Constitutional Development in the South Atlantic States. 1776-1860

By Fletcher M. Green | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE DEMOCRATIC AWAKENING (1800-1830)

THE CONSTITUTIONS of 1776 were based upon the theories of natural rights, the doctrine of popular sovereignty, and the social compact. Like the Declaration of Independence, they theoretically recognized the equality of all men, yet their founders did not hesitate to withhold suffrage and other political privileges, not only from the colored slave, but also from the landless white. Discrimination was made between those who had property and those who had none, and as a result the political people under the constitutions were the wealthy, aristocratic, land-owning class. In no state did the radical group succeed in gaining control of the state administration, and even the state constitutions were democracies on paper only. But in the stress of the war with England the large group excluded from participation in the government accepted its plight with only here and there a voice raised in protest, for on the whole it was an inarticulate class.

The political revolution of 1800 which brought Jefferson and his party into power, not only in the federal government but also in most of the Southern States, radically changed these conditions. Jeffersonian democracy wished to make of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights something more than mere glittering generalities. On every hand the leaders of democratic reform raised their voices in condemnation of the aristocratic nature of the state constitutions, their lack of democracy and popular control, and the fact that they gave control of the majority to a minorit

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