It must be clearly understood- whether the reader of this be a native-born American, a naturalized Citizen of the United States (no matter how long ago or how recent the naturalization) or even a citizen of another land- that, in the Federal System that makes the United States of America a federation of just those- united STATES, these States are the essential Unitary bodies in this System: that is, the political equivalent- without, of course, the independence- of Unitary Nation-States elsewhere in the World. In the closing years of the 19th Century, political scientist Hannis Taylor correctly- and wisely- pointed out that the equivalent of Parliament in Great Britain was not the Congress of the United States (although those two bodies do have in common being the legislatures of independent Nation-States recognized as such under International Law) but, rather, the legislatures of the constituent States of the Union.
The American Revolution itself was fought, at least in part, on the political theory (at least according to the ultimately victorious Patriot side in that conflict) that the colonial assemblies (which would soon evolve into State legislatures) were, in fact, "mini-Parliaments" and that the newly independent States were, therefore, "mini-Englands", the legislatures of which were as capable of making law on behalf of their citizens as Parliament in Westminster itself was for the subjects of the British Crown on the "home island"; therefore, as far as the Patriots were concerned, there need not necessarily be either interference or oversight from London. Along with the Loyalist side, the British Crown and its Ministers, of course, most strongly disagreed with this assumption- but, after all, they ended up on the losing side in this particular dispute- and, while the average American most likely has very little, if any, cognizance of his or her State's legislators being much more the lineal descendants of 18th Century MPs than his or her Congressman might claim to be, it would behoove the reader to recognize this simple truth in attempting to understand the American Federal System.
Thus, each State of the Union has its own written Constitution- one of the fundamental theses of American politics so requiring just such a written instrument of governance as the fundamental charter, the fountainhead of Law, of any jurisdiction with its own inherent Sovereignty. The fact of the matter is that the Federal System is, indeed, "federal" precisely because of its containing dual Sovereignty- that of the Federal Government on the National level and that of each constituent State of the federation known as the United States of America- and, in America, where there is Sovereignty, it must be defined by a written Constitution. Let there be any doubt of the truth of the first two paragraphs of this piece and it is shown most effectively by accessing this "Constitution.phtml" table and sorting its contents by other than the default alphabetical arrangement: 15 American Constitutions are seen to have been in force before the delegates to the Convention of 1787 which would frame the Federal Constitution had even arrived in Philadelphia in May 1787 (there were 11 of the "original 13" States which had drafted at least one Constitution by 1787 [Connecticut and Rhode Island, for the time being, opting to continue to use their colonial Charters as de facto "State Constitutions"]- 2 of these were on their second such document by 1787; Vermont- having declared itself independent of New York- had also drafted two Constitutions by 1787); add to this the fact that the Articles of Confederation which ostensibly governed the nascent United States of America prior to the 1787 Constitution- if only by definition of the very word "confederation"- recognized the quasi-independent status of the States and the point made in this introductory segment should be most clear.
The ordered numbering of State Constitutions in the Constitutions.phtml table follows the best educated conclusions of the staff of TheGreenPapers.com. However, in quite a few cases, our numbering does not necessarily conform to that used by a given State; just to take one such example, the case of New Hampshire (where that State considers its current Constitution as being that dating from 1784, though the table on our site indicates otherwise) is instructive: likewise, a situation where a State has recodified its Constitution (that is, worked any and all amendments adopted thereto into the body of the document itself and, in addition, often rearranged its sections within Articles even where these sections have not been amended by those doing the recodification) subsequent to the document's original adoption/ratification.
Another dicey historical area involves 8 of the 11 States which seceded from the Union to form the old Confederacy (all but Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia) and, as a result, altered their State Constitutions in 1861, primarily to remove references in their fundamental documents to "the United States of America" and replace these with references to "the Confederate States of America"; some of these States count these altered Civil War-vintage documents as separate Constitutions, while others do not: upon reading each of these 1861 documents and comparing them to the Constitutions that would otherwise have been in force that year, the staff of TheGreenPapers.com has opted not to count any of these 8 as separate Constitutions.
The date of a Constitution's adoption is usually that on which the drafting body (much more often than not, a Constitutional Convention specifically called and elected for that purpose) gives final approval to the document; however, quite a few times, the date of adoption reflects the date the drafting body proclaimed the document to be the Constitution of the State after a separate ratification (often by a vote of the People of the State). A careful reading of any notes (besides any notation re: the date the drafting body convened) underneath the Adoption date should indicate where this latter scenario was, indeed, the case.
