Conserving the Idaho State Constitution
The Idaho State Archives (ISA), a division of the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS), in partnership with the University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library, has completed a multi-year initiative to conserve Idaho’s most important document – the State Constitution. This original document was created in 1890 when Idaho became the 43rd state.
A successful fundraising campaign in 2018 by ISHS and the Foundation for Idaho History funded the conservation project. It began with a formal assessment, which was completed on the 130-year old document to determine the scope of work for the project. In October 2018, Layce Johnson, Collections Archivist at the Idaho State Archives, and Randy Silverman, Head of Preservation at University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library, created a conservation plan. This project posed many challenges for the conservators.
It was determined to be a critical time to invest in conservation efforts for the document in order to preserve it for future generations. The 130-year-old constitution had several issues to address: the animal-glue adhesive binding had failed and most of the text block had detached from the spine; an outdated lamination treatment had been applied to the first two pages and caused warping, distortions, and red ink to bleed due to humidity; and grime and tears appeared on pages throughout the text block.
On October 12, 2019, Governor Brad Little and First Lady Teresa Little and ISHS staff safely transported the Constitution from Idaho to Utah, where it was welcomed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert.
“The opportunity for two states [Idaho and Utah] to collaborate on a project of such high historic and contemporary significance is truly remarkable. Our state’s constitution is the anchor document of Idaho sovereignty and is still the guiding document in decision-making for the state,” said Little.
This marked the first documented instance where Idaho’s Constitution has left the state, which posed interesting obstacles for conservators.
History of the Idaho State Constitution
Idaho’s Constitution contains 21 articles that act as supreme law for our state. Although it has been amended more than 100 times, it remains basically as it was drafted over 130 years ago. A constitutional convention, with representatives from throughout Idaho Territory, met in Boise between July 4 and August 6, 1889, debating every important topic covered by the Constitution. On October 5, 1889, Governor George Shoup issued a proclamation calling for an election on November 5 to ratify the Constitution. Fred Dubois, Idaho’s territorial delegate to Congress, propelled the admissions bill for Idaho’s statehood, which was passed the House in April 1890 and the Senate that June. Idaho became the 43rd state on July 3, 1890.
Programming and Events
In addition to the conservation work on the original document, a replica of the Constitution has been created to provide access to the document for communities across the state, allowing the Constitution to be stored in a secure, climate-controlled environment. ISHS has partnered with Idaho Public Television (IDPTV) to document the entire project as a new episode of Idaho Experience, the history documentary series that explores key events and individuals that have shaped Idaho. Idaho’s Constitution Revealed is set to premiere March 8.
The Idaho State Historical Society and Idaho Public Television are partnering with the Idaho Commission for Libraries to create a traveling exhibit that will be on display in libraries across the state in conjunction with a series of documentary screenings and panel discussions with legal scholars, historians, archivists and others.
The original Idaho State Constitution will be on display at the Idaho State Archives from March 10-April 11, where it will be available to the public for free during regular business hours; Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-4pm.
Update (3/18/20): The Idaho State Constitution exhibit at the Idaho State Archives has been postponed until further notice.
Schedule of Screening and Panel Discussions
In order to provide the best experience for attendees, all statewide programming and events related to the Idaho Constitution project are postponed until further notice. We are prioritizing the health and safety of visitors and staff above all else and look forward to rescheduling these programs in the near future.
Check back in for updates and more details on each event’s run of show.
March 20 | Boise | Reserve a Seat
March 30 | Coeur d’Alene | Reserve a Seat
March 31 | Moscow | Reserve a Seat
TBD | Twin Falls
TBD | Idaho Falls
TBD | Pocatello
TBD | Ketchum
TBD | Salmon
Idaho State Museum
Coeur d’Alene Public Library
Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre
Schedule of Traveling Constitution Exhibit in Idaho Libraries
Traveling exhibition schedule coming soon.
A special thank you to all of our partners who have made this legacy project possible.