The Missouri Constitution is the fundamental governing document for the state. Though all 50 states have written their own constitution, the only federal requirement is that they must guarantee a Republic form of government. Thus, most states have used the United States’ Constitution as their blueprint when drafting their own. Unlike the more detailed state constitutions, the U.S. Constitution is different in that it isn’t as specific or as comprehensive as a state document needs to be, and this is one of the reasons why it has only been amended 27 times in 227 years. This is also why the U.S. Constitution is one of the greatest documents of all time. It is “a living document,” designed to adapt and grow as the nation changes and grows.
When Missouri became a state in 1821, she patterned her constitution after the U.S Constitution with three branches of government as well as a system of checks and balances and a method by which state government could be altered or changed through the amendment process. Since becoming a state, Missouri has been served by four different constitutional documents. As the state changed, the demands on government grew, resulting in needed amendments to keep up with the fluctuating times.
Before being admitted as a state into the Union in 1821, Missouri had to present its first constitution to the United StatesCongress. That constitution was very general and brief and outlined a bicameral (two houses) legislature with a governor and a lieutenant governor elected by popular vote. Only the legislature had the power to amend that constitution. The second Missouri constitution came during one of the most difficult times in American history—the Civil War. The constitution of 1865 was a strong anti-Confederate document, allowing only those who were loyal to the Union the right to vote and requiring all constitutional amendments to be ratified by a popular vote of the people.
Because of strong Southern sympathies in our state, the constitution of 1865 was replaced in 1875. This was Missouri’s third constitution and was longer than the first two as it contained more detailed information pertaining to the governing of the state. This constitution lasted for 70 years and was amended 173 times in order to adapt to the many changes that had taken place in the state. One of the provisions in Missouri’s third constitution was to give her citizens an opportunity to decide every 20 years whether to hold a constitutional convention for the purpose of drafting a new constitution.In 1942, voters decided it was time for a new one.
Missouri’s current constitution was approved by voters in 1944 and adopted in 1945. Our fourth and current constitution included a Bill of Rights with 13 Articles and more detailed pertinent state information. It also retained the opportunity for Missouri’s citizens to decide whether to hold a constitutional convention. This provision automatically appears on a state ballot every 20 years. It was on the 1962, the 1982, and the 2002 ballots, with Missouri voters always rejecting the need for a new convention. It is next scheduled to appear on the 2022 ballot.
Missouri is one of twenty-seven states who gives her citizens the right to amend its state constitution through a petition initiative process or a legislative-referred process. The petition initiative process can put an issue on statewide ballots based on a somewhat complicated requirement of collecting signatures from registered voters; the legislative-referred process allows an issue to be placed on a statewide ballot after passing through both Houses of the Legislature. Our present constitution has been amended more than 200 times since 1945.
As previously mentioned, there are five important amendments on the ballot whose fate voters will determine when they go to the polls on August 5. Amendment 1— “Farming Rights Amendment”: to give a constitutional guarantee for farmers and ranchers to lawfully engage in their profession; Amendment 5—to strengthen the right to keep and bear arms by declaring that state government is obligated to uphold that right; Amendment 7— to seek to approve a ¾ cent sales tax to fund all transportation projects in Missouri and which carries a ten-year sunset, exempting grocery, medicine, and gasoline sales; Amendment 8— to add electronic data to the 4th Amendment to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures; Amendment 9—to create a Veteran’s Lottery ticket with all the funds to go to projects and services for veterans.
In 1945, perhaps the only one of these amendments that would have been considered pertinent for that era would have been the funding of roads. Yet, as times and state needs change, their constitutional so needs to change. What that change looks like in Missouri will be determined in August. Be a part of it. Please exercise your right and responsibility to vote on August 5.