Ohio Constitution of 1851

From Ohio History Central

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The Constitution of the state of Ohio, shown here, was approved by a vote of 125,564 to 109,276 and went into effect on September 1, 1851.

By 1850, many Ohioans believed the time had come to replace the Constitution of 1803. New issues had arisen that the drafters of the first constitution had not foreseen. The Constitution of 1803 had given great power to the Ohio General Assembly. With the exception of the governor, the legislature had the power to appoint judges and all other government officials. This gave the legislature nearly complete control over the government. The Constitution of 1803 also required the Supreme Court to meet once each year in every county in the state. When the Constitution of 1803 originally went into effect, few counties existed. Over the next fifty years the number of counties increased until it was virtually impossible for the Supreme Court to fulfill its obligations under the original constitution.

The new constitution was to be drafted via a Constitutional Convention. The convention was to meet in Columbus, but a cholera epidemic moved the meeting to Chillicothe. William Medill served as the convention president. A majority of the Constitutional Convention of 1850's delegates belonged to the Democratic Party. The Democrats were divided into liberal and conservative factions. Liberal Democrats, like Charles Reemelin, tended to favor working class issues. Conservatives were more likely to believe that power should remain in the hands of the wealthy. Because of this division, the Whig Party delegates commonly served as the swing votes between the Democratic Party's divided representatives.

The Ohio Constitution of 1851 gave Ohio voters the right to elect the governor, other high-ranking state officials, and judges. Rather than having only two levels of courts within the state, a third level of district courts was added between the Ohio Supreme Court and common pleas courts. An overwhelming majority of the delegates voted against extending suffrage to African-American men and women of all races. As such, only adult white men who had resided in the state for at least one year could vote. These voters had to approve all constitutional amendments in the future and received the option to call a new constitutional convention every twenty years.

Even after the adoption of the new Constitution of 1851, the state legislature was still the dominant branch of state government in Ohio. The governor did not have the right to veto legislative acts. The legislature had the power to tax, but the legislature had to tax all social classes at the same rate and could not implement a lottery or a poll tax. The legislature also had the power to create new counties, but only with the approval of the residents of the proposed county. The last county created in Ohio was Noble County, which was established on April 1, 1851. This was several months before the Constitution of 1851 went into effect.

The Constitutional Convention of 1851 adjourned its proceedings on March 10, 1851. Seventy-nine delegates voted in favor of the constitution, while fourteen opposed it. The people in opposition primarily belonged to the Whig Party and the Free Soil Party. To go into effect, Ohio voters had to approve the constitution. They did so overwhelmingly on June 17, 1851. Although numerous amendments have been made over the years, the Constitution of 1851 remains the fundamental law of Ohio.

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