Montana’s current constitution can be viewed by anyone, just ask
HELENA – Half a century ago, 100 citizens of Montana came together to draft a new constitution for the state. Although this document may not be publicly displayed, it may be readily viewed by any member of the public.
Deep in the halls of the Montana Historical Society building in Helena are the state archives. There lives not only the Constitution of 1972 but also the Constitution of 1889 and the draft Constitution of 1884 which was never used for political reasons. Congressional leaders at the time feared that if they admitted Montana as a state, it would tip the balance of power from Republicans to Democrats. not wanting to admit Montana as a state at the time.
As for why the constitutions aren’t on display, well, that’s less romantic than having a secret message or map on the back of Henry Plumber’s alleged lost treasure. MTN verified. Rather, it is simply to protect the document from deterioration.
“If you’ve ever been to the National Archives in Washington DC and seen the Declaration of Independence and the fact that this central section is pretty much completely obliterated, it’s because of its exposure to natural light and artificial light,” said State Archivist Rich Aarstad. says MTN.
The Montana Historical Society was designated a State Archives in 1969.
“Eleven years later, the Office of the Secretary of State, which was one of those responsible for the preservation of the original constitutions, transferred them to the custody of the Montana Historical Society because we provide a stable environment for these documents” , noted Aarstad.
Montana’s constitutions, along with the thousands of linear feet of other historical documents in the custody of the state, are stored in a light-, temperature-, and humidity-controlled room. They are cataloged in acid-free folders and boxes to protect them from any further potential damage.
Aarstad says every document the State Archives receives is treated as if it is already in a state of decay.
“It’s not to hide it from the public or anything like that, it’s just to make it last as long as possible,” he explained.
Just because great care is taken to preserve these artifacts doesn’t mean they’re locked away. Each document entrusted to the State Archives is a public document. This means that anyone, whether a senator or a student, can request to see documents like the original constitution. The staff of the Montana Historical Society will be happy to welcome you. All a person has to do is make arrangements with the referral room staff.
“Come here, this belongs to the people of Montana. It’s up to you,” beamed Aarstad. “It’s a privilege for me as a Montananese to grow up in Montana, to be able to come here and spend a career working here for Montana and preserving our state’s history. It’s amazing.”
Aarstad says being able to show people the original documents, not a copy, is one of the best parts of his job.
People can even ask to see President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order appointing Sidney Edgerton as Montana’s first territorial governor, or the first known written request in Montana seeking historical records, which came from noted author Mark Twain.
Web Extra: Mark Twain’s Letter to Montana
Twain’s letter in 1870 requested information about the hanging of Jack Slade on March 10, 1864 by vigilantes. The author had met Slade before Slade went to Montana. In the letter, he describes Slade as a “fragment of the original devil” and searches for newspaper clippings from this time in Montana history. Twain was working on his book “Roughing It” and wanted to include Slade so that Twain could “rescue my late friend Slade from oblivion and make a sympathetic audience cry for him”.
Montana is the “Treasure State”. While the state motto is “Oro y Plata,” which means gold and silver in Spanish, the real treasures of Big Sky Country go far beyond precious metals. The Montana Historical Society’s countless artifacts belong to all Montanans. To see them, just ask.