent with its general concern for the growth of national power. Furthermore, the large Quaker population was appalled by the allowance of the importation of slaves within the new Constitution, even if it was for a limited time.

Eventually, however, the commercial interests of the state won out when the Senate passed a bill prohibiting trade between the member states of the Union and Rhode Island. The mercantilists in Providence and Newport were able to sustain a winning coalition in May of 1790 to ratify the constitution by a narrow margin of 34-32. This was its twelfth attempt at ratification with the first attempt losing soundly by a vote of 10-1.

By the time Rhode Island had ratified, the Bill of Rights had already been voted out of Congress and sent to the states for ratification with nine states ratifying before Rhode Island was seated in the House of Representatives. Therefore, Rhode Island’s lists of eighteen human rights and twenty-one suggested amendments cannot be said to have had a profound effect over our understanding of the original Bill of Rights even though it was not until the eleventh state, Virginia, on December 15, 1791, ratified that the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution.

What the history of Rhode Island reminds us is that the states that formed the Union understood themselves to be acting on behalf of their citizens and the state government. It was thirteen individual states who formed the Union and not the people of those states. The Union did not transform the people into a single-collective, but rather the people were citizens of their states and the states acted on behalf of their citizens at the national forum. This may seem radical in light of how most people view themselves today, but at the time they would have thought our modern construction as radical and a severe departure from the Spirit of 1776 that rebelled against a distant, centralized governing body that limited self-rule. The Spirit of 1776 also saw the former colonies declaring themselves independent individually rather than as a collective. The actions of the colonies preceded the collective Declaration of Independence. A righteous act of independence had begun with Rhode Island and the nation solidified only when it became the last of the original thirteen to join the union.

Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA serves on the Board of Trustees for the Lone Star College System and teaches political science at the University of Houston and is an affiliated scholar with the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Health Policy and Medical Ethics. Kyle has authored over 70 op-eds, dozens of academic articles and five books, the most recent of which is The Limits of Politics: Making the Case for Literature in Political Analysis. He can be reached at kyle.a.scott@hotmail.com or on Twitter: @kanthonyscott 

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New York – July 26, 1788

Eleventh of the thirteen original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, New York was admitted to the Union July 26, 1788, one month and a day after Virginia became the 10th state and is known as “The Empire State” (apparently based on its wealth and resources).  The current New York State Constitution was adopted in 1894, but its first was adopted on April 20, 1777.

Constitutional Convention

New York sent only three delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia- Alexander Hamilton, John Lansing, Jr., and Robert Yates.  Only Hamilton signed the Constitution in September 1787.  Like Virginia, New York was a large, well populated, wealth state, and was important to the future of the nation.  At the time, New York was the fifth largest state by population but already an immensely important commercial participant.  After extended debate, New York ratified by a slim three vote margin, 30-27, becoming the 11th state admitted to the Union.  Upon ratification, New York sent a long, detailed ratification message, with a declaration of rights and suggested changes and modifications to the Constitution, but with approval based on an understanding “that the amendments which shall have been proposed to the said Constitution will receive an early and mature consideration.”   At the New York Convention, the Anti-Federalists were led by Governor George Clinton, and the Federalists by Hamilton.  Anti-Federalists wanted a Bill of Rights and wanted states to prevail over federal encroachments feared by the new Constitution.  When the New York Convention convened, Anti-Federalists had an overwhelming majority.

The New York Convention convened in mid-June 1788, and began debating, with a close eye on developments in Virginia.  If Virginia had rejected the U.S. Constitution, New York might have done the same.  Hamilton asked Madison to send message to New York informing the Empire State of the vote in Virginia. That dispatch arrived in Poughkeepsie, New York on July 2, 1788  That letter turned the two-thirds Anti-Federalist convention into a narrow margin of ratification, with the request and recommendation that a number of amendments be made to the Constitution.  New York made such amendment recommendations similar to those of Virginia.  In an unusual move, the New York Convention sent a circular letter to the states that called for a  second general convention to consider such amendments.

John Jay, who wrote a handful of The Federalist Papers, but would have written more except for his illness, was influential at the New York Convention. While he did not attend the Constitutional Convention, Jay would become an important national leader of the infant nation, appointed by President George Washington in 1789 as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.  He would not remain in that position long, returning to New York to become Governor.  Jay also helped to negotiate peace with England and, in 1794, was appointed special envoy to seek peace with Great Britain.  Jay’s Treaty, as it became known, brought temporary peace.

The New York Constitution

Immediately following the Declaration of Independence, a Convention assembled in White Plains, New York on July 10, 1776.  Due to the Revolutionary War and George Washington and the Continental Army’s crushing defeats in New York and New Jersey, the convention adjourned and reconvened over the next nine months, culminating in its adoption on April 20, 1777. The primary drafters of this original New York Constitution were John Jay, Robert Livingston , and Gouverneur Morris.   The new constitution had a bicameral legislature and a strong executive branch.

In New York, slavery was permitted and legal until 1827.  The New York Constitution has had several constitutional conventions, with the current New York Constitution having been ratified at the New York state election in 1894 in three parts.  While nine Constitutional Conventions have been held in New York State, the state has had only four de novo constitutions- 1777, 1821, 1846, and 1894.

Conclusion

Like the 10th state, Virginia, while New York’s ratification was not required under the new Constitution for there to be a United States, had the vote gone the other way, the United States may have been for naught before they began.  The Empire State showed its wealth of wisdom in ratifying the United States and becoming the 11th state in a fledgling nation.  Had New York insisted on its voluminous amendments to the draft U.S. Constitution or that a Bill of Rights be passed with any ratification, and four votes had gone the other way, we might well have never moved to fifty states. Thankfully, we will never know.  But New York was extremely influential in the Bill of Rights being considered, including the powerful 10th Amendment, which provides: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  With the 9th Amendment, the intent was to limit the powers of the federal government.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. His book, “The Chief Justices,” (April 2019, Twelve Tables Press), is available now. He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

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Connecticut is called the “Constitution State”, largely because of the Fundamental Orders, which were written by the Connecticut Colony Council in 1639.  Some have argued that this is the first constitution (a few historians say in the entire world) that empowers the citizens of a state to govern themselves.  Where other American colonies in the 1600s and early 1700s were largely governed by representatives from Great Britain, citizens of Connecticut practiced a form of self-government.  The Fundamental Orders also outlined individual rights that were given to all Connecticut citizens.

Other historians maintain that the purpose of the Fundamental Orders was merely to improve on models of government that had been developed in other colonies, including Massachusetts.  The Fundamental Orders limited the power of the Governor and statewide magistrates, and somewhat expanded the right of males to vote.  These historians argue that the Fundamental Orders are very different from an actual governing document.

King Charles II issued an official charter to Connecticut in 1662.  This charter did not have a major impact on political actions in Connecticut.  Charles’s successor, James II, wanted to control all of New England and in 1687 sent representatives to Connecticut to gain more political influence over the colony.  The King’s representatives demanded that government officials return the charter issued by Charles II.  According to rumor, the charter was hidden in an oak tree so that it could not be retrieved.

Government in Connecticut was relatively stable from the seventeenth through the early nineteenth century.  Governors and other leaders came from the same set of elite families called the “Standing Order.”  Governors were re-elected, oftentimes more than once.  In addition, the Congregational Church was the “official” church of Connecticut. Any new town had to have a Congregational church and a minister; Connecticut citizens also had to pay taxes to support the operations of the Congregational Church.  A General Assembly existed, but the Standing Order held the real social and political power in Connecticut.  In the first years of the new nation, almost all members of the Standing Order were members of the Federalist Party.

