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more contentious representatives, he annulled the writs of election; but in vain, for the men thus chosen met in spite of the governor's orders and assumed full authority of government in the commonwealth. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, where there were no royal governors to dissolve the assemblies, and in the proprietary colonies of Pennsylvania and Delaware, where such authority was not exercised by the governor, the assemblies, purged of the loyalist element, took charge of directing the work of the Revolution. As a Pennsylvania Revolutionist wrote in 1775, "we must esteem it a particular happiness that we have a House of Assembly which from our constitution cannot be dissolved and which coincides with the [continental] Congress in the opposition to an arbitrary court."1 Whatever the form, each colony during the Revolution had a legislature, congress, or convention chosen in some fashion by the supporters of the American cause. Sometimes the assembly was elected by popular vote, royalists being excluded; sometimes the members were chosen by local meetings of Revolutionists; and sometimes by town authorities. These provisional assemblies seized on all the powers of government in their respective jurisdictions, made laws, levied taxes, raised troops, and directed the Revolution.
For a few months at the opening of the contest with the mother country, while the future was uncertain and return to the old allegiance was not impossible, the colonists were at a loss to determine on just the form of government required by the situation. Under these circumstances, the provincial convention of Massachusetts, then serving as the provisional government of that colony, applied to the Congress at Philadelphia in May, 1775, for explicit instructions concerning the organization of a more regular government. To this request, Congress replied advising the convention that it was not bound by the late act of Parliament altering the charter of Massachusetts, and requesting it to ask the towns entitled to representation to choose their regular delegates to a new assembly which should act as the government until a royal governor could be secured who would obey the terms of the charter. The convention complied with this advice, and thus instituted a government
1 Force, American Archives, Fourth Series, Vol. III, p. 1410.
which remained in power until 1780, when the state constitution was put into force.
The action of Massachusetts was followed in the autumn of that year (1775) by applications from New Hampshire, Virginia, and South Carolina for instructions, to which the Congress replied advising them to "call a full and free representation of the people, in order to form such a form of government as, in their judgment, would best promote the happiness of the people and most effectually secure peace and good order in their provinces during the continuance of the dispute with Great Britain."
In response to this advice, the temporary provincial convention in New Hampshire ordered a general election of delegates to a new convention empowered to assume the government under the direction of Congress for one year, and this new convention, as soon as it met, drew up a form of government to "continue during the present unhappy and unnatural contest with Great Britain." Declaring that they would rejoice in reconciliation with the mother country, they nevertheless committed themselves to the care of the Continental Congress in whose wisdom and prudence they confided. This brief and fragmentary instrument, drawn up by men who could not foretell the outcome of the conflict then raging around them, remained the constitution of New Hampshire until after the establishment of peace, when it was replaced by the new and more elaborate instrument of 1784. South Carolina likewise followed the suggestion of Congress and drew up, in March, 1776, a constitution designed to serve until "an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and America" could be obtained. Neither of these instruments was submitted for popular ratification, and neither was a state constitution, properly speaking, for both contemplated a possible return to the former allegiance.
At length, in May, 1776, about two months before the formal Declaration of Independence, Congress, aware that such a step was inevitable, issued a general recommendation "to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs has been hitherto established, to adopt such government as shall in the opinion of the representatives of the people best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular
and America in general." This recommendation met with general approval among the Revolutionists, and before the expiration of a year Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, and New York had drafted new instruments of government as states, not as colonies uncertain of their destiny. Though Virginia and New Jersey completed their constitutions before the Fourth of July, they declared the dominion of Great Britain at an end. Virginia simply repudiated the authority of George III, and New Jersey expressly said in the written instrument that "all civil authority under him is necessarily at an end." Connecticut and Rhode Island, deeming the government they possessed under their ancient charters sufficient for their needs, drew up no new instruments, but merely renounced their allegiance to George III and continued their old systems without any structural change. South Carolina, in view of the temporary character of the document drafted in 1776, drew up a new and more complete constitution in 1778, and Massachusetts, with more deliberation, put into effect in 1780 a constitution which in its fundamental principles remains unchanged to-day the original instrument having never been reorganized. Thus the transition from colonies to states was completed, but in no instance was the issue submitted to popular approval at the polls.
So irregular were the methods pursued by the Revolutionists of the various states in drawing up their constitutions that it is well-nigh impossible to make any general statement true of all of them, except that Delaware and Massachusetts were the only states that had their constitutions framed by regularly organized conventions summoned for that special purpose and confining their activities to the single function of framing an instrument of government. In all of the other colonies, the bodies that drafted the constitutions were primarily engaged in the maintenance of orderly government during the crisis and in meeting the demands which fell upon them through the exigencies of
The procedure, however, may be illustrated by the events in Pennsylvania. There the "Committee of the City and Liberties of Philadelphia," a revolutionary and voluntary body, in pur
'Readings, p. 35.
pursuance of the advice of Congress given in May, 1776, despatched to the county committees circular letters asking the appointment of delegates to a provincial conference. In response to this call, the convention, composed of ninety-seven members, assembled in the city of Philadelphia on June 18, and after due deliberation decided that a special convention should be called for the purpose of drafting the constitution, and that it should be composed of eight representatives from the city of Philadelphia and each of the counties.
In spite of their declaration that all authority came from the people, the preliminary conference at Philadelphia had no intention of admitting all of the people to a vote in the election of the delegates to the coming constitutional convention. On the contrary they expressly excluded such as were not county or provincial tax-payers, those who would not take an oath to support the Revolutionary cause, and those who had been published by the committee of public safety as enemies to the liberties of America. What proportion of the adult males the voters, under these strict limitations, actually composed, it is impossible to determine, but it is safe to assume that the work of transforming the colony into a state was accomplished by an energetic minority. Moreover, the constitution which the new convention completed in September, 1776, was not submitted to the people for popular ratification.
A somewhat similar process was followed in Maryland,1 where the provisional revolutionary congress, on receipt of the instructions of Congress, resolved that "A new convention be elected for the express purpose of forming a new government by the authority of the people only and enacting and ordering all things for the preservation, safety, and general welfare of this colony." The call for the election of the new convention, in addition to excluding the "enemies of the liberties of America," placed restrictions on the suffrage as follows: "All freemen above twenty-one years of age, being freeholders of not less than fifty acres of land or having visible property in this colony to the value of £40 sterling at least, and no others be admitted to vote for representatives to serve in the said convention for the said counties and districts, and the town of Baltimore aforesaid;
1See Readings, p. 36.
and that all freemen above twenty-one years of age, owning a whole lot of land in the said city of Annapolis, or having a visible estate of £20 sterling at the least within this province or having served five years to any trade within the said city and being a housekeeper, and no others be admitted to vote for representatives to serve in the said convention for the said city." The constitution drafted by the convention elected by these voters was not submitted for ratification on its completion in November, 1776.
Thus America came out of the Revolution a union of thirteen states, loosely bound together under the Articles of Confederation. Each state, except Rhode Island and Connecticut which continued their colonial charters, had a new written constitution based for practical purposes upon the precedents which had been established during colonial times. Seven years of war and the overthrow of British dominion had left the social order essentially unchanged.