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America's History in the Making

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Original State Constitution for Virgina and Pennsylvania

Original State Constitution for Pennsylvania, September 28, 1776

SECTION 1. The commonwealth or state of Pennsylvania shall be governed hereafter by an assembly of the representatives of the freemen of the same, and a president and council, in manner and form following´┐Ż

SECT. 2. The supreme legislative power shall be vested in a house of representatives of the freemen of the commonwealth or state of Pennsylvania.

SECT. 3. The supreme executive power shall be vested in a president and council.

SECT. 4. Courts of justice shall be established in the city of Philadelphia, and in every county of this state.

SECT. 5. The freemen of this commonwealth and their sons shall be trained and armed for its defence under such regulations, restrictions, and exceptions as the general assembly shall by law direct, preserving always to the people the right of choosing their colonels and all commissioned officers under that rank, in such manner and as often as by the said laws shall be directed.

SECT. 6. Every freemen of the full age of twenty-one Years, having resided in this state for the space of one whole Year next before the day of election for representatives, and paid public taxes during that time, shall enjoy the right of an elector: Provided always, that sons of freeholders of the age of twenty-one years shall be intitled to vote although they have not paid taxes . . .

SECT. 8. No person shall be capable of being elected a member to serve in the house of representatives of the freemen of this commonwealth more than four years in seven.

SECT. 9. The members of the house of representatives shall be chosen annually by ballot, by the freemen of the commonwealth, on the second Tuesday in October forever, (except this present year,) and shall meet on the fourth Monday of the same month, and shall be stiled, The general assembly of the representatives of the freemen of Pennsylvania, and shall have power to choose their speaker, the treasurer of the state, and their other officers; sit on their own adjournments; prepare bills and enact them into laws; judge of the elections and qualifications of their own members; they may expel a member ,. . . . [deleted part] But they shall have no power to add to, alter, abolish, or infringe any part of this constitution.

PLAN OR FRAME OF GOVERNMENT FOR THE COMMONWEALTH OR STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA (September 28, 1776), http://yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/states/pa08.

Creator The legislature of Virginia and Pennsylvania
Context After the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, they had to create new constitutions to establish how they would be governed.
Audience The citizens of each state
Purpose To establish rules of governance

Historical Significance

Each state had to create its own constitution, its own rules for governance. The struggle over the nature of state constitutions was particularly important because the national government was so weak.

Some of the states echoed the Declaration of Independence in laying out the case for separating from Great Britain. Some included a bill of rights to protect specific civil liberties. All established and detailed how the states would be governed.

Pennsylvania's constitution was written by radical Philadelphians, devoted to the egalitarian ideas of Thomas Paine. Virginia's was the product of powerful plantation owners.

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