Civics 101: How much do you know about the history of Tennessee’s Constitution?

J. H. Osborne • Updated Aug 5, 2019 at 2:43 PM

Tennessee’s first constitution was not put to a vote by its citizens. It would take nearly four decades before a second was drafted and ratified by the people.

A brief history of the Tennessee Constitution

• That first constitution was written in Knoxville during the winter of 1796.

• That year the state was created from the geographic area known as the Southwest Territory.

• The first constitution was not put to a vote of the citizens of the new state for ratification, but was approved by Congress.

• It gave almost complete control of state government to the legislative branch, not following the fundamental “balance of power” principle.

• That fact, among others, led to the calling of a constitutional convention. The second convention met in Nashville during the spring of 1834.

• A new constitution was approved by the people in March 1835.

• The 1835 document stood until 1870, five years after the ending of the Civil War.

•  Delegates elected in December 1869 met in Nashville on Jan. 10, 1870, wrote a new constitution, and adjourned on Feb. 23.

•  The new constitution was ratified by the people on the fourth Saturday in March 1870.

• The 1870 constitution stood unchanged until 1953, when it was first amended.

•  Further amendments followed in 1960, 1966, 1972, 1978, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014.

Source: The Tennessee Blue Book

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