William Faulkner once said: “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” The history of Mississippi makes it a fascinating place to try to understand.
In the last year, Mississippi has celebrated its bicentennial, making now a great time to pause and reflect on the rich history of this great state.
The U.S. Congress granted the citizens living in western part of the Mississippi Territory the power to form a state government on March 1, 1817. (The eastern part of the Mississippi Territory became Alabama.)
During that summer, a group of 47 delegates met inside the Methodist Church in the town of Washington, located in present day Adams County, to draft a state constitution.
Congress and President James Madison approved the new state’s constitution and on December 10, 1817, Mississippi was admitted as the 20th state of the union.
During its 200-year history, Mississippi operated under four different constitutions.
The 1817 was the original constitution that founded our state government.
The 1832 constitution reflected the changes of the age Jacksonian Democracy.
The 1868 constitution was the constitution of the Reconstruction Era.
And the 1890 constitution is the still used today, although it has been amended a multitude of times and some parts have been struck down by federal courts as violating the U.S. Constitution.
One unusual detail about the 1890 constitution is that Mississippi elects its statewide officials (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, and agriculture secretary) in odd number years.
This makes Mississippi one of only five states to do so along with Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Virginia.
During the early days of the state, the capitol was moved from a tavern in Natchez to Columbia and ultimately to Jackson, where the old state capitol building was built in 1839.
Although damaged in Hurricane Katrina, the old capitol has been impressively restored in recent years to its original grandeur as a state history museum.
The new state capitol was built in 1903 in the Breaux Arts architecture style on the site of the old state penitentiary.
The fact that we Mississippians refer a 115-year-old building as being “new” reminds me of another famous Faulkner quote: “The past is never dead. It is not even past.”
My favorite part of the new capitol building is the Hall of Governors on the first floor, where the portrait of nearly every governor since territorial days is displayed.
The nearby governor’s mansion was built in 1841 and is the second-oldest, actively-used governor’s mansion in the nation.
It is a beautiful two-story brick building painted white, designed in the Greek Revival architecture style.
Over the years, Mississippi would eventually be divided into 82 counties.
Interesting, 10 of the counties have two juridical districts – meaning the state actually has 92 county seats. Nearby Jones County is one of them.
In size, Yazoo County is the largest county, while Alcorn County is the smallest.
Population-wise, Hinds County is the largest. Issaquena County is the smallest.
During the last 200 years, Mississippi has had 64 governors and 31 lieutenant governors.
The state would also have two state flags (the “Magnolia” flag of 1861 and the current flag, used since 1894).
We have had as many as eight United States Congressmen (following the 1910 and 1920 censuses) and as few as one following the 1820 census.
These days, we are represented by four Congressmen including Bennie Thompson (elected 1993), Gregg Harper (elected 2009), Steven Palazzo (elected 2011), and Trent Kelly (elected 2015).
The first time Mississippi was included in census numbers was 1820 with a population of some 75,000.
In contrast, the most recent census data from 2010 shows the Magnolia State has grown to a population of more than 2.9 million and by the time the next census is taken in 2020, we will most assuredly top three million residents for the first time.
From its humble beginnings to today, our beloved Mississippi has seen and endured much.
Here’s to the next 200 years.
Keith Ball is a graduate of Petal High School, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the Ole Miss School of Law. He is an attorney and lifelong resident of the Friendly City.