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Hidden LawsHow State Constitutions Stabilize American Politics$
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Robinson Woodward-Burns

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780300248692

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300248692.001.0001

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First Conventions, 1760–1791

First Conventions, 1760–1791

(p.24) 2 First Conventions, 1760–1791
Hidden Laws

Robinson Woodward-Burns

Yale University Press

This chapter addresses the Revolutionary and Founding eras. It proceeds in three parts, first introducing colonial debates over legislative sovereignty, slavery, and frontier and suffrage law. Second, the chapter shows how in 1776 the Continental Congress deferred the divisive legislative sovereignty question to the state legislatures and constitutional conventions, which were smaller, more united, and better able to address the issue. Through the 1780s, state framers checked their new state legislatures through bicameralism and gubernatorial and judicial restraints, while tailoring franchise and slave law to local demands. Delegates to the 1787 federal convention, many of them former state framers, imitated this state legislative design in drafting the national Constitution while deferring to state slave and franchise law. In these years, state framers narrowed and quieted national debates over legislative sovereignty and design, slavery, and the franchise, aiding the drafting and ratification of the federal Constitution and stabilizing national constitutionalism.

Keywords:   American Revolution, Constitutional Convention of 1787, Constitutional design, Bill of Rights

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