About eight years after the passage of Mississippi’s 1817 constitution, sectional concerns led dissatisfied citizens to begin calling for a new constitutional convention. Voters approved a convention by an overwhelming four-to-one margin in 1831, and forty-eight delegates—again, elite businessmen, lawyers, and doctors, though only five men had participated in the earlier convention—assembled in Jackson in September 1832. Rutilius Pray presided.
Three issues topped the agenda. The first two, land expansion and a permanent location for the state capital, generated little discussion, much less controversy. Delegates first disposed of vast new properties acquired through agreements with the Choctaw (Treaty of Doak’s Stand in 1820 and Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830) and the Chickasaw (Treaty of Pontotoc in 1832) before selecting Jackson as the permanent capital. But the third issue, the method of selection for judges, splintered the assembly into three distinct camps. The more conservative element, labeled “aristocrats” by delegate Stephen Duncan, preferred to continue having judges appointed. The “half-hogs” promoted a mixed system, with appointment of appellate judges and election of the trial bench. The “whole-hogs” endorsed the changeover to a fully elected judiciary. The convention eventually settled on the third option, making Mississippi the first state to elect its judges.
The convention approved modest alterations in the organization of state institutions and in the service of officeholders. Minimum ages for lawmakers as well as their tenure changed. On the House side, delegates lowered the age threshold to twenty-one and increased the term of office to two years; eligibility for the Senate was raised to age thirty, while terms were increased to four years. The executive branch fared less well, losing the gubernatorial power to appoint judges and the post of lieutenant governor, and the right to unlimited succession. The assembly also restructured and detailed the judicial subsystem by creating a dual system of trial courts—circuit and chancery (divided along the lines of subject-matter jurisdiction)—which became overseen by the new High Court of Errors and Appeals.
The 1832 assembly championed participatory democracy, though it is unclear whether identifiable Jacksonian impulses inspired its delegates. The convention eliminated property ownership as a qualification for public office and no longer required militia service or tax payment as a criterion for service in the legislature. In addition, legislative apportionment was based on the total number of free white residents. The document also banned the sale of slaves as merchandise and gave Native Americans in the state the same rights as whites.
On 26 October, two months after the opening gavel, the convention approved the new constitution by a vote of thirty-six to ten. Despite the national democratic culture and the document’s participatory features, it was never submitted to the people for ratification, though it remained in force until Mississippi seceded from the United States in 1861.
- Barbara Carpenter, ed., Understanding Mississippi’s Constitutions (1989)
- George Etheridge, Mississippi Constitutions (1927)
- Mississippi Law Journal (April 1986)
- John W. Winkle III, The Mississippi State Constitution: A Reference Guide (1993)