In the first years of the nineteenth century, a level of political and social discontent developed in Connecticut.  Non-Congregationalists were increasingly upset by the “official” position of the Congregational Church in Connecticut.  Farmers were being pressured by high taxes and several years of poor harvests.  The Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson began to gain popularity in the state; by 1807, roughly 1/3 of the members of the lower house of the General Assembly were Republicans.  Federalists opposed the War of 1812 (at the Hartford Convention of 1812-1813, New England Federalists came together to discuss their opposition to the war and to discuss appropriate measures to oppose the war; Federalists were accused of being traitors as the war became more popular after Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans).

A new political party developed in Connecticut called the Toleration Party. The major goals of the party were to unite all of those opposed to the status quo political, religious and social structure in Connecticut and especially to reduce the importance of the Congregational Church in the state.  In 1816, the Toleration Party won control of the lower house of the general assembly and in 1817 a member of the party, Oliver Wolcott, son of a former Standing Order governor, was elected to the same position.  Both the assembly and Governor Wolcott called for a constitutional convention which took place in 1818.

The new Connecticut constitution, eventually ratified by Connecticut citizens by a narrow margin, outlined in detail the rights that all Connecticut citizens should have.  The constitution created a system of almost universal white male suffrage.  It created a system of three branches of government with an independent judiciary (previously decisions of Connecticut’s Supreme Court could be appealed to the General Assembly).  Most importantly, the Congregational church ceased to be the official “state” church of Connecticut. All citizens of the state were given the right to practice the religion of the their choice, and no more tax dollars would go to support the Congregational Church.  According to Connecticut State Historian Walter Woodward, the real victors of the constitutional changes were the Connecticut citizens tired of the lock on political power held by the Standing Order.

Many of the provisions of the 1818 Constitution lasted through the 20st century.  However, one issue that gained attention was representation in the lower house of the Connecticut assembly.  Each Connecticut town or city had equal representative in this body. Connecticut’s major cities had the same number of representatives as the smallest towns in the state.  A constitutional convention was held in 1902 to reapportion representation in the General Assembly; the voters of the state rejected the proposal on reapportionment made by that body.

The same issue became more acute in the mid-1960s when federal courts ruled that representation in the lower house of the Connecticut General Assembly (and in other states as well) violated “one man one vote” decisions handed down by the United States Supreme Court.  Federal courts mandated that Connecticut was going have to reapportion its system of representation.  A constitutional convention was convened in 1965, with 42 Republican and 42 Democratic delegates.

The constitutional convention reapportioned membership in both the Connecticut Senate and House of Representatives. The previous system giving each town and city equal representation was completely abandoned.  The new constitution gave Connecticut voters the opportunity to call for a constitutional convention every twenty years. Mandatory party-lever voting was also stopped.  Connecticut voters approved the 1965 constitutional changes by a large margin.

Connecticut has been able to avoid the violent upheavals that have accompanied political changes in other states and regions. Major conferences were held and articles were written in Connecticut last year on the reasons for and results of the Constitution of 1818.  Connecticut is often called the “Land of Steady Habits,” and the system of local control established by the Fundamental Orders of 1639 as still a fundamental feature of the belief-system in Connecticut today.

Stephen Armstrong serves as the Connecticut Board of Education’s Social Studies Consultant and an adjunct instructor in the history department at Central Connecticut State University. Prior service includes that of social studies department supervisor in the West Hartford, Connecticut public schools; past president of the National Council for the Social Studies; and past president of the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies, the Connecticut Committee for the Promotion of History, and the New England History Teachers Association. A resident of  lives in South Windsor, Connecticut, Armstrong has presented workshops on the use of popular music in the social studies classroom and led numerous travel trips for teachers and students. He has presented workshops at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Bethel Woods Museum for the Arts located on the site of the original Woodstock Music Festival.   

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On May 15, 1776, the fifth Virginia Convention told its delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to “be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the crown or parliament of Great Britain.”

On the same day, the Congress adopted recommended to the assemblies and popular conventions in the colonies to “adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular and America in general.”

John Adams called this measure “independence itself.” Adams added a radical preamble for self-government that “every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted under the authority of the people of the colonies.”

The Virginia Convention followed Congress’ exhortation to adopt a new constitution and appointed a committee to draft it, and a Declaration of Rights. The constitution was the framework of government. The declaration was, in the words of Edmund Randolph, “In all the revolutions of time, of human opinion, and of government, a perpetual standard…around which the people might rally and by a notorious record be forever admonished to be watchful, firm, and virtuous.”

The convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights on June 13. George Mason was its primary draftsman. He began with a stunning assertion of natural rights.

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which…they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

The declaration was deeply influenced by the thinking of John Locke. It stated that “all power was vested in” the sovereign people, and the representative government was established to protect their rights. When it became destructive of these ends, the majority had the “indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible” right to alter or abolish it. Its influence on the Declaration of Independence was unmistakable.

The declaration included several core principles fundamental to the American experiment in liberty: free elections, separation of powers, trial by jury, rights of the accused. The freedom of the press was called “one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.” Finally, the declaration protected freedom of conscience as a natural right. “All men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience,” it asserted.

In Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson was busy with the work of drafting the Declaration of Independence and regretted not being part of the Virginia Convention. He drafted a constitution for the convention, but submitted it too late for it to be considered by the delegates.

On June 29, the convention adopted a constitution guided by revolutionary principles. The different branches of government were separated and consisted of a bicameral General Assembly, an executive, and judiciary. The House of Delegates was the most representative of the people and were elected annually. The two houses of the legislature voted for the governor and curtailed the power of the executive who was elected annually and could not serve more than three terms consecutively. The principles of 1776 and great suspicion of executive power because of the experience under the king and his royal governors underpinned the weakening of executive power.

The Virginia Constitution was one of the first modern constitutions and represented the republican and revolutionary principles of 1776. The state constitutions created republican governments and helped shape the experiences and principles that led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Tony Williams is a Constituting America Fellow and a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute. He is the author of six books including the newly-published Hamilton: An American Biography.

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On June 25, 1788, “Old Dominion” as Virginia is known, became the tenth of the thirteen original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, admitting it to the Union June 25, 1788. The Virginia State Constitution in current use was adopted in 1971, with the original Virginia Constitution adopted in 1776.  Despite the U.S. Constitution requiring that only 9 of the 13 colonies ratify it for it to become effective, given the importance of Virginia to the new nation, had it voted down the U.S. Constitution, the future of the United States might well be in doubt.

The nickname, “Old Dominion,” likely derives from Virginia being the first of the overseas dominions of the kings and queens of England.  Virginia also is known as the Mother of Presidents and the Mother of States.  Eight Virginia natives have held the presidency, including four of the first five- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.

On the third day of the fall session of the Virginia legislature in 1787, the Virginia House approved a convention to consider ratification of the proposed United States Constitution.  The Virginia legislature strongly debated whether to adopt or reject the document as it was submitted, or to condition any approval upon certain amendments and revisions.  John Marshall proposed a resolution that won the day, “that a Convention should be called and that the new Constitution should be laid before them for their free and ample discussion.”  The Senate followed slowly, and on January 8, 1788, a law passed calling for a state convention.

