They are usually significantly lengthier than the United States Constitution, which is just 4,543 words long. State constitutions are all more than 8,500 words lengthy because they delve into greater depth on the day-to-day interactions between the government and the people. They also include a broader range of topics including declarations of rights, provisions related to elections, and even some administrative code. The New York State Constitution is the most extensive with 12 volumes containing 10 amendments and over 7,000 words.
The US Constitution forms the basis for the government of each state. It describes the powers granted to the federal government and limits those of the states. The US Constitution was originally supposed to be ratified by the required number of states within seven years of its adoption. However, several states delayed approval of the Constitution until after it had been ratified by the necessary number of states. These "delayed" states included Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
State Constitutions serve as the legal foundation for their respective governments. They often include specific clauses that address issues such as human rights, self-governance, executive power, and more. They can also include broad statements about the purpose of government that are similar to the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution.
State constitutions are often longer than 8,500 words since they go into greater depth on the day-to-day interactions between the government and the people. The Vermont Constitution, enacted in 1793 and now 8,295 words length, is the shortest. It is also one of the most concise documents in the world. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution is 9,527 words long.
The New Hampshire Constitution, adopted in 1804, includes only 7,895 words, but it addressed a much more urgent issue that had just arisen during the publication of the federal Constitution: the failure of the Congress under that document to pass appropriate legislation for the government of New Hampshire. The problem was resolved when the people of New Hampshire voted to ratify the Constitution, thereby becoming the ninth state to do so.
The Montana Constitution, approved by voters in 1992, is 10,526 words long and contains an exhaustive list of rights for individuals. It has 19 sections because it was drafted over an extended period of time by several committees of the legislature. The Wyoming Constitution, approved by voters in 1890, is 12,148 words long and consists of a single section containing many provisions about the organization of its government. It was the first state constitution to be written by citizens instead of legislators or judges.
State Constitutional Length State constitutions are lengthy. The Vermont Constitution is the shortest, with 8,419 words, almost 2,000 more than the federal Constitution. Louisiana has the longest, at 184,053 words. The average length of the forty-eight current constitutions is around 27,000 words, or four times the length of the Declaration of Independence.
The original draft of the United States Constitution included a bill of rights to limit the powers of the national government. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were proposed by Congress and ratified by the states in order to become effective. Today, many states have additional constitutional provisions that protect individuals from the abuses of power by their governments. Some state constitutions provide greater protections than others; some omit certain subjects from their scope. But overall, state constitutions serve an important role in limiting the authority of the government within their borders.
All previous state charters were either frames of government or simple declarations of rights. A frame of government is a blueprint for government, describing the branches of power and how they relate to one another. Frames of government include everything from weak documents (such as those of Massachusetts and Virginia) to very detailed ones (such as that of New York). Declarations of rights are statements which generally outline certain freedoms that citizens deserve, such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. There are several declarations of rights in the New York Constitution.