Public Has A Rare Chance To View California's Original State Constitution

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, October 2, 2009
History buffs have a rare opportunity to see original drafts of the California constitution this weekend. 

They date back more than a century. 

The State Archives in Sacramento is putting them on public display for the first time in five years.

Capital Public Radio's Steve Shadley recently got to see the documents up close, and has a preview...
The state constitution isn’t just a piece of paper, in fact the first versions are written on stretched goat hide. 

Laren Metzer is Deputy State Archivist.   He’s our tour guide. 

Metzer says the documents are kept in a climate-controlled safe and aren’t handled very much...
Metzer:   “We don’t bring em’ out very often because of preservation and security concerns... 
There are actually a few different versions of the California from 1849 and another from 1879. 

They both look pretty good for their age, and it’s not just a bunch of legal language either.  

Metzer points to some artwork at the top of the 1849 constitution that looks like somebody had been doodling with a quill and ink...
Metzer:  “It looks clearly like there’s water here. A ship anchored here.   And, it’s rather crude. On this side you have some figures on what appear to be horses...”
And, at the top of the 1849 constitution are drawings of 31 stars.   They represent each of the states that existed at the time it was written nearly 160 years ago.   

Metzer says that’s when California’s founding fathers waited impatiently for Washington to approve the application for statehood...
Metzer:  “What’s interesting to me as a historian is that during that time period after ratification in September of 1849 to formerly being admitted a state in September of 1850, California had a functioning state government. So, we didn’t wait for the federal government to say ‘yes’ you are the 31st state. We just assumed it would happen...”
California’s present constitution was approved by voters in 1879.  

Since then, it’s been amended hundreds of times. 

And, right now, there are groups trying to get initiatives on next year’s ballot for more amendments and to convene a constitutional convention. 

It’s history in the making. 

You can see the state constitution Saturday afternoon (10.03.09) at the State Archives in Sacramento.   It’s part of a month long celebration of the California Archives.