Four constitutional conventions have been held since the first
convention drafted the Constitution of 1776. These succeeding convention, convened in 1789, 1837, 1874, and 1967, were held in response to demands for sweeping changes to the existing constitution. Procedures for the convening of constitutional conventions have varied. The 1776 and 1789 conventions were held without any prior approval by the general electorate.

The 1776 Provincial Convention was held as a result of a calling by a conference of extra-legal Committees of Correspondence. The resulting constitution provided for an elected body known as the Council of Censors to serve as a check on the executive and legislative branches. The council was to be elected every seven years, and was to convene for a period of one year. The council was given the authority to censure public officials, order impeachment, recommend the repeal of legislation, and if necessary, call for a convention to amend the constitution. This machinery for constitutional revision was ignored in 1789 when the General Assembly called for a constitutional convention. All provisions for the Council of Censors were omitted from the Constitution of 1790 and from subsequent constitutions.

A new constitution that was adopted and signed in 1838 reduced the governor’s appointive powers, increased the number of elective offices, shortened terms of office, and disenfranchised free African Americans. The Constitution of 1874 provided for popular election of judges, the state treasurer, and the auditor general; created the office of lieutenant governor and the Department of Internal Affairs; and created the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction to head the public school system. This constitution also lengthened the governor’s term to four years but stipulated that a governor could no longer succeed himself, and gave the governor veto power over individual items within appropriations bills. Under this constitution the sessions of the General Assembly became biennial, the membership in the Assembly was increased and its powers were limited by a prohibition of special or local legislation on certain specified subjects and a constitutional debt limit was established.


Journals, 1837-1838. (8 boxes) Each journal is arranged chronologically by date of convention meeting. Journals that document the activities of the Constitutional Convention of 1837-1838. The dates are May 23-31, 1837; June 1-30, 1837; July 1-Oct. 31, 1837; Nov. 1-30, 1837; Jan. 1-16, 1838; Jan. 17-Feb. 7, 1838; Feb. 8-22, 1838; and undated.

Journal, July 8, 1837 includes a report titled Memorial of the Free Citizens of Color in Pittsburgh and Its Vicinity Relative to the Right of Suffrage. The report was prepared by a committee appointed by the "coloured citizens" of the City of Pittsburgh on June 13, 1837. It "was read, and unanimously adopted, in a public meeting of the free coloured citizens of Pittsburgh, and ordered to accompany their memorial to the Convention of 1837." The memorial was signed by Lewis Woodson, secretary of the Free Coloured Citizens of Pittsburgh, and John B. Vashon, of Pittsburgh, Joseph Mahonney, of Allegheny town, Samuel Reynolds and Thomas Knox, of Arthursville, as well as other committee members. Included are other memorial petitions to the convention. Many of these petitions requested a hange in the constitution to recognize the rights of African Americans as legal residents of Pennsylvania and as citizens of the United States, while others petitioned against the "amalgamation" of the races.


Records of the Information Office, 1967-1968. (39 folders, 1 volume) Records kept by the Convention’s Information Office, which distributed information about convention activities to the media. Included are copies of the Convention Reporter, a daily newsletter that documented the progress of the convention; copies of news releases and radio tape scripts; newspaper articles having source and date notations; and a color film entitled A Living Constitution. Among the items present are the following:

Directory of Delegates. Contains photographs and bio-graphical information on such African Americans as Philadelphia Democrat William H. Gray, a minister and member of the Civil Service Commission, and Pittsburgh attorney K. Leroy Irvis, a Democratic speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1977, 1983-1987.

Convention Reporter, Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, 1967-1968. Papers prepared for each day of the convention including many articles on African Americans in Pennsylvania. Representative of some of these articles are the December 13, 1967 issue which contains an article about Jimmy Jones who rewrote football history as a high school quarterback. The 175 pound all-star from John Harris High School in Harrisburg served as a page for four days at the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. The January 8, 1968 issue contains a proposal introduced by African American delegate K. Leroy Irvis recommending that all state-related or state-aided institutions of higher learning be placed on "preferred" status, making them a part of the General Appropriation Budget each year. In the January 30, 1964 issue an article entitled "Convention Harmony" describes a special concert given by the Sixty-four-member Bright Hope Baptist Church Choir of Philadelphia, pastored by delegate William H. Gray Jr.

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