The Virginia Convention of 1788 commenced on June 2, 1788.  The delegates arriving in Richmond believed that the fate of the Constitution hung in the balance with how Virginia decided.  Even so, upon arrival at the Convention, many members had not seen the Constitution until they arrived at the Virginia Convention.  While the Virginia convention ensued, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution and it became effective.  At the time of the Virginia Convention, a healthy majority of Virginians were opposed to the concept of a strong national government contemplated by the Constitution and the Virginia Convention began with that view prevalent amongst the delegates.  The Nation was watching closely how the important Commonwealth of Virginia decided, for “she also was the most important State in the Confederation in population and, at that time, in resources.”

Delegates included a veritable “who’s who” of delegates, including John Marshall, along with Governor Edmund Randolph, James Madison, George Mason, James Monroe, and Patrick Henry. On June 24, 1788, Delegate George Wythe moved the Virginia Convention to ratify the Constitution.  Henry arose for a final great speech of his life, arguing against ratification without amendments. The proposal to add amendments, many of which became the Bill of Rights, failed to be a condition of ratification, but would prove to be valuable guidance when Congress met in 1789. After further debate, on June 26, 1788, the Virginia Convention voted to ratify the Constitution by the slim margin of 89-79.  This slim margin would not have been possible had eight members of the Convention not voted against their constituents’ directives, and two ignored the instructions given them.  Virginia effectively would be the only convention where both sides of the debate were fully vetted and discussed.  The Virginia delegation argued both broad principles and minor details of the document approved in Philadelphia.

With that, the new nation could breathe easy, as its largest colony and most influential was on board.  As noted, it would see four of the first five presidents hail from Virginia.

The Virginia Constitution

Before the Declaration of Independence was made, Virginia adopted its state Constitution on June 29, 1776, and its document would be of major impact when the new nation turned to creating a Constitution of its own.  Mason, who had a large role in the drafting of the Constitution in Philadelphia, and who was one of three delegates still in Philadelphia in September who did not sign the Constitution, was one of the main drafters of  the 1776 Virginia Constitution.  The other was Madison, who is considered by many to be the Father of the Constitution for his work in connection with the Annapolis Convention, the Bill of Rights and the Constitutional Convention.  Madison would take his learnings from Virginia a decade later when he helped design the United States Constitution.

The 1776 Virginia Constitution included a bicameral legislature, the governor was the executive and there was a judicial branch.  In addition, the Virginia Constitution had an accompanying Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Mason mostly wrote, that guaranteed certain human rights and freedoms that would be the model for the Bill of Rights introduced at the first Congress of the new nation under the ratified United States Constitution.

Conclusion

While the ratification of Virginia was not required under the new Constitution for there to be a United States, had the vote gone the other way, the United States may have been for naught before they began.  Old Dominion showed its leadership and ratified the U.S. Constitution and the rest is history.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. His book, “The Chief Justices,” (April 2019, Twelve Tables Press), is available now. He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Bill O’Brien

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New Hampshire has a glorious history of national firsts.

While the Sons of Liberty gathered around a tree in Boston before the Revolution, the glory of New Hampshire was that in 1772 we had the Pine Tree Riot.  Three years before Paul Revere’s midnight ride, the Pine Tree Rioters in Hillsborough County rebelled against paying the British King’s taxes on trees.  Then the rioters’ neighbors added insult to royal injury by refusing the governor’s order to come out as a militia and quell the rioters who had taken to tarring and feathering the king’s agents.

In a similar fashion, before the Minutemen fought the British redcoats in Concord and Lexington in the Spring of 1775, the King’s army was subject to ongoing harassment and attack in New Hampshire.  As early as 1757, the early day contributors to New Hampshire’s continuing libertarian tendencies opposed British troop recruitment in the town of Brentwood.

This tension grew over the years before the Revolution and finally led to what should be recognized as the first armed conflict of the Revolution.  On December 14, 1774 the indefatigable Paul Revere brought alarming news north from Boston that the King’s government was sending troops and was going to forbid the import of arms into America.  In response, that afternoon 350 New Hampshire men attacked the royal fort of William and Mary in New Castle on the coast near Portsmouth.

Under fire from the troops defending the fort, these New Hampshire patriots captured the fort and its garrison, took down the British colors, seized most of the gunpowder and departed.  When the royal governor the next day regarrisoned the fort and ordered the return of the gunpowder, the insurgents went back to Fort William and Mary and took the remaining gunpowder, plus 16 cannons and all the muskets.

But it was not only in pre-revolutionary rebellious behavior that New Hampshire set a national example.  It has also come to lead the nation in many important aspects of state governance.

In 1916, clean-government New Hampshire set an example for the other states by establishing a presidential delegate selection primary over backroom choice of national convention delegates. This delegate selection primary turned into a direct presidential candidate selection primary in 1952, a move that has caused many states to now have their own primaries and voter caucuses.  New Hampshire’s reform has led other states to replace their own backroom deals for choosing presidents in favor of a transparent process relying on voter selection.

While this electoral reform has extended across our country, New Hampshire’s primary remains an important quadrennial feature of presidential politics.  In every presidential election cycle, for now almost 70 years, New Hampshire has ensured that its initial presidential primary remains the First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary.  As a result, while some states might be known for making such things as ethanol for our cars and bacon for our breakfasts, “New Hampshire makes presidents.”[1]

New Hampshire has many other firsts of national distinction and many of those include what it has brought to the development of constitutional law in America.  It could not be other for the first of the American colonies to declare its independence and have the first state constitution.

On January 5, 1776, the then provincial Congress of New Hampshire recognized that with the royal governor and British troops having been chased out of the state, the time had come to adopt a state constitution derived not from royal prerogative or British parliamentary grant, but rather from the free suffrage of the people.[2]  In doing so and by means of that very first constitution, New Hampshire became the first of the 13 original colonies to declare its independence from the Great Britain – six months before the Declaration of Independence was signed.[3]

Perhaps setting the stage for constitutional brevity in the later federal, and some of other state constitutions, this first-in-the-nation state constitution was only two and a half pages long.  Unlike most other state constitutions, however, and perhaps reflecting its origins in a legislative body comprised mostly of the members of a provincial assembly that the royal governor had attempted to discharge for countenancing an attack on the King’s fort and other wrongs, the 1776 New Hampshire constitution established the legislature as the superior branch of government.

Under this “First-in-the-Nation” state constitution a chief executive officer was referenced, but that office titled as “President” was merely the leader of a council chosen by a House of Representatives.  This council, and therefore the President, was not only chosen by the House of Representatives, but together the House and council formed the Legislature.

This 1776 enactment of what came to be a New Hampshire wartime constitution further provided that all other government officials were to be appointed directly or indirectly by the Legislature, except for certain county officials.  Otherwise only the members of the House of Representatives were directly elected by the people.

