Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776

On the birthday of Benjamin Franklin I think it appropriate to review a particularly progressive collaboration between he and Thomas Paine - the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. This document is considered by some historians to be the most "democratic" legislation to emerge from revolutionary America. This was the first legislation drafted that directly echoed the Declaration of Independence and further enunciated and protected the freedom of every person to "natural rights" including the right to worship "according to the dictates of their own conscience." Also, the language of this document presents a situation wherein all men, no matter race or creed were free to vote. This being penned in 1776 was a little too radical for the time. In 1790 it was amended by conservatives in that state to be more inline with the other state's constitutions.

From the preamble it is clear that this document serves as a universal template for an evolving government. It also highlights the balance of consciousness Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine had. Though they did not agree on the extent to which to renounce religion themselves they did understand the significance of embedding religious freedom in the legal genome of posterity's government.

"We, the representatives of the freemen of Pennsylvania, in general convention met, for the express purpose of framing such a government, confessing the goodness of the great Governor of the universe (who alone knows to what degree of earthly happiness mankind may attain, by perfecting the arts of government) in permitting the people of this State, by common consent, and without violence, deliberately to form for themselves such just rules as they shall think best, for governing their future society; and being fully convinced, that it is our indispensable duty to establish such original principles of government, as will best promote the general happiness of the people of this State, and their posterity, and provide for future improvements, without partiality for, or prejudice against any particular class, sect, or denomination of men whatever, do, by virtue of the authority vested in us by our constituents, ordain, declare, and establish, the following Declaration of Rights and Frame of Government, to be the CONSTITUTION of this commonwealth, and to remain in force therein for ever, unaltered, except in such articles as shall hereafter on experience be found to require improvement, and which shall by the same authority of the people, fairly delegated as this frame of government directs, be amended or improved for the more effectual obtaining and securing the great end and design of all government"

Read the rest here.

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