In the early days of State Constitution-making, it was quite uncommon to submit the document to the People for their ratification by majority vote at the polls; the theory in the late 18th Century going into the early 19th was that a Constitutional Convention was as much a body representative of the People as the State's legislature itself and that there was, thus, no need to have the People ratify the work once such a drafting body had formally adopted the document and then proclaimed it the Constitution of the State. However, ever since the democratic waves of the so-called "Jacksonian Revolution" began to break upon the republican foundations of the several States of the Union in the early mid-19th Century, the concept of a drafting body not submitting a Constitution to the People for their approval as tantamount to ratification of the document has become quite the rare thing. The notes underneath a given date in this column should clarify not just when the document was ratified but also how it was ratified (that is, answer the question: was it submitted to the People by the drafting body or not?)
When it comes to the admission of new States to the Union, the Federal Constitution reads as follows:
New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.
[Article IV, Section 3: Constitution of the United States]
Only 3 States (Kentucky, Maine and West Virginia) have been formed out of other States without first having been ceded to the United States for organization as pre-Statehood Territories; as a result, the operative passage of Article IV, Section 3 in the case of 34 of the 37 States added to the Union after the "original 13" had ratified the U.S. Constitution has simply been: New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union- a clause that gives the Federal Government quite a bit of leeway regarding just how to go about admitting such new States.
The most common method of admitting new States is for Congress to first enact what is known as an "Enabling Act" (usually once the potential State has petitioned Congress for Statehood and Congress has determined that such a State would be viable as a constituent member of the Union; but some Enabling Acts have been adopted without such petitioning) authorizing (that is, "enabling"- hence the name) a future State to begin the process of forming a State government (by drafting and ratifying a State Constitution and, thereafter, electing State officers under the terms of that document). Enabling Acts have most often been of the following two types, which- for convenience- we might call simple and compound : the simple Enabling Act merely authorizes the future State to form a State government alone, after which Congress MUST enact an Act of Admission in order for the State to then be considered a constituent State of the Union; a compound Enabling Act authorizes the State to form a State government to be followed by Admission shortly thereafter (that is, Admission as a State is an inherent part of the Enabling Act)- the State becomes a State of the Union upon some official recognition, at the Federal level, that the terms of the Enabling Act have been satisfactorily met. The compound Enabling Act has been the more commonly (as well as the more recently) used of the two types, as a casual perusal of the Constitution.phtml table will clearly show.
There has, however, been a third type of Enabling Act- which we might conveniently call the recognition type- utilized in the quest for Statehood: sometimes a future State will have an Enabling Act which simply indicates that Congress now recognizes a State government which had already been formed even before the Enabling Act itself had been adopted [in this case, what is "enabled" is not the formation of the State government itself but the Federal Government's ability to take legal cognizance of such State government]: often, this has been the result of a "wannabe"-State having had repeated petitions for Statehood rejected by Congress and, out of a kind of sheer frustration, the People of the jurisdiction goes ahead and elects a Constitutional Convention and then drafts and ratifies a potential State Constitution anyway in hopes of using the resultant document both as evidence of strong pro-Statehood sentiment and as leverage hopefully pushing Congress into eventually admitting the jurisdiction as a State. Such "grabbing the bull by the horns" is well illustrated by the case of Hawaii, where- without an Enabling Act- a State Constitution was drafted and ratified (as part of a vote approving Statehood) in 1950: after repeated failed attempts to pass a "Hawaii Statehood Bill" (really an Enabling Act of this third type), one finally passed Congress in early 1959 which allowed Hawaii to, soon thereafter, join the Union as our 50th State with its 9-year-old Constitution as the new State's fundamental charter.
It should be noted, however, that an Enabling Act is not essential for eventual Admission of State into the Union; a number of States have been admitted to the Union without first having been authorized to form a State government- or even having an already formed State government recognized- by an Enabling Act of any of the three types discussed above. These States have been admitted with only the Act of Admission itself- instead of the third, recognition type of Enabling Act- recognizing a State government already formed by these future States. It appears that the only hard and fast rule- when it comes to the Admission of new States under Article IV, Section 3, clause 1- is that at least one specific Act of Congress (whether an Enabling Act- with or without a subsequent Act of Admission [as opposed to a Joint Resolution of Congress and/or Presidential Proclamation subsequently admitting the State (see below)]- or an Act of Admission) is required at some point during the legal process leading to Statehood (thereby fulfilling the constitutional language that Congress be the admitting agent for new States)
Admission to the Union
As already noted, the usual course of action after the passage of an Enabling Act for a future State is that jurisdiction's drafting of a State Constitution and the election of State officers under that Constitution so that there will be people already in place to act as the State's government the minute the State is admitted to the Union. In the case of the simple Enabling Act (that only authorizing the future State to form a State government alone), Congress then decides whether or not to accept or reject the resultant State government and, if the new State's Constitution is acceptable to Congress (under the constitutional requirement that [t]he United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government [Article IV, Section 4, clause 1]), the Congress- again, as already noted above- MUST indicate such acceptance via a specific Act of Congress, known as an Act of Admission, upon which the jurisdiction in question becomes one of the constituent States of the Union.