Thus, under the 1776 New Hampshire constitution, the office of the chief executive was not fundamentally separate from the Legislature.  Most all elements of the state government derived their existence and office holders at the sufferance of the Legislature.  In the first state constitution in America there were no co-equal branches of government.  There was no balance of power.  The Legislature was supreme.[4]

Based on this 1776 grant of state constitutional authority in New Hampshire, Meshech Weare was chosen as the first President of New Hampshire and he served in this capacity until the end of the Revolution.  Further reflecting the judiciary’s junior role in the government,[5] Weare was also appointed to head the state’s highest court, the “Superior Court of Judicature.”  He served there from 1776 to 1782. During that time, the executive branch and the judicial branch in New Hampshire had the same person as their chief officers. Nonetheless, the real power existed in the Legislature.[6]

Following our War of Independence, New Hampshire took up the task of replacing the wartime constitution.  The resulting New Hampshire state constitution was adopted in 1784, five years before the federal constitution.  As amended, this constitution continues as the basic law for the State of New Hampshire today and is second only to Massachusetts in being the state constitution with the longest tenure in the country.

The 1784 New Hampshire Constitution continued to name the Chief Executive as President.[7]  It did, however, make that position a separately elected office.  In doing so, it established the executive administration as a separate branch of state government along with a legislature consisting of a Senate and House of Representatives.

The 1776 council that had been the senate was not lost now that there was a separately designated senate.  Rather, the 1784 Constitution shifted the council from being part of the Legislature to becoming an independent body within the executive branch.  There it was placed to serve as a check on the Chief Executive.  In fact, each of the Chief Executive and the elected, five-member Council could veto the acts of the other.

Thus, the drafters of the 1784 Constitution overcame their pre-revolution distrust of governors, who had been royally appointed, and recognized the necessity of having a chief executive.  Having done so, however, they followed what was the lead of the 1780 Massachusetts constitution and put in place a substantial check on the chief executives’ authority.  The check they developed was so substantial, in fact, that it could deadlock the chief executive.

Similar to this capability of the Chief Executive and the Council to stalemate each other, when establishing the Legislature (the “General Court”), the 1784 Constitution included the same type of checks and balance for the Senate and the House of Representatives each of which is to have a strong veto right over the other.[8] Moreover, the chief executive was given an overridable veto over the Senate and House acting together.  Thus, in a choice that continues to underlie our federal and state constitutions today, the drafters of New Hampshire’s constitution favored liberty over efficiency.

Even as the New Hampshire constitution continues through the third century following its adoption, its essential checks and balances have not been changed.  As a device to avoid executive or legislative tyranny, this approach certainly served as an example for those in other states, and the federal government, who later brought the concept of “checks and balances” to their basic laws.

One noteworthy additional provision in the New Hampshire Constitution is an article that expressly recognizes the right of revolution.[9]  Though, of course, recognition of the existence of a right of revolution is fundamental to the American national experience, [10] although a provision of that nature did not find its way by language or concept into the later federal constitution or, for that matter, many other state constitutions.

Nonetheless, as the New Hampshire drafters of a state constitution adopted shortly after the Revolution understood, the existence of an inalienable right of revolution underlay both the New Hampshire and American declarations of independence.  They no doubt knew that their recognition of its existence was based on ancient examples existing only in faded recollections,[11] and therefore it was important to expressly ensure that as the Revolution faded into distant memory, government did not forget the lessons so painfully taught to the British oppressors.

So, forcefully recognizing this right in the New Hampshire constitution’s bill of rights was almost unique in American constitutional law.  It is one thing, however, to recognize this right as a justification when being a perpetrator of a rebellion and quite another when drafting a fundamental law that is intended to have permanence.  Yet, the drafters of the New Hampshire 1784 Constitution, enacted mere months after the adoption in Congress of the Treaty of Paris, that brought the suffering and horrors of the Revolution to an official end, had the courage to do so.  They wanted it preserved in the State’s memory, that in the face of arbitrary governmental power and oppression, revolution is not just an option, but should be repeated.

Perhaps not with such forceful language, this courage to express the right to further conflict and rebellion was demonstrated not in many, but certainly in some subsequent state constitutional enactments.  Included among those were the constitutions of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina and Texas.  Indeed, the North Carolina constitutional language tracked much of what is found on this concept in New Hampshire’s constitution.[12]  This right of revolution has additionally found expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[13]  While limited in expression elsewhere, the right of revolution is a necessary, inescapable and, in New Hampshire, enshrined human right.

This first constitutional expression in New Hampshire of the logic that all who are oppressed have the right to revolt to regain their liberty has at least continued, if not promoted, the concept of universal freedom.  In this, perhaps as much as its protection of the retail politics enabled by its presidential primary and continuing to point the way to checks and balances of governmental power, New Hampshire has been at the forefront of the states.

New Hampshire has truly been First-in-the-Nation in more ways than one.

Bill O’Brien served for five terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives where he was Speaker from 2010 to 2012.

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[1] McCaughey, Betsey, Democracy at Its Best (Washington Times, April 24, 2015) (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/24/betsy-mccaughey-democracy-its-best/; accessed March 17, 2019).

[2] See January 5, 1776 NH Constitution at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/nh09.asp (accessed March 15, 2019) (“WE, the members of the Congress of New Hampshire, chosen and appointed by the free suffrages of the people of said colony, and authorized and empowered by them to meet together, and use such means and pursue such measures as we should judge best for the public good; and in particular to establish some form of government, . . .”);  See also New Hampshire General Court, Documents and Records Relating to the State of New Hampshire. pages 36 and 37  (E. A. Jenks, state printer 1874) (accessed March 15, 2019 at https://www.library.unh.edu/find/digital/object/propapers%3A0008).

[3] And months before the first independence declarations claimed for other of the American colonies, in particular North Carolina and Rhode Island.

[4] Thereafter, other states continued with the concept of legislative supremacy over other branches.  See, e.g., 2006 article on North Carolina constitutional history by John V. Orth, accessed on March 17, 2019 at https://www.ncpedia.org/government/nc-constitution-history.

[5] This subservient role of the judiciary continued on in the 1784 constitution until amendments as late as 1966 were intended to make the Judiciary in some respects a co-equal branch of government.  N.H. CONST. pt. 2, art. 72-a (November 16, 1966).

[6] The primacy of the Legislature was often graphically illustrated in the 19th century when the Legislature, having become dissatisfied with the then current state of Judiciary, dissolved the then existing courts and reconstituted others to serve as the judiciary.  See Wines, Michael, Judges Say Throw Out the Map.  Lawmakers Say Throw Out the Judges (NY Times, February 14, 2018) (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/14/us/pennsylvania-gerrymandering-courts.html; accessed March 17, 2019) (“As far back as the 1800s, New Hampshire’s legislature disbanded the state’s Supreme Court five times, said Bill Raftery, a senior analyst at the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va. . . .”).

[7] The title later became “Governor.” N.H. CONST. pt. 2, art. 41(as amended, 1792).

[8]The Supreme Legislative Power, within this State, shall be vested in the Senate and House of Representatives, each of which shall have a negative on the other.” N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 2 (June 2, 1784).

[9] “… [W]henever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.” N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 10 (June 2, 1784).

[10]We hold these truths to be self-evident… –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,”  Quoting, The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).

[11] See, e.g., Declaration of Arbroath (April 6, 1320) (“for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself”), quoting in part Sallust, The Conspiracy of Catiline (circa 50-35 BC).

[12] See generally, Wikipedia, Right of Revolution, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_of_revolution#cite_note-37.

[13]Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by rule of law.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN General Assembly resolution 217 A (December 10, 1948) (http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html; accessed March 17, 2019).

Guest Essayist: Charles F. Vaughan

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The eighth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, South Carolina, was admitted to the United States May 23, 1788. It was also the first state to secede from the Union. The current South Carolina State Constitution was adopted in 1896.

