PGI logo cropped.png
Congressional Millionaire’s Club
The Personal Gain Index shines a light on how members of Congress benefit during their tenure.

Tennessee Constitution

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Tennessee Constitution
Seal of Tennessee.png
The Tennessee State Constitution is the basic governing document of the state of Tennessee.


The Tennessee Constitution defines the form, structure, activities, character and fundamental rules, and means for changing them, of the Tennessee government. It consists of a preamble, 11 articles and a schedule.[1]


See also: Preambles to state constitutions

The Tennessee Constitution's preamble is much longer than its counterpart in the United States Constitution. Much of that length is devoted to justifying the authority behind the new constitution — that the new constitution was created under the authority of the constitution of 1835 and was itself created under the authority of the original 1796 convention.

The preamble to the Tennessee Constitution states:

Whereas, The people of the territory of the United States south of the river Ohio, having the right of admission into the general government as a member state thereof, consistent with the Constitution of the United States, and the act of cession of the state of North Carolina, recognizing the ordinance for the government of the territory—of the United States north west of the Ohio River, by their delegates and representatives in convention assembled, did on the sixth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety six, ordain and establish a Constitution, or form of government, and mutually agreed with each other to form themselves into a free and independent state by the name of the state of Tennessee, and, Whereas, The General Assembly of the said state of Tennessee, (pursuant to the third section of the tenth article of the Constitution,) by an act passed on the Twenty-seventh day of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-three, entitled, “An Act” to provide for the calling of a convention, passed in obedience to the declared will of the voters of the state, as expressed at the general election of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-three, did authorize and provide for the election by the people of delegates and representatives, to meet at Nashville, in Davidson County, on the third Monday in May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-four, for the purpose of revising and amending, or changing, the Constitution, and said convention did accordingly meet and form a Constitution which was submitted to the people, and was ratified by them, on the first Friday in March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-five, and, Whereas, The General Assembly of said state of Tennessee, under and in virtue of the first section of the first article of the Declaration of Rights, contained in and forming a part of the existing Constitution of the state, by an act passed on the fifteenth day of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine, did provide for the calling of a convention by the people of the state, to meet at Nashville, on the second Monday in January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy, and for the election of delegates for the purpose of amending or revising the present Constitution, or forming and making a new Constitution; and, Whereas, The people of the state, in the mode provided by said Act, have called said convention, and elected delegates to represent them therein; now therefore, We, the delegates and representatives of the people of the state of Tennessee, duly elected, and in convention assembled, in pursuance of said act of Assembly have ordained and established the following Constitution and form of government for this state, which we recommend to the people of Tennessee for their ratification: That is to say[1]

Article I: Declaration of Rights

Article I of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Declaration of Rights" and consists of 35 sections. It is considered Tennessee's Bill of Rights and copies verbatim many of the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights, although the provisions describing them are generally much lengthier than those of the United States Constitution.

Article II: Separation of powers

Article II of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Distribution of Powers." It states that there are to be three separate branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. It also explicitly states that no one from one is to exercise rights belonging to any of the others, something considered implicit in the national constitution or inferred by its interpreters.

Article III: Executive

Article III of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Executive" and consists of 18 sections. It allows the governor to serve a two-year term, a provision superseded by the 1953 amendments. The executive branch is empowered with a line-item veto, but a majority of all members in each house may override this veto, which is the same vote required to enact the bill initially. The governor is the head of the state militia but may only exercise this power if the General Assembly authorizes him to do so when "the public safety requires it"."[1]

Article IV: Elections

Article IV of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Elections" and consists of four sections.

Article V: Impeachments

Article V of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Impeachments" and consists of five sections.

Article VI: Judicial Department

Article VI of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Judicial Department" and consists of 14 sections. It creates the judiciary, composed of Tennessee's Supreme Court, Chancery courts and others to be "ordained and established" as deemed necessary.

Article VII: State and County Officers

Article VII of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "State and County Officers" and consists of five sections.

Article VIII: Militia

Article VIII of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Militia" and consists of three sections. It specifies that all officers be elected by those subject to service within their groupings and as the Legislature directs but that the governor appoint his staff officers and they in turn appoint their staff officers. The Legislature is also directed to exempt religious conscientious objectors.

