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Calling for a New State Constitution

Indiana's 1816 Constitution specified in Article VIII that every twelfth year at the general election for governor, a poll should be taken to determine if electors favored calling a constitutional convention. Although there was much debate, this provision was interpreted to mean that the General Assembly could call for a convention at any time.

There were many attempts to call for a convention. The question of calling a constitutional convention, however, actually was submitted to voters only five times.

In 1823, the question of calling a convention was widely discussed in the popular newspapers of the day. The issues included:

  • substituting biennial or triennial sessions for the annual sessions of the Indiana General Assembly;
  • authorizing the Governor to call special or emergency sessions of the General Assembly;
  • the impeachment of local officials by circuit courts rather than the State Senate;
  • giving authority to grant divorce to circuit courts rather than General Assembly; and
  • reorganizing the Indiana Supreme Court.

As the chart on this page indicates, voters did not vote in favor of a new state constitution until 1846. The convention was not called, however, since the closeness of the vote indicated that a true public mandate did not yet exist. In addition, there were questions about the validity of the vote, which was small compared to the total votes in the election.

State population and votes
in referenda to call for a constitutional convention
YearPopulationIn favorOpposed
1823 2,60111,991
1828 10,09218,633
1846 32,46827,123
1849 81,50057,418
Sources: Kettleborough, 1:lii, lvii, lxi, lxvi, lxxvi; Madison, Indiana Way, 325-26

The change in popular opinion reflected in the 1846 vote has been credited to several factors:

  • the state's financial disaster as a result of the Internal Improvement Act of 1836;
  • increasing support for biennial sessions of the General Assembly and for strict limitations on passage of local and special legislation by that body;
  • a desire to end the monopoly of the Second State Bank; and
  • the growing popularity of Jacksonian democracy which emphasized individual rights, popular election, restrictions on legislative bodies, and private enterprise.

Popular interest and demand for a constitutional convention continued to grow. When the Indiana General Assembly of 1848-1849 assembled, Governor James Whitcomb recommended calling a constitutional convention to address several important issues:

  • uncontrolled growth of local and special legislation that the General Assembly was forced to deal with;
  • biennial rather than annual sessions of the General Assembly; and
  • prohibition of public debt.

The General Assembly responded with appropriate legislation calling for another constitutional referendum. Governor Paris C. Dunning signed the act on January 15, 1849. On August 6, 1849, voters favored the referendum by an indisputable majority.

On December 4, 1849, Governor Dunning addressed the General Assembly and called for legislation to implement the people's will.

Sources: Carmony, Pioneer Era, 405; Kettleborough, 1:xxxv, xlii, li, lxiii-lxxii, lxxiii, lxxv-lxxvii, 111.