Justice, George W.
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This study explores the origins and development of a unique American political institution:the constitutional convention. This institutional phenomenon emerged as a symbolic and working tribute to the ideal of popular sovereignty during the American Revolution. Rebellious English colonials did not invent them, but rather were merely the first people to put the idea into practice. The constitutional convention, in fact, had sprung from a complex conflation of political and religious tensions that unfolded beginning in the late medieval period in Europe. It was a mixed product of ancient and modern political ideas that sought reforms in the constitutional relationship between people and their rulers. From its origins during the American Revolution, the constitutional convention was at the heart of American constitutional culture. Its story reveals much about political identity and particular assumptions about constitutionalism in the nation at that historical moment when the South seceded from the Union. In retrospect, these conventions in the South reached the high-water mark of their impact during the secession crisis in winter and spring of 1860-61. Despite sporadic calls for constitutional conventions in the last half century, the institution has retreated from the attentions of American historiography. This retreat that has occurred despite their influence upon the creation, the temporary destruction, and the restoration of the United States within the span of less than a century is unmistakable. They were peculiar constitutional and political organs that involved delegates, as representatives of the sovereign people, charged with revisiting the fundamental principles of governance. As such, they became, at times, catalysts for profound political change. Such access to fundamental change was always a possible threat to the constitutional status quo. Thus, the ideological and practical components of constitution-making made them potentially revolutionary institutional creatures. This study seeks to explain important aspects of the origins, the meanings, the practices, and the eventual decline in importance of the constitutional convention in America as experienced in the history of the state of Georgia.