by Maurice A. Thompson
Director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law
A History Rooted in Limited Government
In May of 1850, 108 men from across the state gathered to rewrite Ohio’s original constitution, adopted in 1802. This conglomerate of 37 lawyers, 35 farmers, ten editors, eight merchants, seven medical doctors, and the remainder comprised of blacksmiths, surveyors, and millers, set out with a specific purpose: “keep the power in the hands of the legislature, and then tie its hands.”ii To do this, the delegates to the 1850-1851 constitutional convention authored constitutional provisions that left behind a “self-acting Constitution.”
The Ohio Constitution is special because it was passed in an era where the people of Ohio believed in individual rights and resented the authority that attempted to interfere with such rights,” and “had no use for any central authority.”iv This period in the state’s history has a familiar tenor: it coincided with the average citizen’s growing awareness of “the mad rush to rob the state treasury and heap up debts to be paid by generations yet unborn,”v and recognition that the legislature had become “the pliant tool of individual greed.”vi Much like today, this “mad rush” and “individual greed” involved bailouts and gifts to private corporations that claimed to be necessary to our way of life, particularly railroad and canal corporations.
In 1850, to put an end to such things, Ohioans called a constitutional convention.