However, if the Enabling Act was of the compound type (that in which a future State is not only authorized to form a State government but where the condition of eventual Admission is also a given [that is, not dependent on a subsequent specific Act of Admission]), then only a mere statement of the fact that the Federal Government has accepted that the requirements for Admission- as stated in such a compound Enabling Act- have been fulfilled need be made in order for a State to be declared as having been admitted to the Union: in the earlier days of the Republic, this was most often done by a Joint Resolution of Congress but, beginning primarily during the years immediately following the Civil War, the Joint Resolution declaring a State's admission has more and more been replaced by the issuance of a Proclamation of the President of the United States that the terms of a compound Enabling Act have been fulfilled and that the State, therefore, has been admitted to the Union.
The same method of admission of a State (through either a Joint Resolution or a Presidential Proclamation) also comes into play in cases where the consideration of the admission of a State has come about as a result of an Enabling Act of the recognition type (that in which Congress recognizes that a jurisdiction has already formed a State government), except that- while there is always a time lapse between the adoption of a compound Enabling Act and the subsequent actual declaration of Admission to Statehood (by whichever method)- an Enabling Act of the recognition type could conceivably admit the State forthwith (that is, the recognition type Enabling Act would itself be tantamount to an Act of Admission: this was case, for example, with both Arkansas in 1836 and Florida in 1845).
Congress and the President (who must sign either Acts of Admission or Joint Resolutions declaring Admission) reserve the right to place conditions upon Admission. After the potential State has formed a State government under any of the three types of Enabling Act discussed herein, Congress may- as part of its Act of Admission or Joint Resolution- order that the People of the State alter their new Constitution or agree to certain additional terms respecting their new relationship to the Federal Government before Admission can be finalized (in such cases, it has been common to leave it to the President to issue a Proclamation declaring that the terms thus set by Congress have been satisfactorily met and that, as a result, the State has been admitted to the Union). Likewise, a President himself retains the power to veto an Act of Admission or a Joint Resolution of Congress and- assuming the veto is not subsequently overridden by Congress- the future State must answer the President's objections before Admission can be finalized.
For example, such was the case with both Arizona and New Mexico in 1911: after both Territories had drafted State Constitutions and elected State governments under the terms of a compound Enabling Act- applying to both future States- adopted the year before, Congress had passed a Joint Resolution [H.J. Res. 14] declaring that the terms of the Enabling Act had been fulfilled in both jurisdictions and that they both were, thus, admitted to the Union as States as long as New Mexico submitted to its People an amendment to its new Constitution changing that document's Amending Procedure and Arizona submitted to its people an amendment to its new Constitution exempting Judges from the Recall provisions of that document (in neither case, was the failure of such amendments to pass an impediment to Statehood). However, President William Howard Taft vetoed this Joint Resolution on grounds of his objection to the Resolution having not- in effect- demanded that Arizona exempt Judges from its Recall provision, after which Congress adopted a second Joint Resolution [S.J. Res. 57] requiring Arizona to alter the Recall provision of its new Constitution as a requirement for Admission (to be certified by Presidential Proclamation once the alteration had been made) but not requiring New Mexico to necessarily alter its Constitution, merely continuing the earlier requirement that it merely submit a change in its Amending Procedure to popular vote; President Taft signed the second Joint Resolution [S.J. Res. 57], as it answered his objections to the first one (but, had the first Joint Resolution (H.J. Res 14) been signed into law by President Taft, Arizona might very well have been admitted as the 47th State, ahead of New Mexico, rather than the other way round).
When the States had met the conditions of the second Joint Resolution [S.J. Res. 57] signed by President Taft (New Mexico by submitting a change in the Amending Procedure of its Constitution to its People, Arizona by submitting its State Constitution again to its People, this time with Judges exempted from Recall), President Taft- by separate Presidential Proclamations issued early in 1912- eventually declared each of them admitted as States of the Union, in the order New Mexico-Arizona (an order solely due to the timing of the reception by the White House of official certifications of the implementation of the requirements of the second Joint Resolution in each Territory)- which is why Arizona came in as the 48th State and not the 47th.
State and Local Government Outline
- State and Local Government Home
- Historical Data in the STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT section
- Traditional Sections and Regions
- Links to State Constitutions
- Official Name and Status History
- Executive and Legislative Branches
- Local Government
- Election Authorities
Created Thu 9 Aug 2001. Modified .