State Constitutions

Following the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, the American colonies became independent states. Royal and proprietary charters were thrown aside and new state constitutions drafted. This gave the new states opportunity to correct flaws that were held to exist under previous governing schemes.

Virginia set an example for the other states by proclaiming in its constitution basic principles: popular sovereignty, rotation in office, fair elections and an enumeration of fundamental rights (trial by jury, humane punishments, freedom of the press and the right to reform their government). Other states followed, some authoring more conservative documents, others radical in nature.

Pennsylvania adopted the most far-reaching constitution, granting the vote to every male taxpayer and his sons.

Also of significance was what the new state constitutions did not say. No rights were provided for the growing numbers of slaves. Women were not given a role in the political process. Even for men, no universal suffrage was established; voters had to be taxpayers and in many states, office holders had to own specified amounts of property.


See the Constitution, narrative and text .

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In one remarkable quarter-century, thirteen quarrelsome colonies were transformed into a nation. Edmund S. Morgan's classic account of the Revolutiona...

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