Constitutional Development in the South Atlantic States. 1776-1860

By Fletcher M. Green | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
CONSTITUTIONAL TRENDS 1776-1860

A SURVEY of constitutional development in the South Atlantic States during the period from 1776 to 1860 shows that the course of constitution making is a never ending progressive evolution. The frequent revisions and numerous amendments clearly demonstrate this fact. In this conclusion an effort will be made to sum up the chief trends of development and to point out their significance.

The basic principle underlying the constitutions of 1776 was popular sovereignty. Along with this principle, the Bills of Rights recognized the principle of individual legal equality. But the ruling element never accepted the principle of political equality. From the beginning, discriminations were made between those who had and those who did not have property. Consequently, the same aristocratic land-owning and slave-holding class, which held a dominant position in the colonial governments, retained that position under the state constitutions. This class was in the minority, but was able to retain control of the state governments because of the religious tests and property qualifications for suffrage and office holding, and because of the system of equal county representation which prevailed.

The course of constitutional change was a struggle of the majority to break down this minority control. It was a conflict of the small farmers, mechanics, artisans, and laborers, residing in the western part of the states and in the urban centers against the wealthy planter class of the east. The ruling class held that men were not equal but

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