New Viewpoints in Georgia History

By Albert B. Saye | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER V
Early State Government

HE POWERS of the National Government are today so expanded as to cause the American mind to turn instinctively to the national Constitution when considering the constitutional law of the land. The exalted place given to the document drawn up by the Federal Convention causes us to forget that "the most eventful constitution- making epoch in our history was not the year 1787, but an antecedent period extending from 1776 to 1780."1Lord Bryce was careful to point out to his British readers that the American Federal Constitution was largely formed upon the earlier State Constitutions, which were in turn an outgrowth of colonial experience.2 "The sources of our Constitution," says Sydney George Fisher, "are found in the colonial period of about two hundred years which preceded the framing of the Constitution in 1787."3

England's only experience with a written constitution was that under the short-lived Instrument of Government of 1653, and this Cromwellian document had no more lasting influence in America than in England. Nevertheless, the English had a long tradition of government under law. In the celebrated Dr. Bonham's Case, Coke made bold to assert that "It appears in our books, that in many cases, the common law will control acts of parliament, and sometimes

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1
William C. Morey, "The First State Constitutions," in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, IV ( September, 1893), 201.
2
The American Commonwealth ( New York, 1888), 19ff.
3
The Evolution of the Constitution of the United States ( Philadelphia, 1897), 19. Compare also McLaughlin, Constitutional History, 114.

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