Corydon significant during state’s early days
Karen Schwartz, Special to The Corydon Democrat
This article is a brief summary of Corydon’s significance during the territorial and capital period (1816-1825) in Indiana’s early history.
Vincennes had served as the first territorial capital of Indiana Territory until 1813. Interestingly enough, Vincennes was designated as a temporary territorial capital and it was understood from the beginning that Vincennes would only remain the capital as long as Illinois and Indiana were joined together in the Indiana Territory, making Vincennes centrally located.
But when the Illinois Territory was carved off of the western side of the Indiana Territory in 1809, this left Vincennes on the western border of the Indiana Territory in an extremely vulnerable position in terms of attacks and defense.
The government began casting about for a new territorial capital location.
Many of the small towns in Indiana recognized the economic opportunities which would be presented by the distinction of serving as the second capital for the Indiana Territory. Contenders included Jeffersonville, New Albany, Charlestown, Vevay, Lawrenceburg, Madison and Salem. In fact, the town of Madison offered $10,000 for the privilege.
Eventually, the town of Corydon in Harrison County received the honor of serving as the second territorial capital of the Indiana Territory. It wasn’t an easy decision, as supporters of former Territorial Gov. William Henry Harrison resisted relocation efforts. Harrison, who had resigned at the end of 1812, had been heavily involved with Harrison County in early Indiana and owned four pieces of property there, including the site of the town of Corydon.
Following the relocation of the territorial capital at Corydon, the people of Indiana began promoting for statehood for Indiana. Despite administrative delays, when the population of Indiana reached more than 60,000, the people were authorized to hold an election to choose delegates to attend a convention to discuss creating a state constitution. Thirteen Indiana counties sent representatives to Corydon in June of 1816. The 43 delegates met in a log structure at the corner of High Street and North Capitol Avenue.
The first order of business was to decide if the assembled delegates were prepared to create the constitution or if the crafting needed to be delayed to a later date. Enthusiastically, the delegates declared emphatically that they were ready to serve as the instrument to complete the constitution process, and work started immediately on the first constitution for the State of Indiana. The delegates labored diligently from June 10 through 29, 1816. The delegates relied heavily on the U.S. Constitution, as well as the constitutions of Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio, as templates.
Notable provisions of the new state constitution included a bill of rights, a reiteration that slavery was prohibited in Indiana, free education through the university level would be available to all and Corydon was designated to serve as the capital of Indiana until 1825, when a permanent capital would be named. Again, all the small Indiana towns vied for the privilege, but Harrison County had the advantage that it was in the process of constructing a county courthouse, extravagant for the time and place, which would adequately serve the needs as a state capitol building. There also was a financial gentleman’s agreement between the town of Corydon and the convention.
Many were unhappy with the selection of Corydon as the first capital and continually pushed to have the capital moved elsewhere, often clamoring that the accommodations in Corydon were not sufficient to meet the needs of those attending to state business.
A subsequent flurry of construction took place. In fact, nine of the original buildings that existed in downtown Corydon during the Capital Period (1816-1825) are still here. They are the Adams Payne House, Cedar Glade, First State Capitol, First State Office Building, Harrison Log Cabin, Hendricks House, Heth House, Posey House and the Westfall House.
The new Constitution of 1816 was presented to the people as a fait accompli, and they were not given the opportunity to ratify, or modify, any part of the document. In fact, the Constitution was interpreted to mean that the document could not be amended for 12 years, which meant no changes could be made until 1828.
As expected, Corydon was bustling with legislative and local action from 1816 to 1825. Notable events that occurred during the capital years included a visit in June of 1819 by President James Monroe and Gen. Andrew Jackson, the tragedy of the Falls Supreme Court Decision in 1824, ongoing efforts to relocate the capital, lavish parties at the governor’s mansion, the construction of numerous buildings and homes, the selection of the new capital site and, ultimately, the relocation of the capital to a new site along the White River at Indianapolis.
State Treasurer Samuel Merrill was charged with the responsibility of moving state records and the state treasury to the new capital site at Indianapolis. An auction was held to dispose of furniture and other items which would no longer be needed. The important items slated for transport were loaded into horse-drawn wagons. The journey took 11 days with the party spending the night at homes or inns along the way. Adam Sibert of Corydon served as one of the transporters.
Life in Corydon changed dramatically as many of the early ‘movers and shakers’ packed up and migrated toward Indianapolis. The capital had gone and Corydon settled sleepily into small town days and ways.
Karen Schwartz, president of the Historical Society of Harrison County, serves on the legacy group of the Harrison County Committee for the Indiana Bicentennial. As part of Indiana’s bicentennial, she is providing a monthly column ‘ focusing on a person, place or event from Harrison County’s history ‘ that gives insight to our history. She said the columns should serve as an introduction and/or summary of a topic but are not intended to include all known facts and information. To suggest a topic, contact Schwartz at 812-736-2373 or 812-738-2828, by email at [email protected] or by regular mail at 5850 Devil’s Elbow Road NW, Corydon, IN 47112.