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1. Kentucky was never a territory. It was part of Virginia, but that just didn’t feel right. After holding several conventions thru the 1780s to decide what to do w/ itself, eventually w/ VA’s blessing, it chose statehood. But 1st it needed a constitution. #50Weeks50Constitutions
2. Kentucky’s 1st constitutional convention lasted less than 3 weeks. The resulting document had no religious qualifications for office (except you couldn’t be an acting minister), no property qualifications for office, & annual elections for state representative.
3. But it wasn’t all wild-eyed radicalism. There also was an electoral college to choose both the governor & the state senate. Judges were not elected. Also, indicating the delegates’ priorities, the supreme court was given original jurisdiction in land cases.
4. It had an extensive declaration of rights, including many from the very fresh 1st 10 amendments to the US Constitution. Finally, the 1792 constitution also explicitly recognized the legality of slavery, the first American constitution to do so.
5. 7 years went by & some things just weren’t working out. So another convention wrote a constitution in 1799. Not much changed, tho, although the governor & senators were directly elected. Also, it got very difficult to amend, needing a majority vote in 2 successive elections.
6. This finally happened in in 1849. The resulting 1850 Constitution created judicial elections & beefed up slavery protections. It also addressed the state’s out-of-control spending, capping public debt, & banned duel participants from public office.
7. The priority of addressing the state’s debt was a common theme of the time. Many states had busted their budgets on crooked deals lavishing funds for public works projects on insiders.
8. And then the (Civil) war came. Kentucky was in an awkward spot, of course, a slave state that remained with the Union. Constitutionally, the state kept its head down & didn’t hold a convention during the conflict or in its aftermath.
9. However, once the Reconstruction Amendments to the US Constitution were adopted, Kentucky still had its slavery protections in its text, something that, of course, was now a dead letter. The question of whether to hold a “clean up” convention thus went to the voters.
10 Yet from 1873 to 1885 it was rejected over & over again. It finally passed in 1887, and by 1891 the state had a new, anti-slavery, constitution, which it still has today.
11. The new constitution was a bit easier to amend (the legislature could do it on its own). It also put the bill of rights at the beginning & limited local & special legislation. Its overall size was much larger, w/ detailed sections on cities, corporations, & railroads.
12. One interesting provision is Section 106, which mandates local officials be paid out of the state treasury & not from fees. Apparently at one time some of these offices made so much money from fees that their salaries were as much as 8 times the governor’s!
13. Sources:

Robert Ireland, The Kentucky State Constitution (2011)

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