State Seal Issue Survey

Student Handout B


Our current Florida Constitution is actually our state's sixth constitution. It was adopted in 1968 and replaced the 1885 version. Florida's five previous constitutions reflected the times in which their drafters lived, 1838, 1861, 1865, 1868, and 1885. Much of their work is still in place in the 1968 Constitution in such areas as the elected cabinet system. Let's take a look at Florida's six constitutions.

1838 - Florida's first Constitution was written at a convention in St. Joseph. Fifty-six delegates drafted the Constitution in seeking statehood for Florida which was granted on March 3, 1845.

Highlights: Established a government with a one-term governor, bi-cameral legislature, and departmental administrators selected by the legislature and eligible for re-election. Bankers and clergymen were banned from being elected as governors or legislators. The 1838 Florida Constitution strongly affirmed the system of slavery, prohibiting any legislation to emancipate slaves but authorizing legislation to prevent free blacks from entering Florida.

1861 - Florida's second constitution drafters adopted an ordinance of secession and tied Florida to the "Confederate States of America" as opposed to the United States. The convention met in Tallahassee. This constitution was not submitted to the electorate for ratification since the law governing the convention gave it the power to make the necessary changes.

1865 - The third Florida Constitution was devised by a convention to annul the ordinance of secession. Adopted shortly after the Civil War, it never became law because Florida came under post-Civil War military jurisdiction. Although it acknowledged the abolition of slavery, it restricted jury service and even witness testimony to whites only (unless the victim was black) and denied newly-freed blacks (as well as women) the right to vote.

1868 - Florida's fourth constitution reflected the turbulent times of post-Civil War Reconstruction and military occupation. Referred to as the "Carpetbag" Constitution, it centralized authority in the governor, providing that county officials would be appointed by him, not elected locally. The 1868 Constitution also required a system of public schools, a state prison, and other institutions, required taxes to be uniform, and protected the homestead of a debtor from forced sale. It extended voting and other rights to all males, and allocated a seat in the State Senate and House to Seminole Indians.

1885 - The framers of the fifth constitution sought to weaken executive authority and impose checks on what they considered the abuses of Reconstruction governments. They established an elected cabinet and elected government officials, along with reducing elected state officials' salaries and limiting the governor to one term. It authorized a poll tax (which lasted until 1937) that served to deny poor blacks and whites the right to vote.

The 1885 Florida Constitution was Florida's longest-lived and most amended constitution. There were 212 amendments proposed and 149 adopted by the voters in those years.

1968 - By the 1960's, there were dozens of amendments proposed in each session of the legislature. Florida's current constitution was adopted in 1968 and replaced the 1885 version. In 1880, Florida was a frontier society of 269,000 people. By 1970, Florida had grown into a modern, urbanized, rapidly expanding state of 6,789,000 in 1970.

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