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Virginia Constitution, 1902

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Virginia signed its first constitution in 1776 upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Since that time, there have been frequent amendments and six major revisions to the constitution: 1830, 1851, 1864, 1870, 1902, and 1971. Our current constitution is an amended version of the 1971 constitution. These revisions to the Virginia constitution are representative of the political, social, regional, and racial climate of the times.

The Constitution of 1902 incorporated several new programs and rules that reflected the times. For one thing, the state created a state penitentiary and prison system as part of the social reform efforts of the Progressive Era (Article XI). New inventions, such as electricity and the telephone, prompted the Virginia General Assembly to create regulatory measures (Articles VIII and XII).

Perhaps the most important part of the 1902 constitution was a rollback of African American rights and freedoms granted during Reconstruction (Article II). The state instituted measures such as a poll tax, literacy test, and property requirements in order to prevent African Americans from voting. At the same time, the constitution contained language specifically exempting Confederate veterans from having to pay the poll tax.

Readers may want to consider other factors that shaped the 1902 constitution.

Source: Constitution of Virginia, 1902 Constitution Finder (accessed June 4, 2009).