Beginning in 1955, The Washington Herald published articles written by Russell Colbert, our editor’s great-uncle. During this bicentennial year we will re-publish excerpts from the series for your enjoyment. These excerpts are unchanged from their originals and may contain terms that are considered less acceptable today, but were considered appropriate in that time. We hope they prove useful to you in appreciating the history of this area we call home.
By Russell Colbert
Published June 7, 1955
One of my prized possessions is a gavel made of wood from the famous constitutional elm which stood at Corydon. The 42 delegates (43 had been elected but one did not attend) who formulated Indiana’s first state constitution met at Corydon June 10, 1816 and adjourned Jun 29; this was one of the shortest conventions of its type of which we have any record. Since the weather was hot some of the sessions were held under the large elm tree which stood nearby. This historic elm finally went the way of most of our native elm and had to be cut.
There may be many souvenirs in this vicinity made of wood from the elm; Mrs. Myrtle McCormick has two pieces of wood from the tree which were given to her husband, the late T.A. McCormick. Tom always expected to make a can of one of them, but since he did not need the cane he never got around to making it. He always said he could not make up his mind what to do with the other piece of wood. In a way this is regrettable because Tom McCormick did beautiful wood work; an article made by T.A. McCormick of wood from Indiana’s constitutional elm would have been almost priceless in my view.
Our first state constitution was effective from Dec. 11, 1816, until Nov. 1, 1851. Under it the annual cost of state government was for several years about $10,000. Among our state officials only the governor, lieutenant governor and the members of the state legislature were elected by the voters under this constitution. The governor, lieutenant governor and state senators were elected for three year terms, state representatives were elected each year in August. The legislature met each December and elected all of the other state officials. Judges of the state supreme court were elected for seven year terms on nomination of the governor; the governor could be reelected one time.
Two notable features of this document were the abolition of imprisonment for debt and universal manhood suffrage. For the first time in United States history the principle of “no property qualification for voting” was established. Under this constitution the legislature transacted not only state business, but also much of what we now regard as county and city business. It also performed some of the functions of the courts, even granting divorces by legislative act. The legislature of Indiana under the first constitution was the most powerful government body the state has ever had.
Under this document Daviess county was long joined with Knox, Sullivan, Vigo and Owen counties to form a state senatorial district. Among Daviess county citizens who served in the state senate during this period were: William Wallace, A.M. Davis and Elijah Chapman. Daviess and Martin counties formed a representative district for many years. Among our citizens who served in the house under this arrangement were: James G. Reed, William H. Routt, William Wallace, David McDonald, P.M. Brett, Josiah Culbertson, John Flint, Elias Terry, Benjamin Goodwin and John Scudder. Some of these me were ancestors of many of our present day citizens.