The effectiveness of constitutional revision as a means of reform is subject to limitations imposed by the social and political conditions of the society for which the constitution is designed and by which it must ultimately be accepted.
-Wythe W. Holt, Jr. “Constitutional Revision in Virginia, 1902 and 1928: Some Lessons on Roadblocks to Institutional Reform.” Virginia Law Review, Vol. 54, No. 5, 1968.
The state constitution intimately affects all aspects of our daily lives. While students learn about the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all the amendments, many people do not realize that the laws passed in their state are informed and shaped by a state constitution.
Virginia created its first state constitution in 1776. Since then, Virginia has fully revised its constitution six times, with additional adjustments along the way. Those changes are inspired by perceived social and political needs, and can result in economic opportunity to some and disadvantage to others; changes in the kind of public education our children receive, if any; and determining who may vote and who may not. A state constitution shapes our present and future, yet many are unaware of its existence.
We invite you to learn more about Virginia’s Constitutions by exploring the historical context of each document, discovering them in our digital collections, and exploring their meaning and influence on our lives.
Declared the creation of an independent commonwealth with a republican form of government devised to support the civic rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
Gave the state’s western counties more equitable representation in the legislature, extended the franchise to leaseholders and householders, and provided a formal definition of citizenship and the naturalization of citizens in the state.
Reintegrated the Commonwealth back into the United States after the Civil War, officially prohibited slavery, provided the right to inherit property to the children of enslaved people who had not been allowed to legally marry, and established free public schools for the first time.
Rolled back African American voting rights, introduced a poll tax and literacy tests for voting, and created the State Corporation Commission.
Introduced provisions for environmental protection, annual legislative sessions, financing capital improvements, requiring compulsory education as a constitutionally protected right, and compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The declaration of rights was amended to prohibit governmental discrimination on the basis of religious conviction, race, color, sex, or national origin. Unlike previous state constitutions, the 1971 version has evolved over time to include amendments to create a veto session (1980), a rainy day fund (1992), and a bipartisan redistricting commission (2020).