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The Setting for the Convention

Article - Election Notice

The sheriff of each county was obligated to call for the election on May 13 of delegates to the Corydon convention in June as required by the Enabling Act. This notice by the sheriff of Knox County giving the date and polling places was in the Vincennes Western Sun, May 4, 1816.

The Enabling Act specified that elected representatives should meet in Corydon, Harrison County--the territorial capital--on Monday, June 10, 1816 to determine whether or not to form a constitution and state government.

The convention delegates

The representation to the 1816 constitutional convention was specified in the Enabling Act. Based on population figures, a certain number of delegates was elected on May 13, 1816 by each of the thirteen counties in existence in 1815. Time was very short for completing preparations, which caused some negative commentary in the newspapers.

The forty-three men elected as delegates provide an interesting picture of the population of Indiana at the time. The chart of members considers several areas of comparison, which demonstrate both the similarity and the diversity of those who determined Indiana's future.

Corydon, Harrison County

State Capital at Corydon until 1825

The new Harrison County Courthouse was ordered built by the trustees in May 1814. A contractor was hired in August. The building was apparently not ready for the convention in June 1816. It was, however, ready for the opening of the first General Assembly on November 4, 1816. This building served as the State Capitol of Indiana until the capital was moved to Indianapolis in 1825. It is now a State Historic Site. This photograph was taken by C. Heimberger & Son Photographic Studio of New Albany, circa 1890s.

Courtesy Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.

Corydon had been made the territorial capital in 1813, replacing Vincennes, Knox County. The territorial legislature met in the Harrison County Courthouse.

The construction of a stone courthouse had been ordered in 1811, but it was not built. Instead a partially finished wood house on lot 12 was purchased and finished for use as a courthouse. It was located on the northwest corner of Capitol and High Streets. It was in this "courthouse on the hill" that the 1816 constitutional convention delegates gathered to carry out their task.

There has been some confusion over the years about the meeting place of the convention. Various authors have incorrectly stated that they met in the Old State Capitol building, now a State Historic Site.

Constitutional Elm

This photograph of the "Constitution Elm" was taken between 1921 and 1925. Delegates to the June 1816 constitutional convention apparently often worked in the shade of this tree. Although specific reports of dimensions vary, it was enormous with branches that spanned over 100 feet. It died of Dutch Elm Disease in 1925.
Courtesy Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.

It was very hot in Corydon during the convention and reportedly delegates held many sessions under the cooling branches of the "Constitutional Elm," which was located approximately two hundred yards west of the courthouse. According to Cottman, "Several old residents of Harrison County, now dead, whose memories went back to 1816, were authority for this."

The former Capitol Hotel, located a mile east of town, gained its name from a tradition that it lodged the delegates to the convention. Cottman, however, indicates that "in 1816 there were also other hostelries in Corydon, and this one a mile away probably took the overflow from the more convenient ones." Cottman visited the abandoned building before its destruction in 1921, and has provided a detailed description of its appearance.

Unfortunately, papers of delegates and the newspapers of the day have left so little evidence that historians can do little more than speculate about these matters.

Sources: Cottman, 17-19, 49, 52-53; Harrison County Interim Report (Indianapolis, 1987), 24. Dunn, 1:295, and Thornton, 114, for example, give the incorrect location for the convention sessions.