The Ninth State: New Hampshire's Formative Years

By Lynn Warren Turner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION

I have seen men so inattentive to their acknowledged right that, when they have been called upon for their votes for a form of government for themselves and their posterity, not one of them in ten cared so much about it as to give their vote pro or con; a few busy men did all that was or could be done, and the rest acquiesced. —Jeremy Belknap

One of the most remarkable features of nearly all the state and national constitutions written during the revolutionary period was the inclusion of means for their own revisions. 1 Our modest forefathers thus acknowledged their fallibility and gave their descendants legal processes by which the fundamental structure of government could be modified to meet changing conditions without resort to rebellion or the coup d'état. 2

The New Hampshire constitution of 1784 required that seven years after its adoption the general assembly should provide for the election of a constitutional convention which might propose whatever changes in the fundamental law it saw fit and submit these to the voters, two-thirds of whom would have to approve them. This mandatory exercise in reflection came most opportunely for New Hampshire in 1791. Seven years of actual experience under the constitution of 1784 had disclosed innumerable weaknesses. For the most part, these had gone to prove that the convention of 1781 had been right the first time and that many of its original proposals which the people had rejected needed to be restored. The federal Constitution, in its marked contrast to the old Articles of Confederation, had served as a good example of a successful reform and as an object lesson in vigorous government.

Moreover, the operation of the new federal government, with its assumption of powers formerly exercised by the states, rendered anomalous many provisions of a constitution designed for a supposedly sovereign state in a loosely confederated league. Minor difficulties arose because the chief executives both of the Union and of New Hampshire were styled "President" and because the state constitution still required the legislature to elect delegates to Congress. A more serious problem grew out of the lack of a proper sense of discrimination in certain persons who held both state and federal offices. Pluralism was endemic in New Hampshire. Samuel Livermore had ignored pointed hints that he resign as chief justice of the superior court after he had been elected a congressman, and John

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The Ninth State: New Hampshire's Formative Years
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Ninth State - New Hampshire's Formative Years *
  • Contents *
  • Foreword *
  • Preface *
  • Chapter 1 - Revolutionary New Hampshire *
  • Chapter 2 - Constitution Making *
  • Chapter 3 - Peace and Depression *
  • Chapter 4 - Personal Politics *
  • Chapter 5 - A Fragment of Social History *
  • Chapter 6 - In the Federal Union *
  • Chapter 7 - Constitutional Revision *
  • Chapter 8 - The Rise of Parties *
  • Chapter 9 - Federalists and Republicans *
  • Chapter 10 - Federalist Decline *
  • Chapter 11 - The Old Order Yieldeth *
  • Chapter 12 - Democracy Triumphant *
  • Chapter 13 - Federalist Collapse *
  • Chapter 14 - Blockade and Embargo *
  • Chapter 15 - Drifting Toward War *
  • Chapter 16 - In the War with England *
  • Chapter 17 - The Indian Summer of Federalism *
  • Chapter 18 - Peace Abroad: War at Home *
  • Chapter 19 - Tribulations *
  • Chapter 20 - The Demise of Federalism *
  • Chapter 21 - Reform and Freedom *
  • Appendix - Maps and Explanations *
  • Notes *
  • Index *
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