Albemarle Point, located on the Ashley River, was established in 1670 as the first permanent English settlement in South Carolina. It was under the supervision of the eight lords proprietors who had been granted “Carolana” by King Charles II. Ten years later, settlers moved across the river to the present site of Charleston.

From its very beginning, South Carolina had a constitution in the form of the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. Although never fully ratified by the colonists and eventually jettisoned in 1698, it did shape political power and land distribution in the colony. Co-authored by John Locke and Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, it was notable for its religious tolerance, providing right to worship to religious dissenters of Christianity, Jews, and Native Americans. It offered sanctuary for groups seeking refuge from religious persecution in Europe. The constitution promoted slavery and an aristocracy which could wield absolute power over their enslaved Africans. This set the stage for the next 200 years.

South Carolina became a Royal Colony in 1729. The colony experienced very minimal royal control, apart from the appointments of Royal Governors. A period of salutary neglect on the part of the British Crown enabled government to evolve in such a way that served the needs of the lowcountry elite. The House of Commons Assembly and Privy Council were modeled after the English Parliament.

Since the colonial period, South Carolina has had seven constitutions, dating from 1776, 1778, 1790, 1861, 1865, 1868, and 1895. The Constitution of 1776 became necessary after Governor Loyd Campbell fled the colony over tensions between the colonies and England. Approved by the Provincial Congress of South Carolina, the Constitution incorporated previous royal instructions but originated from the people of South Carolina. This plan of government was to last until the disputes with Great Britain could be settled. It established a bicameral legislative branch, the General Assembly, with members of the lower house elected by the people, and members of the upper house elected by the lower house. In place of a governor, there was a president, selected by both houses. The president had veto power and could only serve one term in office. The upper house also elected a vice president and a chief justice. The judicial branch remained unchanged from the colonial system.

There existed an unequal distribution of power in the new government, with the upper house dominated by lowcountry elite even though the majority of the white population resided in the upcountry. Representation in the lower house was shared a little more equally between the lowcountry and upcountry.

The Constitution of 1778 created strict property requirements for the franchise. White men had to possess a significant amount of property to vote, and had to own even more property to be allowed to run for political office. In fact, these property requirements were so high that 90 percent of all white adults were prevented from running for political office. The office of president became the governor, whose election remained purview of the General Assembly. The upper house, renamed the South Carolina Senate, was popularly elected. Representation in the legislature was reapportioned so that the upcountry had forty percent of the seats. In 1786 the General Assembly relocated the capital from Charleston to Columbia as a way to express increased statewide unity. The following year the General Assembly banned the importation of new slaves.

On May 23, 1788, South Carolina ratified the United States Constitution. This necessitated a new constitution. In June 1790, a convention of elected delegates from across the state unanimously ratified the Constitution of 1790, which served the state until 1861. Lowcountry elite continued its dominance of the legislature as seats were apportioned on the basis of wealth. The governor, elected by the General Assembly, had no veto power. Voting was limited to white males who had to meet strict property requirements. The General Assembly made all laws and elected all holders of major offices, including governor, presidential electors, U.S. senators, and many local officials. The General Assembly adhered to the notion of aristocratic stability- control by white males who owned land and slaves. This cohesion of political and economic thought would eventually lead many to support secession.

Sectional tensions in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s finally came to a head in November, 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln. On December 20, 1860, a special Secession Convention approved the Ordinance of Secession. The 1790 constitution was amended to note the withdrawal from the federal Union. The Constitution of 1861 continued the election of the governor by the General Assembly and did not change much from the 1790 constitution.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, South Carolina had to adopt a new constitution to be readmitted into the Union. The Constitution of 1865 preserved many values of the planter elite. It moved closer to a balance between the lowcountry and upcountry in the Senate. The House of Representatives was apportioned based on white population and taxed land value. Legislators continued to select U.S. senators and presidential electors. The governor was popularly elected to a four-year term and was given veto power. The civil rights of former enslaved African Americans were ill defined.  Passage of strict Black Codes designed to regulate former slaves and election to Congress of former Confederate heroes resulted in Congress ordering the creation of a new constitution.

Congressional Reconstruction led to the Constitutional Convention of 1868. Many whites refused to participate as African American men were allowed to vote for the first time. This constitution is the only one to be submitted directly to the voters for approval. Congress ratified it on April 16, 1868.

It was a revolutionary constitution for South Carolina. Representation in the House was based solely on population. The governor continued to be popularly elected. For the first time, it provided for public education open to all races, granted some rights to women, and replaced districts with counties. Property ownership as a qualification to run for public office was abolished. Race as a limit on male suffrage and Black Codes in the 1865 constitution were also abolished.

Following a series of economic downturns in the state, the Constitution of 1898 was adopted by convention and not submitted to the people in referendum. It instituted Jim Crow laws aimed at disenfranchising the state’s African American population while protecting  the state’s poor, illiterate whites. A poll tax was instituted, and men who paid property tax and were able to write and read the state constitution could vote. Local registrars determined who could vote. The poll tax was abolished in 1951 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 terminated unregulated local voter registration.

The General Assembly maintained its supremacy over the governor and local politics. To dilute the power of the governor, the executive department was split into many local boards and state agencies. The governor was limited to a two-year term with possibility of one reelection.

By the 1960s, the constitution had been amended over 300 times. Throughout the decade, a committee studied the 1895 constitution. In 1970 voters approved changes to five articles. Work continues to reform the constitution and state government. More recent changes have made the executive and judicial branches more independent from the legislative branch and local governments that are more responsive to the people than the General Assembly.

Dr. Charles F. Vaughan us a National Board Certified social studies teacher. A 24-year classroom veteran, Dr. Vaughan currently teaches World Geography and Teacher Cadet at AC Flora High School in Columbia, SC. He earned his Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Carolina. His dissertation, “Official social studies curriculum standards: An analysis of Southern political, cultural, and historical contexts” is a critical analysis of “official knowledge” contained within state social studies standards. 

Guest Essayist: Kyle A. Scott

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Thomas Jefferson, and all those who agree with and find inspiration in the Declaration of Independence, support secession. There is no denying that the Declaration was a statement of secession “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”. Thomas Jefferson stayed true to this point when writing in the Kentucky Resolution (1798) that “the several states who formed that instrument (the U.S. Constitution), being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction…” Secession is an inherent right in governing bodies and the states themselves ought to have sovereignty over the decision to secede.

The Declaration of Independence was a solidification of prior state action rather than a moment of instigation. Beginning in 1775 the former colonies began declaring themselves states rather than colonies and writing their own constitutions with New Hampshire becoming the first in January 1776 followed by Virginia, South Carolina, New Jersey. Rhode Island renounced its allegiance to Britain and revised its charter a full two months before the Declaration of Independence was adopted. These independent states joined together in an act of secession as they were seeking to dissolve the political bands that tied them to Great Britain. Each colony that fought against the crown was a secessionist regime. Secession is a central part of this nation’s founding sown at the time of its founding.

