From the Book:
The First Indiana Constitution
The First Indiana Constitution
Before attaining statehood, Indiana delegates had to write a constitution. Before this process could begin, the Congress had to pass, and the President sign, an enabling act to allow the voters to choose delegates [ to write a constitution. This process had completed by early June 1816. Delegates gathered in Corydon, the proposed capital for the new state, to draft the document. This is the story of that process.
On December 11, 1811, the Indiana Territorial Assembly had sent a petition to Congress requesting statehood status. The Congress denied the request, stating that the territory was not yet ready for statehood.
By 1815 two political factions had evolved in Indiana, the western and the eastern factions. The western faction was led by Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison and Thomas Posey. This Vincennes based group wanted to remain at territorial status and retain the governor’s power as well as keep the limited slavery that existed in the territory. The eastern, Corydon based group, led by Jonathan Jennings, wanted statehood, establish a government with an elected governor with limited power and to abolish slavery. A census taken in 1815 census indicated that the population exceeded the 63,000-requirement laid down by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Territorial Assembly met on December 11, 1815 and voted to send a petition to the United States Congress, requesting Statehood.
Jonathan Jennings (March 27, 1784 – July 26, 1834)
Jonathan Jennings became the sixth child of Jacob and Mary Kennedy Jennings when he was born in New Jersey. He attended grammar school at Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and studied law at Washington, Pennsylvania. he emigrated to the Indiana Territory in 1806 and became a lawyer in Jeffersonville, later moving to Vincennes. There were not enough clients in the new territory to make a living, so he served in various government offices and participated in several land speculation deals. These deals brought him some wealth. He and Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison had a series of political disputes after Jennings became a clerk at Vincennes University.
As a territory, the Indiana Territory was entitled to non-voting representation in Congress. Jennings was elected to the Eleventh Congress in 1809 to represent the Indiana Territory.
On December 11, 1815, the Indiana Territorial Assembly sent a petition to Congress, requesting it be granted statehood. Upon receipt of the bill, it was submitted to various Congressional committees for study. Jennings was the chairman of one of the committees in charge of considering it. On January 5, the various committees approved the legislation and it proceeded to the full House for consideration.
The United States House of Representatives voted in favor of admitting Indiana as a state on March 30, 1816, by a 108 – 3. The Senate passed the Act on April 13, 1816.
President James Madison signed the bill on April 19,1816. The Indiana Territorial Assembly was now free to write a constitution. The Act specified that the Convention should meet on June 10, 1816, to draft the document that would lead to Statehood. Voters in Clark, Dearborn, Franklin, Gibson, Harrison, Jefferson, Knox, Perry, Posey, Switzerland, Warrick, Washington and Wayne Counties elected forty-three delegates to attend the Convention.
The delegates assembled at Corydon on June 10, 1816, to draft the new Constitution. They elected Jonathan Jennings to serve as the chairman of the convention and William Hendricks as secretary. All of the men gathered at Corydon had come to the territory from other places. Twenty-six of the delegates originated from southern states while eleven came from northern states. Six of the men had come from other countries. The delegates voted 33 – 8 in favor of writing a constitution for the embryonic state, then set out to produce that document.
The weather during the convention turned quite hot and on many days the delegates escaped the closed quarters of the statehouse to meet under a huge elm tree that stood nearby. This tree came to be known as Constitution Elm. The tree died of Dutch Elm Disease in 1925 but has been preserved in a huge protective cage in downtown Corydon. Workers removed the limbs and coated the trunk with tar to preserve it. Small pieces of this elm are still for sale in the gift shop. The convention met until late June.
Passage of the Constitution
The delegates approved the new constitution on June 29, 1816. They borrowed from other state constitutions, especially Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. The document banned slavery in the state and provided an advanced educational system. This constitution went into effect upon approval by the delegates and was never submitted to the voters of the territory. The 1816 Constitution would serve the state until 1851, when a new one took effect.
This story is part of my new book release, The Story of the Indiana Constitution, which is available on my web site http://www.mossyfeetbooks.com in both softbound and eBook copies. The web page has links to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other book retailers. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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