Brewer's constitution views shared
Published 1:55 pm Wednesday, April 11, 2007
By By Albert Brewer – Former Alabama Governor
For the past several years a citizens' group, Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, has been pressing the legislature to allow the people of Alabama to vote on the issue of calling a constitutional convention to revise the constitution. One might ask: why a revision movement? Why does Alabama's constitution need rewriting? To answer these questions, one must look at a brief history of the present constitution and its impact on our state.
In May of 1901, when 155 delegates assembled in Montgomery to write a new constitution, Alabama was an agricultural society. The state was still feeling the economic ravages of reconstruction. The state debt was overwhelming. In fact the state was insolvent. The former slaves had been granted the right to vote, but their votes were being manipulated and even stolen to support an entrenched power structure consisting primarily of the planter and industrial interests.
Election fraud became so widespread that there was virtual unanimous agreement that the suffrage provisions of the constitution had to be revised. Unfortunately, the form of revision focused on the recently franchised former slaves. The result was a dark chapter in Alabama history.
The primary objective of the 1901 Convention was to deal with what was commonly called “The Negro Problem.”
In his remarks accepting election as President of the Convention, John Knox said, “In my judgment, the people of Alabama have been called upon to face no more important situation than now confronts us, unless it be when they, in 1861, stirred by the momentous issue of the impending conflict between the North and the South, were forced to decide whether they would remain in or withdraw from the Union. . .
The Convention dealt with the “problem” by incorporating in the new constitution disfranchising provisions such as requiring property ownership, educational requirements, residency requirements, the payment of poll taxes, and no convictions of certain enumerated crimes. The poll tax and property requirements not only disfranchised the former slaves but also thousands of white people, particularly in North Alabama. In addition to the suffrage provisions, there was a raft of blatant racist provisions which, though held unconstitutional by courts over the years, nevertheless still appear in the text of the constitution.
In the name of economy the 1901 Constitution brought forward from the 1875 Constitution the prohibitions on public improvements: “The state shall not engage in works of internal improvement, nor lend its credit in aid of such; nor shall the state be interested in any private or corporate enterprise, or lend money or its credit to any individual, association or corporation.” These same restrictions were placed on local governments.
Similar restrictions prohibited the state's incurring debt, placed ceilings on the ad valorem taxes which could be levied by state and local government.