Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1873 - 1874

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Ohio Constitutional Convention Delegates.jpg
Group of individual portrait photographs of the delegates to the 1872-1873 Ohio Constitutional Convention.

In 1871, some Ohio government officials felt the need to redraft Ohio's state constitution. The constitution currently in effect was the Constitution of 1851. During the twenty years since this document's ratification, the United States had experienced great change.

One of the greatest changes that had occurred within Ohio during these twenty years was a rapidly growing population. Between 1850 and 1870, Ohio's population had increased by more than 700,000 people to 2.7 million residents. Because of this larger population, legal cases had overwhelmed Ohio's courts. Many cases waited for years before the courts could hear them.

Ohio had moved as well from being an agricultural to a more industrialized society. Along with this change, much of Ohio's population was now in cities rather than rural areas. Some Ohioans felt that the changing society had created a sense of declining moral values. Many legislators and state residents hoped that a new constitution could address Ohio's new needs.

In October 1871, Ohio voters called for the state government to organize a constitutional convention. The legislature did not act until January 1873, when it called for an election to select representatives for the convention. The convention met for the first time in May 1873 in Columbus. It included fifty members of the Republican Party, forty-six members of the Democratic Party, and nine Independents. Despite having received a mandate from Ohio residents to replace the Constitution of 1851, the convention acted slowly. It took a full year before the convention had a new constitution to submit to Ohio voters. From May to August 1873, the convention met in Columbus. The convention then reconvened in Cincinnati in December 1873, where it remained until May 1874.

The conventioneers approved a constitution that was dramatically different from the Constitution of 1851. Under the proposed constitution, legislators would serve two-year terms and would be paid a flat annual salary rather than a salary based on the number of days the legislature was in session. The governor would receive the right to veto legislation, but the legislature could override the governor's action with a three-fifths vote in each house of the Ohio legislature. To assist the courts, the new constitution called for the creation of a new level of state courts. These courts were to be known as Circuit Courts, and they would hear cases appealed from the Court of Common Pleas. Ohioans could then appeal Circuit Court decisions to the Ohio Supreme Court. The document also addressed education and women's rights issues. Religious groups were prohibited from receiving state education funds. Women were permitted to hold all school offices in Ohio except Ohio Commissioner of Schools.

In August 1874, the convention sent the new constitution to Ohio's voters for ratification. Voters clearly rejected the constitution by a vote of 102,885 in favor of ratification and 250,169 opposed to the document's adoption. It is unclear why Ohioans so soundly rejected the constitution. Many contemporaries and later scholars claimed that it was due to another measure that appeared on the same ballot as the constitution. This measure permitted the Ohio government some oversight in the trafficking and sale of alcoholic beverages. Many temperance advocates opposed this measure because it would still allow the sale of alcohol. Having the constitution and the regulation of alcohol on the same ballot may have convinced these temperance advocates that the two issues were connected. As a result of this confusion, some temperance supporters voted down both issues.

Other people believed that Catholics especially opposed the constitution because it prohibited access to state funds for their private schools. Many Catholics believed that the taxes that they paid to support public education in the state should also be used to support private schools. Another explanation suggested that Democrats could not support a document in which Republicans had the greatest say due to the Republican Party's larger representation at the constitutional convention. Whatever the reasons for the constitution's defeat, Ohioans clearly rejected the document. The state did not hold another constitutional convention until 1912.

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