3.1.2 The Old South (1607-1787): Constitution Making


John Locke and North Carolina’s Constitution (1669)

  • John Locke, one of the great political philosophers of the Enlightenment, is generally regarded as one of the originators of the modern doctrines of religious tolerance and representative government.  Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the proprietors of North Carolina, was a close friend of Locke and enlisted his assistance in writing the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669) to replace much of the original charter. 
  • The Lockean constitution was an odd mix of feudal and Enlightenment principles.  It provided for broad freedom of religion and gave the colony one of the most liberal suffrage provisions of the colonial era:  anyone who owned 50 acres could vote and anyone who owned 500 acres could hold office (in the thinly-populated colony, it was not overly difficult to meet such qualifications).
  • On the other hand, the constitution enshrined a rigid social hierarchy of “landgraves” (large landowners), “caciques” (smaller landowners), landless workers reduced largely to serfdom, and slaves.  The Lockean constitution did not sit well with the yeoman farmers and workers who were rapidly filling up the colony; it was never ratified by the North Carolina assembly and was largely abandoned by 1700.

“[T]hose who removed from other parts to plant here will unavoidably be of different opinions concerning matters of religion, the liberty whereof they will expect to have allowed them, and it will not be reasonable for us, on this account, to keep them out, … [T]hat Jews, heathens, and other dissenters from the pursuit of Christian religion may not be scared and kept at a distance from it, but by having an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the truth and reasonableness of its doctrines …., any seven or more persons agreeing in any religion, shall constitute a church or profession …”  - Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669)


The Coastal Upper South’s Revolutionary Constitutions

  • At the beginning of the American Revolution (1776), all four coastal Upper South colonies enacted constitutions in order to provide a basic governmental framework for their new existence as independent states.  The constitutions were an important leap forward: they rejected the English tradition of an unwritten constitution shaped by custom and judge-made laws. Constitutions would now be in writing for all to see, changeable only by formal action of the whole people through their legislatures or through constitutional conventions.
  • All four states accepted Thomas Jefferson’s view that there should be no state involvement with religion, a view embodied in Virginia’s 1786 Statute of Religious Freedom (see above).  They did not put aside religion entirely, however:  the constitutions referred to religious freedom for Christians and did not say if such freedom would be extended to Jews and other non-Christians.  Like the New England colonies (see § __), Maryland levied taxes to support religion, but unlike New England it allowed each taxpayer to designate the denomination to which the funds would go or, alternatively, to direct that the funds be used for poor relief.
  • The coastal Upper South states expanded the right to vote only modestly during the Revolution:  all four states retained some property qualifications for voting.  Unlike other colonies, all four provided that their governors would be elected by the legislature rather than the people directly. 

 

Constitutions adopted

Relation between church and state

Key features of bill of rights

Extent of suffrage

Maryland

1776,

1810

Freedom of religion for all Christians regardless of denomination; legislature may tax “for the support of the Christian religion”; taxpayers may designate the church to receive their tax payment or may direct that the payment go to the poor

1810:  Constitution amended to prohibit taxes in support of  religion

Included many rights later incorporated into federal Bill of Rights, including freedom of press, assembly, trial by jury

Adult males meeting minimum property or income requirements (50 acres of property or £30 of assets)

1810:  Constitution amended to extend suffrage to all white males

Delaware

1776,

1792

No religious taxes or other state support of religion; state officials must profess Christianity

1792:  Included many rights later incorporated into federal Bill of Rights, including freedom of press, assembly, trial by jury

Not addressed

1792:  Constitution amended to grant suffrage to adult white males who pay taxes

Virginia

1776

Freedom of religion for all Christians; no state support of religion

Included many rights later incorporated into federal Bill of Rights, including freedom of press, assembly, trial by jury

Only property owners may vote for state senators

North Carolina

1776

Freedom of religion for all Christians; no state support of religion

Included many rights later incorporated into federal Bill of Rights, including freedom of press, assembly, trial by jury

Adult males must own 50 acres of land to vote for state senators, must pay taxes in order to vote for assembly representatives



John Locke (1697) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons









Old Delaware State House - courtesy Acroterion and Wikimedia Commons

“[R]eligion … can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.” - Virginia Constitution (1776)

“All political power is vested in and derived from the people only.” – North Carolina Constitution (1776)