If you’re one of the 100 or so Oregonians who pledged money on the Secretary of State’s Office website to restore this state’s constitution, pat yourself on the back. If you gave when the document was on display a couple of years ago in the state Capitol, do the same thing. Ditto if you’re among the schoolchildren around the state who also raised money for the project.
You got the job done.
Among student contributors were kids from Crook County and, in Bend, High Lakes and Miller elementaries and High Desert Middle School. Bend-La Pine Schools also contributed. In all, students raised about $7,000 of the $100,000 needed, says Mary Beth Herkert, the state archivist.
The newly restored original copy of Oregon’s constitution went on display Monday in Salem. Restoring a document that was more than 137 years old and in bad physical shape was neither easy nor cheap, but surely worth the effort.
Signatures written in iron gall ink had to be bathed to neutralize the ink’s corrosiveness, pages had to be put in proper order and a badly worn cover had to be repaired.
Some 60 leaders of what was then the Oregon Territory came together in late August 1857 to write the original document, a job that took until mid-September. In November 1857, voters in the territory — white men, all — approved the constitution, and two years later Oregon became a state.
That original constitution does not measure up to today’s standards in some respects. White foreigners only were eligible to become legal residents of Oregon, and “no Negro, Chinaman or Mulatto” was entitled to vote and “idiots” were similarly barred. Fortunately, those limitations have long since been removed and women were able to vote. The original free speech right, stronger than the federal right, still stands: “No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.”
Herkert says the restored constitution won’t be on display all the time, though it will be out much more frequently than it has in the past.