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The 12th Time's the Charm

September 16, 2014
A large stack of old looking paper

Since 1732, Georgia has had 12 ruling documents: 2 pre-state documents and 10 constitutions.

Officially proclaiming the area the Province of Georgia on February 12, 1733, Georgia’s 1732 Charter ruled for 40 years. Then in 1776, our Provincial Congress set some rules and regulations which became our temporary constitution during the Revolution.

Since then, we've had 10 different state constitutions. The American government is purposefully meant to be malleable and to change with the times. And Georgia has definitely taken advantage of that luxury.

From Colony to State

In 1777, Georgia adopted its first constitution attempting to transition from a colony to a state. This document created the foundation of our Georgia government with the separation of powers, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and a jury trial.

Twelve years later in 1789, Georgia ratified and accepted the U.S. Constitution. To align with the federal government, Georgia revised its constitution again to reflect the U.S. Constitution. We can attribute our bicameral legislature and the creation of the executive and judicial branches to this constitution. However, the new constitution ended up being a bit bare, so Georgian authorities expanded the document in 1798 with constitution #3.

Then came the Civil War.

Civil War

In 1861, Georgia molded a constitution reflecting the Confederate Constitution with a rather extensive bill of rights. In addition to the Ordinance of Secession, we can attribute our right for due process and judicial review to this constitution. After the war, another constitution was created to repeal the Ordinance of Secession and abolish slavery. This 1865 constitution also limited the governor to just two terms of office. However, this constitution was rejected because Georgia legislators did not ratify the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, thus putting Georgia under military control.

Reconstruction

In 1868, with the beginning of Reconstruction, Georgia was forced to yet again write another constitution. Among many provisions, they expanded the bill of rights, included much content regarding the 14th Amendment to placate federal leaders, allowed all male citizens the right to vote and increased the governor’s term to 4 years. At the end of Reconstruction and with the end of military rule, they decided to expand this constitution. In 1877, 193 elected members revised a new state constitution with much more detail. This constitution lasted over 50 years but was amended over 300 times.

Modern Era

We’ve had 3 constitutions during the modern era: 1945, 1976 and 1983. The Constitution of 1945 is significant for a few reasons:

The constitution of 1976 didn’t make any extreme changes to the 1945 constitution. It was more of a stepping stone for a complete revision in the future, which happened 7 years later. The government started creating a whole new constitution in 1977, making it shorter and using plainer, more modern English. They looked back on 20 years of debate regarding the Georgia constitutions, keeping some of the foundation from the 1877 constitution while adding new, modern concepts such as nonpartisan election for judges. It was truly a new creation, about 100 years overdue.

By July 1, 1983, a final version of this new constitution became effective after all branches of government and voters approved it. This is the constitution that looks over us today.

Learn more about Georgia’s 10 constitutions as well as the original charter and rules and regulations.

About the Author

Bethany McDaniel is the Interactive Web Content Manager for GeorgiaGov. She graduated from Berry College in Rome, GA with degrees in Visual Communication and History.

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