Color image of the first page of Michigan's 1835 constitution reading "Constitution of the State of Michigan."
What is a Constitution?
Michigan History Center Staff
Let’s Define Constitution
Before a territory can become a state, it has to write a constitution. A constitution is a set of laws or a plan about how a government is organized. Michigan wrote its first constitution in 1835, two years before it became a state.
State constitutions are often similar to one another, and very similar to the United States Constitution. They have rules about freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Because the territory of Michigan was part of the Northwest Ordinance, it had extra rules that needed to be included in its constitution.
What’s in Michigan’s First Constitution
First, Michigan couldn’t have slavery anymore. Slavery is a system by which people enslave other people. People who are enslaved don’t get paid and don’t choose who they work for or what work they do. Enslaved people are treated like property that can be sold to someone else. Michigan allowed slavery before it decided to become a state. However, rules in the Northwest Ordinance said that Michigan’s state constitution had to make slavery illegal.
Second, Michigan had to put education into its constitution. The law said that the state had to provide an education for young people, and the state government would pay for it. That might not sound like a big deal today, but not many states had free education in 1835.
A third interesting thing in the constitution is about the state capital. In 1835, Detroit was the capital city. The new constitution stated that the state capital had to be moved closer to the middle of the state by 1847.
Over the years, constitutions become old and outdated. When this happens, states write new constitutions. Michigan has had four constitutions since 1835. The last time Michigan wrote a constitution was in 1963.
What Did I Learn?
List three facts you learned from the story.
List a question (or questions if you have more than one) the story didn’t answer.
The First Try
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