Pennsylvania State Constitutions

After the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain with the Declaration of Independence, the state of Pennsylvania drafted their first constitution in 1776. The primary goal of Pennsylvania’s state constitution was to create a more democratic form of government. Previously the American colonies were governed by British officials. This made the people of Pennsylvania feel underrepresented by the British government so they decided to create their

Pennsylvania state constitution of 1776

own form of government.

Highlights of the state constitution include:

  • Voting requirements: Tax-paying White males (if a person owned property they paid taxes).
  • The establishment of a unicameral legislature: Members served one year terms.
  • The abolishment of a state governor: Instead a president was elected by the legislature.
  • A judicial branch of government separate from the state legislature: Members served a seven year term and could be removed at any time.
  • The establishment of the Council of Censors: Elected every seven years and were the only government body that could amend and declare if the government violated the constitution.

This constitution clearly showed the early frustrations that Pennsylvania faced when they were being ruled by a British government. The people of Pennsylvania felt that the British monarch held too much power over them. That is why they created a system of government in which no one political body would have too much power. They did this by creating a system of checks and balances.

However not everyone was happy with the new change that the constitution brought. Many Conservatives believed it to be too democratic and liberal. These short-term limits in fact presented a problem of confusion and a lack of stability. So in 1789 a state constitutional convention was held in order to address the problems of the 1776 constitution. What came out of that meeting was the creation of the 1790 state constitution

The new constitutional differences included:

  • A bicameral legislature elected by the citizens of Pennsylvania in a general election.
  • The reinstitution of a state governor, elected for a three year term that had the power to veto.
  • The judiciary appointed by the governor and removable by impeachment.
  • The legislature could no longer take away individual rights protected by the state constitution of 1790.

This constitution has been the model for Pennsylvania’s modern day state constitution.

You can find the 1776 and 1790 Pennsylvania state constitutions here and here.


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