Constitutional Development in Alabama, 1798-1901: A Study in Politics, the Negro, and Sectionalism

By Malcolm Cook McMillan | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XXI
CONSTITUTIONAL TRENDS IN Alabama IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: A SUMMARY

Constitution making in Alabama during the period from 1819 to 1901 was a never ending process. A progressive democracy needs a changing constitution, and no state constitutional convention has ever shown the genius for writing a constitution as adequate for changing needs as the national convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Alabama moved from a rural frontier of about a hundred thousand people in 1819 to a semiindustrial state with thriving cities and almost two million people in 1901. In these eighty-two years the state held six conventions, or an average of one every fourteen years. The Civil War and its aftermath precipitated a series of crises which brought four conventions in fifteen years. As one reads the changing Alabama constitution and compares it with those of other states, it becomes apparent that constitutional development had become an evolutionary process, each state borrowing, adding to, and building on what others had done. Since Alabama's constitutional needs and problems were common to the South, the state made contributions to Southern constitutional development in particular and borrowed from other Southern states. However, other sections played their part in this process, the constitutions of the Mid-West making a lasting imprint during the Reconstruction period. The Alabama constitution was never made entirely new at any time; it always embodied the result of past history, experience, and practice in government. Alabama's first Constitution, for example, was the product of constitution making in older states, frontier influences, and the state's territorial history.

Alabama, coming into the Union in 1819, missed the first period of constitution making in America. The early constitutions, usually framed by the legislature, gave expression to the impressions of the Revolutionary era. They manifested a dread of executive and military power (stemming from experiences with England and the royal governors), and showed a disposition to deliver the government into the hands of the legislative authority, which more directly represented the people. Most of the early constitutions contained little but an elaborate bill of rights, a rather crudely drawn outline of a frame of government with provision for few executive or judicial officers.

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