Constitutional conventions are one of the great inventions of American political practice. They provide a means for the populace to debate fundamental issues of government and to craft---or recraft---a political structure that advances the people's ideals of democracy and liberty. The federal constitution left many key points of governance to the states, including the structure of their own governments, as long as they were republican in nature. Experimentation continued in the early nineteenth century by means of constitutional conventions both in states newly admitted to the union and in existing states that wished to correct constitutional flaws that had become apparent in the years following the Revolution.
Democracy, Liberty, and Property covers the constitutional conventions convened in New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia in the 182os to address fundamental policy issues, such as suffrage, legislative apportionment and representation, governmental structures, and freedom of religion. The clash between democracy, liberty, and property is conspicuous in the debates reprinted here. These particular state conventions are significant for their influence over neighboring states' constitutions and for their forceful debates among such leading statesmen as John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Marshall, and among less celebrated founders of state constitutions.
The debates focus on enduring issues of liberty and are in many respects as relevant today as they were during the establishment of these states' constitutions. Modern students and scholars of U.S. history, as well as those interested in the connection between federalism and liberty, will benefit from this collection of original documents and the editor's introductory essays that provide context for each convention.Liberty Fund
In one volume, Democracy, Liberty, and Property provides an overview of the state constitutional conventions held in the 1820s. With topics as relevant today as they were then, this collection of essential primary sources sheds light on many of the enduring issues of liberty. Emphasizing the connection between federalism and liberty, the debates that took place at these conventions show how questions of liberty were central to the formation of state government, allowing students and scholars to discover important insights into liberty and to develop a better understanding of U.S. history.
The debates excerpted in Democracy, Liberty, and Property focus on the conventions of Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, and they include contributions from the principal statesmen of the founding era, including John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Marshall.
Merrill D. Peterson (1921-2009) was Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Virginia and a noted Jeffersonian scholar.
G. Alan Tarr is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for State Constitutional Studies at Rutgers University-Camden.