470 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI W hen Mississippi became a United States territory in 1798, its first government based in Natchez was a ruling council composed of a governor, a secretary, and territorial judges. Washington, Mississippi, served as the second territorial capital, replacing Natchez in 1802. Washington would serve as the setting for the drafting of Mississippi’s first constitution. Mississippi became the twentieth state to join the Union on December 10, 1817, and since then, Mississippi’s citizens and officials have shaped the state government into its current structure through the adoption of four state constitutions, countless new laws, and numerous government reorganization efforts. Mississippi’s current constitution was adopted in convention on November 1, 1890. The document and its subsequent amendments provide the framework for the state’s government and outline the duties and responsibilities of its officials. Mississippi has three branches of government: the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch. The three branches work together and have checks and balances against each other so that no branch’s power becomes too concentrated. Mississippi’s eighty-two counties also have their own governments, which include a board of supervisors, chancery clerk, circuit clerk, tax assessor, tax collector, sheriff, and other offices including law enforcement officials. Municipalities have their own elected officials as well. The executive branch is the chief law enforcement branch of state government. It is made up of the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer, commissioner of agriculture and commerce, commissioner of insurance, three public service commissioners, and three transportation commissioners. Each office has a four-year term and may be re-elected without limit with the exception of the governor and lieutenant governor, who are limited to two consecutive terms. The legislative branch writes the laws for the state. The state legislature is divided into two branches: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Mississippi is divided into fifty- two senate districts and 122 representative districts. Members of the legislature are voted into office to serve four-year terms and convene each January to consider proposed laws. The judicial branch is tasked with ensuring Mississippi laws are not in conflict with the state constitution. The courts settle disputes and punish those who break Mississippi’s laws. The nine justices of the Mississippi Supreme Court, the highest court in the state, are voted into office to serve eight-year terms, which are staggered to provide continuity. Mississippi also has a ten-member Court of Appeals which was established in 1994. Trial courts include chancery, circuit, county, justice, and municipal courts. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE’S OFFICE