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This Day in Georgia History

March 18, 1939

Georgia Ratified the Bill of Rights

Georgia ratified the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution (commonly known as the Bill of Rights). The ten amendments had been proposed by the U.S. Congress in 1789. Nine states ratified the amendments shortly thereafter, but Georgia and Connecticut declined to ratify on the grounds that the amendments were unnecessary. Massachusetts had adopted most of the amendments but overlooked sending formal notice to the U.S. Secretary of State. The twelfth state, Virginia delayed a formal vote. In 1791, Vermont entered the Union and that November ratified the Bill of Rights. This gave ratification by ten states. In December 1791, Virginia became the eleventh state to ratify the ten amendments, meaning the Bill of Rights was now official.

In 1939, Georgia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts marked the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights by officially ratifying the first ten amendments. In Georgia, the second house of the General Assembly adoped a joint resolution ratifying the Bill of Rights on March 18, 1939. Under Georgia law, however, bills and joint resolutions intended to have the effect of law must be sent to the governor for final approval. The governor can sign, veto, or take no action (in which event the measure automatically becomes law after the passage of a designated length of time). Gov. E.D. Rivers signed the joint resolution on March 24, 1939 (see entry), which under Georgia law is considered the official date of Georgia’s ratification of the Bill of Rights. However, federal courts have held that the U.S. Constitution requires that proposed amendments be ratified by the legislatures or by special conventions of the people in three-fourths of the states. According to court decisions, any additional stipulations under state law for approval by the governor or certification by the state’s secretary of state are not controlling in determining ratification. Rather, the date that the second house of a bicameral state legislature ratifies the amendment is considered the date of that state’s official ratification.