Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Tennessee 1834 Constitution

The 1834 Constitution disenfranchised free persons of color, resulting in a number of court cases involving attempts to deny Melungeons the vote. The operative section reads as follows:
Article 4.
Sec 1. Every free white man of the age of twenty-one years, being a citizen of the United States, and a citizen of the county wherein he may offer his vote, six months next preceding the day of election, shall be entitled to vote for Members of the general Assembly, and other civil officers, for the county or district in which he resides: provided, that no person shall be disqualified from voting in any election on account of color, who is now by the laws of this State, a competent witness in a court of Justice against a white man. All free men of color, shall be exempt from military duty in time of peace, and also from paying a free poll tax.
This was surprisingly controversial and only passed the constitutional convention by a narrow vote after much debate. The competent witness clause appears to have been intended as something of a grandfather clause and was probably required in order to get the necessary votes for passage.

Tennessee is known for having one of the longest state constitutions, a distinction on which they made a good start in 1834. The 1834 Tennessee constitution (sometimes called the 1835 constitution because it did not go into effect until it was ratified in 1835) has a number of interesting features, including barring atheists from holding public office, prohibiting the legislature from abolishing slavery and feeling the need to explicitly outlaw dueling.

To read it in its entirely: Click Here.

To see the current Tennessee state constitution: Click Here. (Acrobat Reader Required)
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