Kentucky's Constitutions and Constitution Making
Five times since 1931, Kentucky voters have refused to accept wholesale revision of the state's 103-year-old, massive constitution. Even when modest changes have been proposed, the majority have been rejected, justifying the General Assembly's reluctance to propose revisions. It is often said that the constitution hampers the state from dealing effectively with its problems; yet Kentucky's traditionalistic voters do not seem to mind at all.
Kentucky's four constitutions--1792, 1799, 1850, and 1891--each reflected the state's then-current economic base and political culture. Often there were classic examples of the traditionalistic mode, with occasional reflections of the individualistic political culture of the Ohio River cities.
Kentucky's pattern of constitution making most resembles the "Southern contractual pattern"--"which began with a general penchant for changing constitutions and was enhanced by the need to do so because of the disruption of constitutional continuity caused by the Civil War."1 The early constitutions were designed to perpetuate a social system based on slavery; then successive constitutions faltered and formed as a new society tried to coalesce. Typical of southern state politics, Kentucky witnessed swings between oligarchy and factionalism, and Kentucky particularly overcompensated by adopting constitutional rules usually reserved for ordinary legislation.
Kentucky became something of a testing ground, a focus, for the debate upon
constitutional ideas, assumptions, and structure. Accident of timing rather