Constitutions of Mississippi
Constitutions embody the basic laws and organizations of governments. Constitutions may be written or accepted by tradition. For example, the Constitution of the United States is a written document that spells out the organization and powers of the federal government. However, some nations, like Great Britain, have no written constitutions. Instead, the British constitution comes from legal traditions and fundamental laws.
Most governments, whether they have written constitutions or not, recognize three basic functions of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.
United States Constitution
The United States Constitution, written in 1787 and adopted in 1789, forms the basic law of the United States. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government must conform to it. The executive branch administers the laws, the legislative branch makes the laws, and the judicial branch reviews the constitutionality of the laws.
The United States Constitution has existed since 1789, but it has been kept current by the adoption of amendments.
Each state also has a written constitution that spells out the organization and functions of state government. State constitutions must conform to the United States Constitution. State constitutions vary widely in their provisions and in their forms and organizations of state government, but all constitutions spell out the duties of a state's legislative, executive, and judicial functions.
The State of Mississippi has had four state constitutions: the original Constitution of 1817, the Constitution of 1832, the Constitution of 1868, and the present-day Constitution of 1890.
Each of these constitutions marked major changes in Mississippis history. The Constitution of 1817 was the states first constitution written when Mississippi entered the Union as a state. Only 15 years later in 1832, however, a new Mississippi constitution was written to replace the original one. After Mississippis defeat in the Civil War, a third constitution was written and adopted. Called the Constitution of 1868, this constitution made great change in Mississippis government. Slavery was renounced, and the former slaves received basic civil rights.
Mississippis constitution today was adopted more than a century ago in 1890.
The Constitution of 1817
From 1798 to 1817 before Mississippi became a state, it was a territory. The principal settlement and center of population was at Natchez. The population was fewer than 10,000, and the Mississippi Territory was far removed geographically from the more populated eastern seaboard. Under the territorial government, Mississippi was governed by officers and judges appointed by the national government at Washington. These territorial officials together formed the executive and judicial branches of government.
As the population of Mississippi grew and as new lands were obtained from the American Indians, territorial officials pressed for statehood. In 1817, the federal government in Washington granted statehood for Mississippi. Mississippis first constitution was written and confirmed in the same year.
In recognition of the 183rd anniversary of Mississippis first constitution, which coincides by a day with the August 14, 2000, launch of Mississippi History Now, the original text of the 1817 Mississippi Constitution is included in this issue. The text of the state's other constitutions have since been added.
The Mississippi Constitution of 1817
John Ray Skates, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history, University of Southern Mississippi.
Posted August 2000
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