Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tennessee's Constitutions on Display!

By Heather Adkins

From June 1 to June 3, Tennessee’s constitutions will be on display at the Library & Archives. We are proud to present all three constitutions for the first time in the current building. However, it is not the first time a Tennessee constitution has been on display. The state constitutions have a long history of exhibition during times of change and celebration.

Chattanooga Times, Aug. 14, 1949, Newspapers on Microfilm

The constitutions once resided at the Tennessee Capitol Building. John Trotwood Moore and Mary Daniel Moore, who each served as State Librarian and Archivist, kept them in a safe, which Mrs. Moore believed was captured from the Germans during World War I and put into use by Mr. Moore, according to an article printed in the Chattanooga Times Aug. 14, 1949. Mrs. Moore, during her tenure, periodically aired the constitutions. At the time of the 1949 article, it had been several years since Mrs. Moore had brought out the 1870 Constitution. Up until the 1950s, the 1870 Constitution was noted as the oldest, unamended state constitution in the country. On the 1949 occasion, amendments were on the horizon. Upon studying the signatures, Mrs. Moore stated, “I feel like they’re all old friends. I’ve read and studied about them so much.” She was the great-great-great granddaughter of James Rody, one of the signatories.

Nashville Tennessean, Nov. 29, 1953, Newspapers on Microfilm

As the 1953 amendments took effect, the 1870 Constitution was once again brought out. Assistant State Archivist Robert T. Quarles, Jr. stood guard at that time. It was a historic moment, adding eight new amendments to a constitution that hadn’t been amended in 83 years. Governor Frank Clement announced that the amendments would be recorded on parchment similar to that of the original constitution and they would be preserved with it.

Nashville Tennessean, May 30, 1971, Vertical Files

Statehood Day 1971 marked another occasion for display of the constitutions. It was the state’s 175th birthday. Festivities included a fireworks display, a rock group, square dancers, a watermelon feast (40,000 pounds of watermelon), an anvil firing and special exhibits. An array of celebrities like Dolly Parton and Minnie Pearl were in attendance. Among the records exhibited were the 1796 constitution and several letters of Governor John Sevier and Senators William Blount and William Cocke – three of Tennessee’s founding fathers. The celebration was jointly sponsored by the Tennessee Historical Commission and the Tennessee Arts Commission. A birthday cake, 10 feet long and weighing 300 pounds, shaped like the state, was served.

“Tennessee Treasures: Old Hickory to Elvis, A Bicentennial Traveling Museum brochure, 1993-1994

In the early 1990s, the Tennessee constitutions and the archivists that protect them became road-wise travelers. The state was gearing up for its bicentennial in 1996. To celebrate, a statewide tour called Tennessee Treasures was constructed by the Tennessee 200 State Bicentennial Commission and Tennessee State Museum under the auspices of Governor Ned McWherter. From 1993 to December 1994, over 130 artifacts would be on display, including the 1796 constitution. All 95 counties had the opportunity to host the exhibit.

Nashville Tennessean, Dec. 5, 2012

Most recently, all three constitutions were on display at the Tennessee Supreme Court Building in Nashville for the opening of the Tennessee Judiciary Museum. The dedication of the museum in December 2012 marked two special occasions: the culmination of the work and partnership it took to open the museum, and the first time for the three constitutions to be on display together. The display of the constitutions in the most prestigious court of Tennessee visually reinforced their import as the pillars of Tennessee’s government and law. Although the constitutions’ stay at the Supreme Court was brief, their appearance together had great impact.

We hope you’ll join us this June in celebrating Tennessee’s statehood. The constitutions are available for public viewing June 1 and 2, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and June 3 from 9 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

No comments:

Post a Comment