Did you know Knoxville is the birthplace of the State of Tennessee? It was, in fact, one of the most dramatic events in the city's history.
In 1796, exactly 220 years ago this week, the Constitutional Convention was taking place in downtown Knoxville. Those who attended made a pretty fascinating collection of early American leaders. Among the 55 delegates attending were William Blount, Governor of the Southwestern Territory, and signer of the U.S. Constitution; W.C.C. Claiborne, future governor of Louisiana, who would be a major figure in the history of New Orleans; James Robertson, one of the founders of Nashville; Andrew Jackson, future president of the United States. In that room were four future U.S. senators, three governors, and in all, 12 men who have Tennessee counties named for them. They debated, compromised, and after a month together came up with the 16th state constitution ever drafted in America, one that Thomas Jefferson called “the least imperfect and most republican” of all the state constitutions. Unlike some other state constitutions, it did not limit officeholders to Protestant Christians, and, without mentioning race, permitted free black men to vote.
For the state's first 50 years or so, February 6, 1796, was celebrated as the day Tennessee was established. June 1 is now recognized as Statehood Day. It was the day Congress reviewed the work done in Knoxville and admitted Tennessee to the union. (For more, see this week's copy of the Knoxville Mercury.)
The 225th Anniversary effort will honor the signing of the state constitution with a reading by performance artist Jack Rentfro, with improvisational musical accompaniment, at Blount Mansion, Saturday, Feb. 6, at 2:00.