Ohio Constitution of 1803

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The United States Congress approved an enabling act on April 30, 1802, empowering the Ohio territory to begin the process of becoming a state. Thirty-five delegates were elected on November 1 to form a constitutional convention. Among them were Edward Tiffin, James Sargent, Francis Dunlavy, Bazaleel Wells, Nathaniel Massie, Thomas Worthington, Samuel Huntington, Ephraim Cutler, and Rufus Putnam. The delegates assembled in Chillicothe to write a constitution composed of sections from other state constitutions.

The Ohio Constitution of 1803 was Ohio's first state constitution.

In November 1802, thirty-five delegates convened to draft an Ohio state constitution. In order for Ohio to become a state in the United States, representatives of the territory had to submit a constitution to the United States Congress for approval. This was the final requirement under the Northwest Ordinance that Ohio had to meet before becoming a state. Thomas Worthington personally carried the document to Washington, DC. He arrived on December 19, and formally presented the Constitution to Congress on December 22. The Constitution became law on February 19, 1803, when Congress passed an act stating that the citizens of Ohio had adopted a constitution in accordance with the 1802 Enabling Act and the said state had become one of the United States of America.

The majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention favored the platform of the Democratic-Republican Party. Democratic-Republicans favored a small government with limited powers. The legislative branch should hold the few powers that the government actually possessed. Some delegates to the convention were members of the Federalist Party. Federalists believed in a much stronger government. Since the Democratic-Republicans controlled the convention, Ohio's first state constitution established a relatively weak government with the legislative branch holding most of the power.

The Ohio Constitution of 1803 provided all white men with the right to vote, assuming that they paid taxes or that they helped build and maintain the state's roads. The governor's term was for two years and he did not have the power to veto acts of the legislature. The legislature was called the Ohio General Assembly and consisted of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Representatives served only a single year before having to be reelected, while senators served two years. The General Assembly had to approve all appointments that the governor made. The legislature also selected Ohio's judges. The Ohio Constitution of 1803 prohibited slavery, honoring one of the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance. The convention members failed to extend the suffrage to African-American men in the constitution by a single vote.

The Ohio Constitution of 1803 was one the most democratic state constitutions in America to that time. The Democratic-Republican delegates to the convention distrusted a strong governor. The governor of the Northwest Territory had been Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair had pursued his own policy goals and had not worked well with the territorial legislature. That would not be possible under Ohio's first state constitution.

Ohio's Constitution of 1803 remained in effect until the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1851 adopted a new one.

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