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Column: Road to statehood reached checkered flag Dec. 11, 1816

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It’s a date every Hoosier should know: Dec. 11, 1816. On that day, Indiana became the 19th state.

We’ve been observing it formally since 1925, when the Indiana General Assembly passed a law requiring the governor to “issue a proclamation annually designating the eleventh day of December as Indiana Day.”

Indiana Code 1-1-10-1 encourages public schools and citizens to celebrate “in appropriate and patriotic observance of the anniversary of the admission of the state of Indiana into the Union.”

Statehood was the culmination of a lengthy process, set out in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, through which territories proved they had enough population — 60,000 “free white inhabitants” — and enough political experience to govern themselves.

Among the final steps: Petitioning Congress for statehood, passing an enabling act by Congress, drafting a state constitution in June and electing state and local officials and U.S. representative Aug. 5.

“A spirited campaign for the governorship was waged between Jonathan Jennings and Thomas Posey,” note historians John Barnhart and Dorothy Riker in “The History of Indiana.” Jennings won by a vote of 5,211 to 3,934 and took office Nov. 7. He served two terms and later was elected to Congress.

Voters elected 29 representatives and 10 senators to the first General Assembly. Most of the winners had political experience as delegates to the constitutional convention or as members of the territorial legislature. Their introductory session began Nov. 4 in the new state capitol building in Corydon. The first order of business was to select the men who would serve as secretary of state, auditor and U.S. senators — positions that would not be chosen by popular vote until the 20th century.

On Dec. 11, President James Madison signed into law the congressional resolution admitting Indiana to the union “on an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatever.” That day has been considered Indiana’s birthday ever since.

If the typical Hoosier does little to celebrate this landmark date, our younger citizens make up for our oversight. Indiana history is taught in fourth-grade classrooms, and many students take part in the Statehood Day Essay Contest, which takes place every year in the fall with finalists invited to the Statehouse for a ceremony in the Rotunda.

Corydon is an especially popular field trip destination because its historic buildings tell the story of Indiana’s infancy. The original Federal-style capitol still stands on East Walnut Street; its 40-foot square walls were made of limestone from local quarries, testament to what would become a significant Indiana industry.

The first State Office building was constructed in 1817 and housed the state auditor and treasurer. The state’s money allegedly was kept in a vault in the cellar.

Corydon remained the state capital until 1825, when the seat of government moved north to Indianapolis, and the capitol building became the Harrison County Courthouse. The building was restored and opened as a state historic site in 1930.

This is part a series of essays about Hoosier history that will lead up to the celebration of the state’s bicentennial in December 2016. Andrea Neal is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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