Thursday, August 25, 2011

1850 Kentucky Bill of Rights

While doing some poking around online researching for a work project I found the Bill of Rights for the 1850 Kentucky Constitution.

Like other states, Kentucky has gone through its fair share of constitutions. The commonwealth's first one came in 1792, when the bluegrass state became the #15 state in the Union. It was rewritten in 1799, again in 1850 and then lastly in 1891.

Article 13 of the 1850 constitution is the document's Bill of Rights, of which there are 30 sections. But, it was the first four sections that really caught my attention.

The Bill of Rights begins: "That the general, great, and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and established, WE DECLARE-" Nothing earth shattering there...sounds very American.

"1. That all freemen, when they form a social compact, are equal, and that no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive, separate public emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services." At least it says "freemen" are equal. I wonder what free men of color in Kentucky in the 1850s would have thought about that statement.

"2. That absolute, arbitrary power over the lives, liberty, and property of freemen exists nowhere in a Republic, not even in the largest majority." In other words. you can't take our property away from us, even if you are in the majority.

"3. The right of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanction; and the right of an owner of a slave to such slave, and its increase, is the same, and as inviolable as the right of the owner of any property whatever." Property is preeminent! Is it clear when we say property that we mean slaves are our property?

"4. That all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority , and instituted for their peace, safety, happiness, security, and the protection of property. For the advancement of these ends, they have, at all times, and inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish their government, in such manner as they think proper." If that is not a statement of states rights I don't know what is. John C. Calhoun couldn't have made a stronger statement. However, Kentucky never thought it proper to alter, reform or abolish their government when their property was threatened fourteen years later, during the Civil War.

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