At the time of the nation’s founding the states considered themselves to be sovereign entities that could compact together to address common needs, and it could reverse that decision if the common governing body no longer fulfilled its duty. Sovereignty was not relinquished. This is not only documented, but procedurally it is reinforced in that each state needed to ratify the primary governing documents before those documents took effect within that state’s legal jurisdiction. For instance, the U.S. Constitution was drafted by a committee in Philadelphia, it was then sent to the states to ratify individually. And while the Constitution only required nine of the thirteen states to be put into effect, only those states that had ratified it would be part of the Union. Those who had not ratified could not take part in the new government. This is a continuation of the political practice started with the Articles of Confederation in which the Second Continental Congress drafted and approved the Articles but then sent them to each state for independent ratification. The same is true of the Declaration of Independence—no state was forced against its will to fight the British once a majority of states accepted the Declaration; rather, it required unanimous consent from each state in Congress.

Secessionist thought is often commingled with the U.S. Civil War, but one of the first moves toward secession after the formation of the United States was undertaken by the New England Federalist Party between 1814-1815 in reaction to the War of 1812 at what is known as the Hartford Convention. Lest we forget that Tennessee was formed through secession from North Carolina, Kentucky from Virginia, and Maine from Massachusetts. Secession is neither uniquely American with Sweden seceding from Norway, Belgium from the Dutch, and Eritrea from Ethiopia to name only a few. But for most Americans our understanding of secession is clouded by the war between the states and the subsequent Supreme Court decision of Texas v White (1869) that declared secession unconstitutional despite historical and normative claims to the contrary.

Almost without exception a discussion of secession introduces the issue of slavery. But that is a product of an undisciplined mind that cannot separate two mutually exclusive ideas rather than a fact of reality. Secession is about self-determination; it is the ultimate weapon against tyrannical government. As Jefferson writes, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…” A people unable to dissolve political bonds are a people who no longer have the ability to preserve the rights endowed to them by their Creator but have instead given all authority to some distant governing body. This would be antithetical to every precedent-setting document one could read at the time of the founding. To say that states gave up their right to secede when they ratified the Constitution is to not understand the founders as they understood themselves. A people committed to freedom and liberty would not so willingly give up the very thing that allowed them to be free in the first place.

Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA serves on the Board of Trustees for the Lone Star College System and teaches political science at the University of Houston and is an affiliated scholar with the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Health Policy and Medical Ethics. Kyle has authored over 70 op-eds, dozens of academic articles and five books, the most recent of which is The Limits of Politics: Making the Case for Literature in Political Analysis. He can be reached at kyle.a.scott@hotmail.com or on Twitter: @kanthonyscott 

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

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Maryland is the seventh state admitted to the United States, ratifying the U.S. Constitution April 28, 1788. The current Maryland State Constitution in use was adopted in 1867.

Maryland was the seventh state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, on April 28, 1788. Two months later the U.S. Constitution went into effect with New Hampshire’s ratification on June 21. A study of the “Old Line State” (we’ll see where that appellation comes from in a moment) provides a convenient entry point to address several different constitutional topics; but first a little history:

It is August 27, 1776; the British have mounted their anticipated invasion of Long Island, New York. British General William Howe commits 20,000 of his best troops to the fight, including 8,000 Hessians, against approximately 6,000 ill-equipped and ill-experienced Americans (20,000 to 6,000; hardly seems a fair fight). Howe splits his forces across three fronts and executes a daring nighttime flanking maneuver that utterly surprises the American forces. The Americans are soon routed from their defensive lines and forced to retreat onto fortified Brooklyn Heights. To buy time for the withdrawal, Washington orders General William Stirling, commanding two units of the 1st Delaware Regiment as well as four companies from the 1st Maryland Regiment, to hold his line on the Gowanus Road. The 1st Maryland Regiment (part of the “Maryland Line”) is under the temporary command of Major Mordecai Gist (the unit’s commander, Colonel William Smallwood, is attending court martial duty in the city). The British attack up the Gowanus Road consists of 2,000 troops under the command of General James Grant. The Marylanders, soon reduced to less than 400 men (The Immortal 400)[1] are ordered to hold the line near Vechte-Cortelyou house, a stone building commanding the strategic road and a bridge, the only escape route across the Gowanus Salt Marsh. Not only do Gist’s men hold off the British, they make six amazing counterattacks before being finally forced to scatter and make their own escape back to American lines. Only a handful of the Maryland men are successful. Watching from Brooklyn Heights, General Washington turns to General Israel Putnam and states: ‘Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose.” The Maryland 1st Infantry will go down in history as “The Old Line,” giving Maryland its claim as “The Old Line State.”[2] Historian, Thomas Field, writing his 1869 book “The Battle of Long Island,” called the stand of the Marylanders “an hour more precious to liberty than any other in history.”[3] As we will see, Maryland will go on to make other important contributions to the establishment of the American union.

In 1632, Lord George Calvert, a convert to Catholicism, was granted a charter by King Charles I to establish “The Province of Maryland.”[4] Actual settlement began two years later, first along the Chesapeake Bay and then proceeding slowly but inexorably westward. Calvert envisioned a colony where religious tolerance would prevail, especially towards his fellow Catholics. Accordingly, in 1649, the Maryland General Assembly passed an Act Concerning Religion which made it a crime to harass a fellow citizen of the colony over their religious preferences. Maryland would eventually gain the largest concentration of Catholics of any of the colonies, to include, in 1715, one John Porter, immigrant ancestor of the writer of this essay. Family legend holds that John was “asked” to leave England after composing and singing publicly a song not entirely complementary of the new reigning monarch: George I of Hanover, brought over from Germany the previous year to take the English throne.

With its moderate weather, 4,000 miles of shoreline and a fine port at Baltimore, Maryland grew to nearly 250,000 inhabitants by 1776.[5] Maryland’s current boundaries were solidified following the settlement of a long-running dispute with Pennsylvania and completion, in 1767, of the Mason-Dixon Line, a project to which two sons of the aforementioned immigrant John Porter allegedly contributed as the surveying team reached the westernmost parts of the state. It would not be until 1820, however, that the term “Mason-Dixon Line” came into common usage. The Missouri Compromise used the term to define the boundary between slave territory and free territory (remember this, we encounter it again).

While no major battles of the Revolution were fought within the state (that would change with the War of 1812 and the Civil War), Maryland was an active participant in the events leading up to the Revolution. In 1776, its delegates, Charles Carroll, Samuel Chase, Thomas Stone, William Paca, signed the Declaration of Independence (with Carroll being the only Catholic to sign). “Charles Carroll of Carrollton” had been an early proponent of independence from the mother country, writing often in the Maryland Gazette under the pseudonym “First Citizen,” and serving on various Committees of Correspondence. A devout man, in a November 4, 1800, letter to James McHenry (of Fort McHenry fame) Carroll wrote: “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” When he died in 1832, Carroll was the last surviving signer of the Declaration and acquired the distinction (dying at 95 years of age) of being the oldest lived Founding Father.

Like other states, Marylanders were bitterly divided as the Revolutionary War loomed; many Loyalists in the state refused to support the Revolution, and saw their lands and estates confiscated as a result.

Responding to a resolution of Congress of May 10, 1776, Maryland’s provincial congress recommended formation of a convention to form a new constitution to replace its royal charter. Fifty-three delegates assembled on August 14, and completed their work on November 8. While the new constitution kept most of the features of government intact, the state’s property qualification for suffrage was lowered from thirty to five British pounds, greatly expanding the electorate. Ironically, following the example set by Virginia earlier that year, on November 8, 1776, the convention put their new constitution into effect by voice vote, without bothering to submit the document to Maryland’s newly expanded electorate.

