I recently looked up our early state constitutions and bills of rights with an eye toward clauses that proclaimed the peoples’ sovereign right and duty to closely watch their governments, be covetous of liberty, and amend their constitutions when necessary.
Connecticut. Its first post-revolutionary constitution was actually in 1818, which included a Declaration of Rights: “That all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit; and that they have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to alter their form of government in such manner as they may think expedient.”
Delaware. The DE Constitution was not submitted to conventions of the people. From the Declaration of Rights September 1776: “That all government of right originates from the people, is founded in compact only, and instituted solely for the good of the whole.”
Georgia. February 1777. No direct assertion of right to frame government. The GA Constitution was legislatively ratified.
Massachusetts. March 1780: “The end of the institution, maintenance and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body-politic; to protect it; and to furnish the individuals who compose it, with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights, and the blessings of life: And whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have a right to alter the government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, prosperity and happiness.”
Maryland. November 1776. Declaration of Rights and Constitution, legislatively ratified: “That all persons invested with the legislative or executive powers of government are the trustees of the public, and, as such, accountable for their conduct; wherefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought, to reform the old or establish a new government. The doctrine of non-resistance, against arbitrary power and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”
New Hampshire. Bill of Rights, 1783. Constitution not submitted to special convention of the people, legislatively ratified: “Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought, to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”
New Jersey. Constitution legislatively proclaimed July 3rd 1776. No direct assertion of right to frame government. Amended September 1777 to replace the word “colony” with “state.”
New York. Adopted portions of the Declaration of Independence whole, into its constitution of April 1777: “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
North Carolina. Legislatively ratified. The closest NC comes to asserting the right of the people to frame their government is in the very first article: “That all political power is vested, in and derived from, the people only.”
Pennsylvania. Not submitted to conventions of the people. PA Declaration of Rights and Constitution September 1776: “And that the community hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish government in such manner as shall be by that community judged most conducive to the public weal.”
Rhode Island. From 1663 to 1843 the people of Rhode Island were governed under a Royal Charter granted by King Charles II of England. This was a remarkable document for its era since it created an amazingly liberal and democratic frame of government, far more so than the prevailing government of the mother country. From the 1843 constitution: “We declare that the basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and alter their constitutions of government; but that the constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.”
South Carolina. Proclaimed March 26th, 1776. Not ratified by special conventions of the people. No direct assertion of right to frame government.
Virginia. Declaration of Rights legislatively ratified June 1776: “When any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.”
In time, legislatively derived constitutions were viewed as inferior to those ratified by special conventions of the people. Still, these first efforts at self-government reveal the importance of a vigilant people charged with keeping themselves free. Our founding generation risked their lives to assert the unalienable right of all to live under a free government of their design. If we do not take advantage of the peaceful means available to us in Article V, our continued descent into despotism and misery is assured.
We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign our COS Petition.