The Men Behind the 1816 Constitution
A lawyer. A surveyor. A tavern keeper. A poet. Is this some sort of weird, old-timey Village People tribute band? Not even close. These are just a few of the occupations that could be attributed to the men who descended upon tiny Corydon in June 1816 to write the state constitution for the Indiana Territory. I greatly enjoyed researching the characters for our newest You Are There exhibit, You Are There 1816: Indiana Joins the Nation. Here are a few things that stuck out to me during the research process.
Maybe you rolled your eyes at my silly introductory paragraph. Nonetheless, the delegates really did represent a variety of occupations. One of them, Davis Floyd from Harrison County, really was a tavern keeper. He was also a river pilot, lawyer, territorial auditor and territorial treasurer. Most of the delegates maintained several jobs at once – typical for the time period.
Surprisingly, some of the delegates were foreign-born. The 1816 convention boasted three Irish, one Swede and one German. I expected all of them to be from other states, since white settlers had not been in the Indiana Territory for very long, but I did not expect some of them to come from abroad.
Many of the delegates were Southerners, coming predominantly from Kentucky and Virginia. The delegates’ Southern origins influenced their politics. For example, most delegates were against slavery being allowed in Indiana. Several of the men had been raised in families with slaves, yet, for one reason or another, had rejected the institution of slavery.
Beyond finding elements of the delegates’ stories interesting, I also enjoyed learning about them as people. It’s so easy to elevate figures of the past to some untouchable form of reality, missing entirely the fact that they were people, too. That’s one of the main takeaways I hope visitors will remember. Of course I want you to learn about the Indiana Territory, the constitution-making process and friendly Corydon. By all means, remember the three branches of government. But mostly, I want you to remember the people. That’s what history has always been about for me. The people.
Visit the History Center and meet the men who helped shape the early part of Indiana’s history.
|Angela Giacomelli is the exhibitions researcher for the Exhibitions Research and Development Department at IHS. She loves having a job that combines two of her greatest interests: history and helping people. Her research expeditions are fueled by her passion for the past ... and sugar.|