“Baltimore Town” served as the temporary capital of the confederated states from December 1776 to February 1777, while Philadelphia was occupied by the British. Towards the end of the war, from November 1783, to June 1784, Annapolis, briefly hosted the confederation government, and it was in the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis on December 23, 1783, that General George Washington famously resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. It was there also, on January 14, 1784, that the Treaty of Paris was ratified, officially ending the Revolutionary War.

Maryland was the last of the thirteen states to ratify the Articles of Confederation, on March 1, 1781, and then only when France threatened to withdraw its treaty-guaranteed protection of the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland had been insisting that the territory north of the Ohio River be ceded to the confederation government by the several states which maintained conflicting claims on it. Virginia’s government agreed to cede its claim to the land but demanded that the claims of Maryland’s land speculators be declared void. Maryland objected, but faced with France’s threat, they ratified the Articles. The event was celebrated across the colonies with fireworks, bonfires and the ringing of church bells.

In September 1786, Maryland played host to the “Annapolis Convention” which produced the famous call for a “Grand Convention,” to take place in Philadelphia the following May. On September 17, 1787, Daniel Carroll (a cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton), Daniel Jenifer and James McHenry (of Fort McHenry fame) would share the honor of signing the new constitution for their state.

On April 28, 1788, after a short, five day discussion, Maryland became the seventh state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, by a vote of 63–11.

According to the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17), the District of Columbia was to be formed from land donated by “particular States.” That turned out to be both Maryland and Virginia; and each state ceded the required land in 1790. But in 1846, with the capitol by now well established, but on only the north side of the Potomac River, Congress returned Virginia’s portion, leaving the District completely within Maryland’s former boundaries.

In August 1814, the state experienced, first-hand, a new war with Britain. In the Battle of Bladensburg,[6] which saw the first appearance on a U.S. battlefield of a sitting U.S. President (second-term-President James Madison). British troops easily pushed back a hastily formed composite force of militia and regular troops and continued their march on “Washington City.” The following month, the unsuccessful British siege of Fort McHenry provided the backdrop for the composition of our National Anthem by Maryland native Francis Scott Key.

Forty-five years later, Maryland pondered whether to join the growing list of seceding states south of the now famous Mason-Dixon Line. The state had effectively legalized slavery more than one hundred years before (in 1752) when it prohibited the manumission of slaves, and many citizens were eager to join the confederacy. An early vote of the legislature, which might have gone for secession, was stifled by President Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of martial law and his unconstitutional suspension of Habeas Corpus. When the Maryland legislature finally took up the matter, they voted 53-13 to remain in the Union. While many today claim that the (inaccurately named) Civil War[7] settled the idea of secession, the issue, as we will see later, is still very much alive.

The first fatalities of the Civil War (called in the South, more accurately, the War for Southern Independence) occurred during riots which took place in Baltimore on April 18 and 19, 1861. Union troops moving from one train station to another to continue their journey southward to protect Washington, D.C. were confronted by an angry and armed mob. The troops, set upon with “bricks, paving stones, and pistols,” fired on the crowd. When the smoke cleared, four soldiers and twelve civilians had been killed. Small skirmishes between citizens and police occurred throughout the city for the next month.

Determined to keep a route through Maryland open for the transport of troops and supplies from the northern states, on April 27, President Lincoln authorized General Winfield Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus near any military supply line between Philadelphia and Washington “if the public safety required it.”

On September 17, 1862, Confederate forces were defeated at Antietam, just west of Frederick, Maryland (hometown of the then Chief Justice Roger Taney). Remembered as the “Single Bloodiest Day of the Civil War,” the Battle of Antietam (known in the South as the Battle of Sharpsburg) caused more than 23,000 casualties.

A week later, as a result of continued unrest, particularly in Maryland but elsewhere in the Union as well. Lincoln issued a proclamation stating that “all Rebels and Insurgents, their aiders and abettors within the United States, and all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting militia drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of United States, shall be subject to martial law and liable to trial and punishment by Courts Martial or Military Commission.” Further “That the Writ of Habeas Corpus is suspended in respect to all persons arrested, or who are now, or hereafter during the rebellion shall be, imprisoned in any fort, camp, arsenal, military prison, or other place of confinement by any military authority or by the sentence of any Court Martial or Military Commission.”[8] (Emphasis added)

Lincoln later explained his actions in a letter to Albert G. Hodges on April 4, 1864, by stating: “I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation.”[9]

In July 1864, the little-known Battle of Monocacy was also fought on Maryland soil, again near Frederick.

The 1864 Maryland Constitution, ratified in October, freed the state’s slaves a year before ratification of the 13th Amendment.[10] On April 14, 1865, Marylander John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln.

Today’s Maryland government is based on its 1867 Constitution, the last of four. The 1776 constitution was followed by a second in 1851, and a third in 1864. At approximately 47,000 words, today’s Maryland Constitution is much longer than the average length of a U.S. state constitution (about 26,000 words). By comparison, the United States Constitution, including amendments, is only about 8,700 words long.

When compared with the U.S. Bill of Rights, Maryland’s 1776 Constitution lacked specific protections for:

  • Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly (U.S. 1st Amendment)
  • A Right to Keep and Bear Arms (U.S. 2nd Note: Maryland is one of the few states still lacking the equivalent of the Federal Second Amendment)
  • Right to a Grand Jury when Life/Limb is imperiled, protection against double jeopardy and protection of private property against government taking without compensation (all found in the U.S. 5th Amendment)
  • Protection of unenumerated rights (U.S. 9th Amendment, this was added in the 1851 Constitution)
  • Reservation of non-delegated powers to the states/people (U.S. 10th Amendment, this was added in the 1867 Constitution)

Conversely, Maryland’s Declaration of Rights today contains the following protections and principles not found in the U.S. Bill of Rights:

  • A relief from taxation for all “paupers.” (still there!)
  • Protection of the common law of England. (still there!)
  • A right to trial by jury (this right is assumed by the Constitution but only secured for certain classes of citizens).
  • Juries in criminal cases are declared to be judges of law as well as fact (jury nullification, added in the 1867 Constitution, see below).
  • A statement that “all government of right originates from the people, is founded in compact only, and instituted solely for the good of the whole.”
  • A statement that “the people of the State ought to have the sole and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police thereof.”
  • A statement that “all persons invested with the legislative or executive powers of government are the trustees of the public, and, as such, accountable for their conduct.”
  • A statement that “every man, having property in, a common interest with, and an attachment to the community, ought to have a right of suffrage” (whether U.S. citizen or not?).
  • A statement that “the legislative, executive and judicial powers of government, ought to be forever separate and distinct from each other.”
  • A statement that no power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, unless by or derived from the Legislature, ought to be exercised or allowed.
  • A statement that “no aid, charge, tax, fee, or fees, ought to be set, rated, or levied, under any presence, without consent of the Legislature.” (No taxation without representation!)
  • A statement that “the levying taxes by the poll is grievous and oppressive.” (I.e. no poll taxes will be allowed)

We should take a moment here to note the uniqueness of Maryland securing a right of jury nullification in its constitution. To my knowledge it is the only U.S. state to do so. In 2002, South Dakota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment to permit criminal defendants to argue in favor of jury nullification; and in 2012, New Hampshire passed a law explicitly allowing defense attorneys to inform juries about their right of jury nullification, only to have the New Hampshire Supreme Court effectively nullify the law.[11]

The ability of a jury to refuse to return a guilty verdict because it feels the underlying law to be unjust has a rich history going back to at least Magna Carta (1215), if not before — the famous trial of William Penn being the perfect example.[12] In this country, the practice was common from before the Revolutionary War to beyond 1850 when rampant jury nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act occurred throughout the North. The Supreme Court has never taken up the issue but Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayer apparently views it favorably.[13]

The primary impetus for the 1851 Constitution was a desire to reapportion the Maryland General Assembly. This constitution also changed the status of the City of Baltimore and its relationship with the surrounding Baltimore County. The city was given the status of the (soon-to-be) 23 counties of the State and a provision for “home rule.” Growing criticism of the 1851 Constitution, especially relating to how the judiciary functioned, led to pressure for yet another revision.

