It had been a simple cabinet maker’s shop where one of Huntsville’s early settlers might have left a chair to be repaired or buy a sideboard for the dining room.
But in the summer of 1819 the 44 men gathered inside were not carpenters or woodworkers. They were assembling Alabama’s first constitution–the document that would create the laws necessary to enable this new territory to become a state three years later.
The story of Huntsville’s rise to prominence and the efforts that won statehood for Alabama were told in a documentary on Alabama Public Television in 1996.
“From Territory to State” was produced by Max Shores as part of The Alabama Experience series.
Alabama had been included in Western Frontier of the original 13 states. The Northwest Ordinance declared that a territory could become a state when its population grew to 60,000.
The 1818 census revealed Alabama had reached that mark. The population had nearly doubled in only two years. The reason: the cheap land, good climate, and river system that induced “Alabama Fever” and a boom time in the territory.
“One man from a community would come and he would see how wonderful it was and he would write back or go back to get his family and he would tell his neighbors,” explains Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins, director of the Center for Arts and Humanities at Auburn University.
In 1805 John Hunt settled in a cabin he built beside a big spring in Northeast Alabama. Just ten years later Huntsville had become the economic and political center of the territory. So it was natural that delegates to the first constitutional convention would meet there.
“From Territory to State” also shows how excitement gripped the city when President James Monroe made an unexpected visit to Huntsville before the constitutional convention. City leaders rushed from house to house borrowing food and furnishings to accommodate the distinguished visitor.
Many of the delegates to the convention became respected public servants, too.
“Six of them later became governors of the state of Alabama; six served on the Supreme Court of Alabama; and six were elected to the senate of the United States,” says Dr. Atkins. “They were very talented men.”
Much of the program was shot in Huntsville’s Alabama Constitution Village where historic buildings–the cabinet maker’s shop among them– have been reconstructed. Costumed interpreters address the camera and tell viewers about daily life in Alabama nearly two centuries ago, when the territory became a state.
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