Justices, Judges Join Processional As State Constitutions Wind Their Way Down Streets Of Nashville On Way To New Library

March 2, 2021

Several Tennessee Supreme Court justices and intermediate appellate judges joined other state leaders in a processional as the three State of Tennessee constitutions made their way to the new State Library and Archives on Bicentennial Mall. The three priceless documents were meticulously moved by the library and archives staff, Tennessee Highway Patrol color guard, and Tennessee National Guard color guard, with a celebratory assist by the Tennessee State University Marching Band drum line.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett kicked off the event at the old library and archives and was quickly joined by Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, Justice Holly Kirby, Justice Roger A. Page, Court of Appeals Judge Andy D. Bennett, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Tim Easter, and Court of Appeals Judge W. Neal McBrayer in front of the Nashville Supreme Court building, located next door to the old archives building. The group was joined by Governor Bill Lee and other constitutional officers in front of the Tennessee Capitol. Attorney General Herbert Slatery joined in front of the John Sevier State Office Building before members of the General Assembly added to the growing procession in front of the Cordell Hull State Office Building.

At the new State Library and Archives, the constitutions received a distinguished welcome. The first constitution was adopted in 1796 and was revised in 1834, largely to update the structure of the court system. The constitution was revised again in 1870 after the Civil War.

“These documents are so important because they are the foundation of our government,” said Judge Bennett.  “They establish the three branches of the state government along with each branch’s powers, duties, and limitations. For our society to function, the principles they provide must be observed and preserved. Events like the procession help us remember that.”

The move was not just ceremonial. The new 165,000 square-foot facility will allow these and other historic documents to be preserved and stored in a state-of-the-art space.  The Library and Archives conservators constructed custom made boxes, which many joked on social media resembled large pizza boxes, in preparation for the move to the new building. The boxes are made of acid-free dense board and include fitted buffers and interior supports for each of the documents to keep them from shifting during transport. The constitutions are stored in their boxes in the Library and Archives’ temperature and humidity-controlled vault in an unmarked location.

“I want to commend the Library and Archives staff for coming up with this unique way to celebrate the move of our three most valued documents,” Secretary Hargett said.  “In 2009, I inherited the dream of building a new facility. We have had the opportunity to work with Governors Bredesen, Haslam and Lee as well as leadership members of the General Assembly to make that dream a reality. I am delighted that we will soon be able to move into a building where we can fulfill our mission of making these documents accessible as well as preserving them according to our statutory responsibilities.”

The original building located on North 7th Avenue was open in 1953 and is the oldest library and archives in the country that had not undergone a significant expansion or renovation. Planning for the new facility started in 2005, ground was broken in 2017, and it will open to the public on April 13.

The original documents will be on display for a limited time after the grand opening and again on Statehood Day in the Library & Archives’ new exhibition space. Exact replicas of the documents will be a featured part of the permanent display in the new building. Digital copies, along with full transcriptions, are available online in the Tennessee Virtual Archive.

To view highlights from the event, click below. 

Secretary Hargett greets the judiciary.

The judiciary welcomes Gov. Lee to the processional.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol Color Guard escorts the constitutions into the new building while the judiciary and other state officials look on.