The 1864 Constitution was written in the midst of the Civil War. Unionists controlled the Maryland government at the time and made some significant changes to the document. It was approved by a bare majority (50.31%) of the state’s eligible voters, which included Union soldiers from other states temporarily assigned to Maryland! Perhaps its most controversial feature was the temporarily disfranchisement of the approximately 25,000 Marylanders who were at that time fighting for or supporting the Confederacy.

Only three years later, the Constitution of 1867 was approved. As noted, it still operates today. Subsequent amendments have been approved which brought changes to the wording in the main constitution and amendments to the Declaration of Rights, the last of these occurring in 2010.

In 2019, Maryland is home to slightly more that 6 Million people.[14] Interestingly, its state government has been continuously controlled by the Democratic Party for nearly 100 years. In 2013, frustrated conservatives in the five western-most counties famously mounted an effort to secede from the remainder of the state and form a new one, called Western Maryland.[15] This call to secede joined similar efforts in California, Arizona, Michigan and Colorado — proving that the issue of secession lives on.

The “Old Line State” has produced many noted politicians and four Supreme Court Justices. They include:

  • Spiro T. Agnew, former Governor of Maryland and Vice President of the United States
  • Sargent Shriver, former Vice Presidential candidate
  • John Bolton, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Steny Hoyer, current House Minority Whip, U.S. House of Representatives
  • Nancy Pelosi, current Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Samuel Chase, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
  • Roger Taney, former Chief Justice of the United States
  • Thurgood Marshall, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
  • Brett Kavanaugh, current Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

The Old Line State provides both the historian and constitutional scholar much to occupy their time. With one of the oldest state constitutions still operating today, including one of the longest Declarations of Rights, a detailed study of the rights of Maryland’s citizens will be time well spent.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text.  Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes a weekly essay: Constitutional Corner which is published on multiple websites, and hosts a weekly radio show: “We the People, the Constitution Matters” on WFYL AM1140.  Gary has also begun performing reenactments of James Madison and speaking with public and private school students about Madison’s role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and Constitution.  Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[1] Some accounts put the unit at 260 remaining men, of which only a handful survived the day.

[2] The story of the “Maryland 400’s” heroic stand is told by Patrick K. O’Donnell in Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution.

[3] https://books.google.com/books/about/The_battle_of_Long_Island.html?id=TFYOAAAAIAAJ.

[4] Named after the King’s wife, the former French princess Henrietta Maria, aka Queen Mary.

[5] https://plymouthcolonytourism.weebly.com/population.html.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bladensburg.

[7] A “Civil War” is normally fought over who will control an existing government. The South had no interest in taking over the government of the Union.

[8] https://www.thoughtco.com/lincoln-issues-proclamation-suspending-habeas-corpus-3321581.

[9] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/hodges.htm.

[10] Ratified on December 18, 1865.

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification#State_laws.

[12] http://constitution.org/trials/penn/penn-mead.htm.

[13] https://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/22588-supreme-court-justice-sotomayor-supports-practice-of-jury-nullification.

[14] http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/maryland-population/.

[15] https://www.foxnews.com/politics/western-marylanders-push-to-secede-from-state.

Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

In the fall of 1779, John Adams was home in Massachusetts during a respite from his diplomatic responsibilities in Europe. While he was there, Adams drafted the state constitution that built on the constitutions and experiences of other states, using them as a model of success and failure. The resulting Massachusetts Constitution was a balanced constitution.

Royal authority had collapsed in Massachusetts in 1775, and the state was governed by a provincial congress under the 1691 colonial charter. The legislature had drafted a constitution in 1778, but the sovereign people of local townships had rejected it.

The people of Massachusetts concurred with other Americans that written constitutions were perpetual fundamental law made by the representatives of the people at popular conventions called for that purpose. The Massachusetts legislature, however, was an ordinary lawmaking body that was not invested with the authority to create such a constitution.

In early 1779, all free men over 21 were eligible to vote for delegates to a special constitutional convention which began meeting in September. The constitution would need ratification by two-thirds of those same men to become fundamental law. This was an expression of the principle of popular sovereignty, or the will of the self-governing people.

The convention called a drafting committee which then appointed a subcommittee of James Bowdoin, Samuel Adams, and John Adams to write the constitution. Bowdoin and Samuel Adams deferred to John Adams to complete the task. Adams finished his assigned work and submitted it to the convention which made revisions and submitted it to the people for ratification in March 1780. It was adopted in June.

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 was comprised of the familiar principles of the American Founding especially those found in the Declaration of Independence. The preamble asserted that the sovereign people formed a social compact with each other to create a republican government whose purpose was to protect the natural rights of the people. They had a right to alter that government for one that best protected their safety and happiness.

The first part of the constitution was a declaration of rights. All men were born free and equal with inalienable rights including life, liberty, and property. The constitution stated that worshipping God was a right of conscience as well as a duty. In order to promote ordered liberty, virtue, morality, and happiness, the constitution simultaneously instituted a limited establishment of the Christian religion. Public money would support the Congregationalist Church, but dissenters could allocate their taxes to their own denominations.

Other principles of the Massachusetts Constitution were popular sovereignty, free and regular elections, and no taxation without consent. Fundamental rights that were protected included the rights of the accused, property rights, and the right to bear arms.

The text of the constitution was rooted upon the principles of separation of power and checks and balances. Those principles found expression in three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. The bicameral legislature was divided into two houses based upon the negative experience of Pennsylvania with only one house. The governor and lieutenant governor ruled with the advice of a nine-member council. The governor could veto laws, but the legislature could override the veto by a two-thirds vote. The third branch was an independent judiciary.

The representatives and senators of the General Court legislature and the governor were elected annually. All free men over 21 could vote if they held a certain amount of property because of the prevailing view that propertyless men were dependent upon others and could not render an independent vote. The state judges served for life and during good behavior. Although the state constitutional convention removed a religious test for office, legislative and executive officials had to take an oath to the Christian religion.

The Massachusetts Constitution was predicated on the belief that, “wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, [was] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties.” Therefore, the public would support public schools, literature, seminaries, science, agriculture, arts, and trades. This public encouragement would “countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.”

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 was drafted and adopted with the aid of examples and experience in other states. It contained its share of paradoxes such as religious liberty coexisting with religious establishment and broad democratic principles but property requirements for voting and officeholding. The constitution, however, represented the republican principles of the American Revolution and Founding as fundamental law.

Tony Williams is a Constituting America Fellow and a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute. He is the author of six books including the newly-published Hamilton: An American Biography.

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