• Video

The Era of State Constitution Writing

When was ‘the greatest era of constitution writing?’ Judge Jeffrey Sutton highlights how the Framers, in drafting the Constitution, drew upon the experience of the state constitutions written after the Declaration of Independence in 1776. They borrowed key provisions such as separation of powers and protections of individual rights. Judge Sutton argues that the period of 1776 - 1787 is an important and frequently-neglected part of the story of the U.S. Constitution. https://youtube.com/watch?v=l70-59FbMu0


This is a part of the story of the American Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, that really has been neglected. The greatest era of constitution writing in American history, indeed in world history, is between 1776 and the summer of 1787. In other words, before the Framers got together in Philadelphia. And that's because the former colonies, newly founded states in 1776, had to write charters of government, their own constitutions to figure out how each of these governments would work. And so that became the initial laboratory of constitution writing in American government. Those early state constitutions are the first constitutions that have separation of powers at the state level between governors, legislatures, and the courts. That of course is duplicated in the U.S. Constitution. Those state constitutions innovated the individual rights guarantees that we've come to prize so much in America, protecting liberty, property, life and so forth. And the original language for those things is written by the state Framers and written by some not inconsequential leaders. John Adams, George Mason, among others. All of our individual rights guarantees, free speech, free exercise of religion, and so forth were originally put in the state constitutions. The federal Framers in the summer of 1787, eventually ratified by the people in 1789, borrowed from those documents when it came to individual rights protections, and borrowed still more when they put together the Bill of Rights. The first eight Bill of Rights are all individual rights guarantees that owe their origin to the state constitutions and the state Framers. Even provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment would have drawn on earlier state constitutions. And in the words of historian Gordon Wood, that was the epic constitution writing period in American and world history.

Related Content