Today in Legal History: Constitution Goes into Effect

The Constitutional Convention was the result of intense negotiation and compromise, although it is said that George Washington, who was president of the assembly, spent much of that time fishing. One of the central controversies was the form of government for the new country. Some delegates favored the adoption of a monarchy, but Madison, an ardent advocate for a strong central government, strongly opposed. The battle over ratification was acrimonious. Many anti-Federalists believed the new Constitution favored wealthy landowners and there were misgivings that the majority of the people did not, in fact, support the new Constitution. As a result of these battles, the Bill of Rights was created, with Madison as its greatest advocate. Somehow, in spite of the bitter divisiveness and disagreement, the framers managed to create the world’s shortest constitution and one that stood the test of time. The U.S. Constitution is the oldest, single- source derived constitution still in effect.

More information can be found here:

  • The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation: Analysis of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to June 28, 2002, Prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress (Law Library Reference Desk @ KF4527.U54 2004)
  • The Founders’ Constitution, edited by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Law Library Reserve @ KF4502.F68 1987)
  • The Charters of Freedom
  •  Desk-Top Guide to the Constitution: Chronology, Facts & Documents by Irving J. Sloan LAW-Reserve KF4502.D47 1987
  • A Child of Fortune: A Correspondent’s Report on the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution and Battle for a Bill of Rights by Jeffrey St. John (Jameson Books 1990) LAW-4th Floor KF4541.Z9S7 1990

Today in Legal History: Confederate Constitution Adopted

The Confederate Constitution, adopted on March 11, 1861, provides an interesting insight into the political opinions of the South during the antebellum period. While much of the Confederate version is clearly taken straight from the US Constitution, there are differences. The President is limited to a single six year term, for example. The Bill of Rights was written into the main text. Judicial review was not addressed. Treason was addressed in more detail than in the US Constitution. Obviously, one of the major differences was the explicit protection of slavery; however, foreign slave trade was still prohibited.

The Confederate Constitution was ratified by South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

More information is available at:

Today in Legal History: U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton

The state of Arkansas imposed term limitations through Amendment 73, a ballot measure that prohibited the listing of any person who served the maximum terms allowed in the U. S. House or Senate on the general election ballot. Soon after the measure was adopted in 1992, Bobbie Hill, the League of Women Voters, and U.S. Representative Ray Thornton filed suit in Arkansas state court alleging that Amendment 73 violated Article I, sections 2 and 3 of the U.S. Constitution.

On May 22, 1995, the Supreme Court decided, in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (514 U.S. 779), that the states could not add to or change the qualifications listed in the U.S. Constitution for those elected to Congress. The Supreme Court ruled that the qualifications listed in the Constitution are inclusive, and therefore no state could impose additional qualifications either directly or indirectly.

More information is available at:

Historic U.S. Documents: Researching the Constitution

The Library of Congress hosts “A Century of Lawmaking For a New Nation. U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774-1875.” Among its treasures are constitutional debates such as those found in “Elliot’s Debates” and “Farrand’s Records.” Ten years ago you would have needed to go to a law library to look at these volumes. Now you merely need to have an internet connection.