This comparative study of American state constitutions offers insightful overviews of the general and specific problems that have confronted America’s constitution writers since the founding. Each chapter reflects the constitutional history and theory of a single state, encompassing each document’s structure, content, and evolution.
The text is grounded in the model presented by constitutional scholar Donald S. Lutz in The Origins of American Constitutionalism so that even when a state has a relatively stable constitutional history, Lutz’s framework can be used to measure the evolving meaning of the document. With contributors drawn from state governments as well as academia, this is the first work to offer a framework by which state constitutions can be analyzed in relation to one another and to the federal Constitution.
The volume begins with chapters on the New England, Mid-Atlantic, Border, and Southern states. While regional similarities within and between the New England and Mid-Atlantic states are noteworthy, the colonial aspect of their history laid the foundation for national constitution-making. And while North and South moved in distinct directions, the Border states wrestled with conflicting constitutional traditions in the same way that they wrestled with their place in the Union.
Southern states that seceded are shown to have had a common set of problems in their constitutions, and the post–Civil War South emerged from that conflict with a constitutionalism that was defined for it by the war’s victors. These chapters reveal that constitutional self-definition, while not evident in all of the former Confederate states, has redeveloped in the South in the intervening 140 years.
Sections devoted to the Midwest, the Plains, the Mountain West, the Southwest, and the West reflect the special circumstances of states that arose from American expansion. Chapters describe how states of the Midwest, united by common roots in the Northwest Ordinance, wrote constitutions that were defined by that act’s parameters while reflecting the unique cultural and political realities of each state. Meanwhile, the Plains states developed a constitutionalism that was historically rooted in progressivism and populism, sometimes in the clash between these two ideologies.
Perhaps more than any other region, the Mountain West was defined by the physical landscape, and these chapters relate how those states were able to define their individual constitutional identities in spite of geography rather than because of it. And although western states borrowed heavily from those with much older constitutional traditions, the contributors reveal that they borrowed differently—and in different proportions—in order to craft constitutions that were uniquely adapted to their historical situation and peoples.
This work demonstrates the diversity of our governmental arrangements and provides a virtual introduction to the political culture of each—many offering stories of constitutional foundings that are rich with meaning. Although these fifty documents are defined in a federal context, state constitutions are necessary to complete the constitutionalism of the United States.