Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 11 Summary

Democracy Affirmed: The People of Pennsylvania Write a Constitution

“… and with preamble sweet
Of charming symphony they introduce
Their sacred song …”

Although most Americans are not aware of it, the first and only truly democratic constitution is not the United States Constitution, ratified on June 21,1788, but the Pennsylvania State Constitution ratified eleven years earlier on September 28, 1776.

Unlike the U.S. Constitution to be drafted little more than a decade later, the Pennsylvania state Constitution had a Declaration of Rights, modeled on that of Virginia. Under the new Pennsylvania Constitution, the Assembly had supreme power. There was no second house to check its influence. No governor could veto its laws. All proceedings were to be published and opened to public inspection. All bills of a public nature were to be printed for public review before the final debate, amendment and passage.

Elections were to occur annually. A representative could serve no more than four years in any seven. There was a plural executive with powers limited to executing the law. Any councilor who served for three consecutive years, was required to wait four years until he could serve again.

As a further safeguard against corruption and abuses of power, the Pennsylvania Constitution instituted a Council of Censors, comprised of two representatives from each city and county, to be elected once every seven years. Its responsibility was to preserve the integrity of the Constitution and the rights of the citizens. In essence it was to serve as an ombudsman, to ensure that the Pennsylvania State Constitution was honored in letter and in spirit, that the citizenry was not suffering due to arbitrary governance.