Tennessee’s constitutions moved

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Tennessee Highway Patrol Honor Guard transports Tennessee’s three constitutions to their new home on Bicentennial Mall.

Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) with the assistance of Tennessee Highway Patrol, with support from THP Honor Guard, on Monday, March 1, transported Tennessee’s three constitutions from their current building to their new, soon to open home on Bicentennial Mall.

Preserving Tennessee’s legal and civic history is among TSLA’s statutory responsibilities.

Tennessee’s three constitutions, first written in 1796 and revised in 1834 and 1870, are the highest valued and most historically significant items in TSLA’s collection.

Tennessee’s first constitution came into effect on June 1, 1796, concurrent with Tennessee’s admission to the Union. At the time, Thomas Jefferson described it as the “least imperfect and most republican of the state constitutions.”

A second version of the constitution was adopted in 1835 and provided for a state supreme court. Tennessee’s third constitution was adopted in 1870, after the Civil War, and is still in use today. The current constitution stood unamended until 1953, which was the longest period that any such document remained in effect without amendment anywhere in the world.

In the new building, Tennessee’s constitutions will be on display for a limited time. Replicas of the documents will be featured in a permanent display. Digital copies, along with full transcriptions are available online in the Tennessee Virtual Archive.

The new 165,000 square foot TSLA building includes a climate-controlled chamber for safely storing historic books and manuscripts with a space-saving robotic retrieval system. A new blast freezer will allow TSLA staff to help save materials damaged by water or insects following floods and other disasters. The new facility also has classrooms for student groups and meeting space for training librarians and archivists.

The larger and more technologically advanced building is a major upgrade from TSLA’s current 1950s era home. The new facility has the much-needed space to properly house collections, improved climate controls and increased handicapped access. The extra space and efficiency will increase TSLA’s capacity by nearly 40% from 542,700 to 759,500 items.

TSLA’s new building will open to the public with limited capacity starting today, Tuesday, April 13.

The office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett oversees the operations of Tennessee State Library and Archives. By law, it is required to preserve Tennessee’s legal and civic history by housing the archives of state government and collections of records from families, churches, businesses, and organizations.

TSLA is home to several notable historical documents, including Tennessee’s constitutions, letters from Tennessee’s three presidents, Civil War diaries, records of 55 past governors of the state, and original records and maps of the State of Franklin. The collections include copies of virtually every book published about Tennessee and Tennesseans.

Original documents from court cases and legislation, along with audio recordings of legislative proceedings since 1955 are preserved by TSLA. Copies of the records from every Tennessee courthouse and all surviving Tennessee newspapers can also be viewed in the library’s collections.