Article IX: Disqualifications

Article IX of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Disqualifications" and consists of three sections. It lists three groups of people who are barred from various privileges:

  • Ministers of any religion may not sit as legislators because they "ought not be diverted from the great duties of their functions."
  • Atheists may not perform any office in the government.
  • Anyone having anything to do with a duel may not hold any "honor or profit" under the state's government and is liable to be punished otherwise.

It should be noted that the restrictions on minsters and atheists have been deemed to be unenforceable due to the interpretations of the Supreme Court of the United States with regard to the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Article X: Oaths, Bribery of Electors, New Counties

Article X of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Oaths, Bribery of Electors, New Counties" and consists of five sections.

Article XI: Miscellaneous Provisions

Article XI of the Tennessee Constitution is entitled "Miscellaneous Provisions" and consists of 18 sections.


The "Schedule" of the Tennessee Constitution follows eleven articles and a preamble. It consists of four sections.

Amending the constitution

See also: Amending state constitutions and Section 3 of Article XI of the Tennessee Constitution

The Tennessee Constitution can be amended in these two ways:

As established in Section 3, Article XI, via legislatively-referred constitutional amendments.

  • Amendments can be proposed in either chamber of the Tennessee State Legislature.
  • If a majority of the members of both houses approve of a proposed amendment, that amendment must then be referred to the next session of the legislature that meets after the next election of members of the legislature.
  • Proposed amendments have be published six months previous to the election that intervenes between the first session and the second session of the legislature that consider the amendment.
  • When the second session of the legislature considers the amendment, "two-thirds of all the members elected to each house" must approve of it.
  • If that happens, the proposed amendment is placed on the statewide ballot at "the next general election in which a governor is to be chosen."
  • The proposed amendment is approved if it gains more "yes" votes than "no" votes and if the "yes" votes equal "a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor."

As established in Section 3 of Article XI, via constitutional convention.

  • The Legislature can submit to the people at any general election "the question of calling a convention to alter, reform, or abolish" the constitution or any parts of it.
  • If a majority of all the voters voting upon the convention question approve the proposal, a convention then is called.
  • The state cannot hold a convention "oftener than once in six years."


Tennessee's constitution was written in 1870, after the Civil War, and came into effect on June 1, 1796 concurrent with the state's admission to the Union. Tennessee's current constitution is its third constitution. Previous constitutions were written in 1796 and 1834. Unlike the latter two, the original was never submitted to the voters but rather approved by Congress in conjunction with the resolution admitting Tennessee as a state.[2][3][4]

Tennessee constitutional convention delegates met in Knoxville in January 1796 to write a constitution for a new state. This was a requirement before Congress would grant statehood. The new state constitution was based on the United States Constitution. It had both a Senate and House of Representatives. In addition, any free male over 21 who owned at least 200 acres and had lived in the territory for three years could vote.[4][5]

Thomas Jefferson described Tennessee’s new constitution as the “least imperfect and most republican” one of its time. The constitution allowed free blacks who met the land and residency requirements to vote; however, this would change with the adoption of a new state constitution in 1834. Members of the constitutional convention removed land ownership requirements but inserted the word “white” in defining who could vote. This took away suffrage from free blacks. Women were also not allowed to vote.[4]

In the first half of the nineteenth century a number of states, responding to social forces pressing the case for a greater role for the average white citizen, revised their constitutions. Tennessee became part of this trend when, on May 19, 1834, sixty delegates assembled in Nashville in a constitutional convention. White citizens received greater opportunities for political expression and office holding. However, the new found concern with the "common man" extended to whites only. In making suffrage changes, the delegates restricted the vote to white men, thereby disfranchising free black males, who had voted under the 1796 Constitution. A variety of other issues were addressed. Antislavery groups petitioned for the abolition of slavery, but the delegates rejected their appeals. Instead, the convention added language requiring the approval of slave owners for the passage of any future acts of emancipation. When presented to the voters in March 1835, the new constitution was ratified by a vote of 42,666 in favor to 17,691 against.[6]

See also

StateConstitutions Ballotpedia.jpg

External links

BallotpediaAvatar bigger.png
Suggest a link

Additional reading