Ohio History Journal

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The 1802 Constitutional Convention

and Status of the Negro





What does the 1802 Ohio constitution say regarding freedom, suffrage, and "citizen

rights" for negroes and mulattoes?1 How were decisions made at the constitutional

convention? Who were the decision-makers?

Since even today confusion exists in historical studies on these questions, it is

hoped that answers, in some degree, can be obtained from a vote by vote study of

the eight major motions concerning the negro that were taken up at the convention.2

Even though a detailed account of the proceedings was not kept that would tell us

how decisions were made, it is possible to determine from the official journal and

from biographical data that has not been widely used by previous researchers what

decisions were made, who voted in what way, and what outside factors were not

influencing the vote. This study then consists of an analysis of the voting patterns

that led to the final wording of the constitution relative to the status of negroes and

mulattoes. From these patterns certain quantitative inferences are made that appear

to be valid. Since personal motivation of the delegates concerning particular votes

is not known in most cases, qualitative judgments are avoided.

One historian who has written in more detail than most others on the voting at

the convention concludes from his analysis that the delegates were "more controlled

by feeling than by reason."3 At times the voting does seem to be contradictory and


1. The term "citizen rights" is used within quotation marks to indicate that it is a coined

term used to refer to general civil rights normally granted to white citizens in the early 1800's.

In the journal of the convention these rights were not designated by a specific adjective but

were referred to only as "section seven."

2. Some general studies of the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1802 are included in

the following works: Richard Frederick O'Dell, "The Early Antislavery Movement in Ohio"

(unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1948), 96-128; William T. Utter, The

Frontier State, 1803-1925 (Carl Wittke, ed., The History of the State of Ohio, II, Columbus,

1942), 3-31; Julia Perkins Cutler, Life and Times of Ephraim Cutler: Prepared from His

Journals and Correspondences. . . (Cincinnati, 1890), 66-82; Frank U. Quillin, The Color Line

in Ohio: A History of Race Prejudice in a Typical Northern State (Ann Arbor, 1913), 13-20;

Daniel J. Ryan, History of Ohio: The Rise and Progress of an American State (Emilius O.

Randall and Daniel J. Ryan, History of Ohio, III, New York, 1912), 111-141; Alfred Byron

Sears, Thomas Worthington: Father of Ohio Statehood (Columbus, 1958), 94-112; Charles

B. Galbreath, History of Ohio (Chicago, 1925), II, 13-34. See also Ruhl Jacob Bartlett, "The

Struggle for Statehood in Ohio," Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, XXXII

(1924), 494-505; John D. Barnhart, "The Southern Influence in the Formation of Ohio,"

Journal of Southern History, III (1937), 28-42.

3. Quillin, Color Line in Ohio, 13-20.


Mrs. Thurston is the Managing Editor of Ohio History.