Original Kentucky Constitution coming back to its birthplace

Published 8:08 am Thursday, August 24, 2017

Constitution Square in Danville kicked off Kentucky’s 225th birthday celebration, and now it will be hosting a rare occurrence: The state’s original Constitution will be transported to the park for public viewing on Sept. 22.

Stuart Sanders, a history advocate with the Kentucky Historical Society, announced the plan Tuesday to the Boyle County Fiscal Court.

Kentucky Historical Society
An image shows the front cover of the Kentucky Constitution.

“It was in 1792, just a few blocks from here, where Kentucky County, Virginia, sort of peeled itself away from the Commonwealth of Virginia and became the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Sanders said. “… We are happy to finally sort of reconnect that important document, that founding document of the commonwealth with Constitution Square and with this community.”

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Sanders said as part of the many 225th birthday celebrations taking place in Kentucky, the descendants of Samuel McDowell — “a founding father of Kentucky and the father of Dr. Ephraim McDowell” — will be gathering for a reunion in Boyle County.

“We are going to bring down the original 1792 Constitution and the original Constitutional Convention journals for not only these descendants to see, but also for the public to view,” he said.

Kentucky Historical Society
An image shows the first page of the Kentucky Constitution.

The Kentucky Constitution is not usually on display for the public to see. It is stored in a temperature-controlled “archival storage vault,” Sanders said Wednesday. The Constitution and journals are sealed in museum-quality protective casings that prevent ultraviolet light from harming them.

When the Constitution does travel, it’s transported in two custom-built cases and escorted at all times by two curators.

“Really until this year, it has not gone out very often,” Sanders said. “I’ve been here 12 years and it’s been pretty rare.”

It’s possible this will be the first time the Constitution has returned to the place where it was written, Sanders said.

On Tuesday, Judge-Executive Harold McKinney thanked Sanders for the Kentucky Historical Society’s efforts to bring the Constitution.

“I know it doesn’t go out very often,” McKinney said. “It’s just an incredible opportunity for the people of Boyle County.”

The plan is for the Constitution to be available for the McDowell descendants during the morning of Sept. 22, then on display for the public at Grayson’s Tavern in Constitution Square from 12 to 3 p.m.

Members of the public will be able to line up to view the Constitution and its journal, which is essentially the minutes of the discussions that led to the writing of the Constitution, Sanders said. Attendees will be able to read both, and the curators accompanying the Constitution will be available to answer questions.

Sanders said area residents can look for “local connections” in the text of the Constitution and the journals. Samuel McDowell’s signature is on the Constitution, for example; and notable pioneer Benjamin Logan is noted in the journals, he said.

“A lot of the names will probably be familiar to people,” Sanders said.

“It reinforces the importance of Constitution Square and the importance of Danville in the founding of Kentucky as a separate state,” he said.


The original Kentucky Constitution and the accompanying Constitutional Convention journals will be on display for the public at Grayson’s Tavern in Constitution Square from 12 to 3 p.m. on Sept. 22.