Moment of Indiana History

A Tree Grew in Corydon

Legend has it that Indiana’s constitution was debated and ultimately drafted underneath a massive elm, whose trunk was five feet in diameter.

Constitution Elm, circa 1910

Photo: unknown

The Constitution Elm was still standing in 1916, when the town of Corydon—no longer the capital—held a centennial reenactment of the constitutional drafting. In 1925, however, the tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease.

Indiana is not without its landmark trees. South Bend’s Council Oak marks the spot where LaSalle made peace with the native Americans. Then there’s that tree that’s been growing from the roof of the Decatur County Courthouse in Greensburg for over a century.

The southern Indiana town considered the state’s first capital also boasts a significant tree, or the remains of one, at least. The stump of the Constitution Elm is housed in a sandstone shrine near the old state capitol building in the Corydon Historic District.

Vincennes was the territorial capital of Indiana until 1813, when the government was moved to Corydon, a location more central to the population.

When the federal government moved to grant Indiana statehood in 1816, the prospective state needed a constitution. 43 delegates convened at the statehouse in June 1816 to draft the charter. Jonathan Jennings, who would become the state’s first governor, presided over the convention. Modeled after the constitutions of Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, the Indiana document added clauses banning slavery and mandating the funding of public schools—a first in the nation.

The summer session was so warm the delegates frequently sought refuge from the stuffy capitol building in the shade of a massive elm tree nearby. Legend has it that Indiana’s constitution was debated and ultimately drafted underneath the elm, whose trunk was five feet in diameter.

The elm was still standing in 1916, when the town of Corydon—no longer the capital—held a centennial reenactment of the constitutional drafting. In 1925, however, the tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease. Its trunk is preserved in a shelter not far from a historic marker recalling the town’s capture during the Civil War foray known as Morgan’s Raid.

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