Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1802

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Journal of the Convention.jpg
Title page of the Journal of the Convention, of the Territory of the United States North-west of the Ohio, Begun and Held at Chillcothe, on Monday the First Day of November, A. D. One Thousand Eight Hundred and Two.

The Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1802 drafted Ohio's first state constitution.

On April 30, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed into law the Enabling Act of 1802. This act called for the admittance of Ohio as a state within the United States as soon as possible.

In November 1802, thirty-five delegates convened to draft an Ohio state constitution. In order for Ohio to become a state, 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.

Twenty-six of the delegates favored the platform of the Democratic-Republican Party. Among these men was Edward Tiffin, the president of the convention. Democratic-Republicans favored a small government with limited powers. The legislative branch should hold the few powers that the government actually possessed. Seven delegates to the convention were Federalists. Federalists believed in a much stronger government. The remaining two delegates were independents. 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.

Shortly after the delegates began the convention, St. Clair addressed the members. The governor hoped to delay Ohio statehood and maintain Federalist control over the region. He urged the convention to ignore the Enabling Act, claiming that Congress did not have the right to amend the Northwest Ordinance with the Enabling Act. The governor's opponents immediately sent a copy of the speech to President Jefferson. Jefferson immediately removed him as governor of the Northwest Territory. Charles Byrd replaced him. The delegates also voted to draft a constitution. Thirty-two delegates supported the measure; two abstained; and only Federalist Ephraim Cutler opposed the resolution.

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 General Assembly and consisted of two houses, 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 convention approved the Constitution on November 29, 1802, and adjourned. 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. Ohio's Constitution of 1803 remained in effect until the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1851 adopted a new one.

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