IU professor emeritus shares story behind historic Indiana political crisis


Ind. (WEHT) — The events we are watching unfold in Washington D.C. – has striking similarities to a situation that occurred in Indiana in the early 1800s: as Indiana’s first governor, Jonathan Jennings, faced what historical experts say was one of the state’s biggest ever power struggles.

In 1818, President James Madison had appointed Jennings to serve as a commissioner to negotiate a treaty.

“The state constitution prohibited anyone holding federal office from serving as governor, [so] his Lt. Governor, Christopher Harrison, claimed that Jennings vacated his office,” IU professor emeritus Jim St. Clair said.

That’s when his Lt. Governor Harrison took over and began acting as the governor.

“Harrison and his allies urged the General Assembly to initiate impeachment proceedings, but the legislators refused and in 1819 Jennings sealed his victory by defeating Harrison by a large majority in his bid for reelection,” St. Clair said.

Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor were chosen separately, and on occasion the gubernatorial candidate was not supported whole heartedly by the candidate for lieutenant governor.

With the exception of this one case – no sitting Indiana Lt. Governor has ever tried to unseat a sitting governor.

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(This story was originally published on January 18, 2021)

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