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February 26, 2014

ANDREA NEAL: Ind.'s constitution framers met under a Corydon elm

Tree became symbol of state's founding

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays leading up to the celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial in December 2016.

James Madi­son, Benja­min Franklin and colleagues spent almost four months debating, writing and editing the document that would become the U.S. Constitution. It took James Brownlee, Benjamin Parke and associates just 18 days to write Indiana’s.

The framing of our first constitution represented the final step in a lengthy and sometimes controversial process that advanced Indiana from frontier territory to full-fledged state. Territorial leaders had hoped Indiana would be admitted to the Union earlier, following a process laid out in the Northwest Ordinance, but financial difficulties and the War of 1812 intervened. By 1816, Indiana was back at bat.

Congress passed an enabling act on April 19, 1816, providing for a May election of delegates to a state constitutional convention. The representatives were to meet the next month in the territorial capital of Corydon. They gathered on June 10, 1816.

“As a group they were men of high quality,” according to an account by the Indiana Historical Bureau.

Patrick Henry Shields was one of them. Educated at Hampton-Sydney College and William and Mary’s law school in Virginia, Shields moved to Indiana around 1804 and served as a judge. He was a private under William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

John Boone of Harrison County was Daniel Boone’s brother. Jeremiah Cox of Wayne County was a blacksmith. William Eads of Franklin County was a banker and postmaster.

Two future governors were selected to lead the convention: Jonathan Jennings as president and William Hendricks as secretary.

Historian John Dillon said the delegates were “clear-minded, unpretending men of common sense, whose patriotism was unquestionable and whose morals were fair.”

Their first task, as required by the enabling act, was to determine whether to proceed immediately toward statehood. On June 11, after considerable discussion, the delegates voted 34-8 for Ezra Ferris’ resolution declaring it “expedient, at this time, to proceed to form a Constitution and State Government.”

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