The only surviving copy of the Confederate Constitution, written in iron oxide ink on five sheets of sheepskin stretching slightly more than 12 feet, went on display Friday at the University of Georgia, as it does for a single day each year on the weekday closest to March 11.
The Confederate Constitution was ratified unanimously on March 11, 1861, when it was signed by 50 members of the Congress of Delegates from the Southern states seceding from the Union. Nine of the people who signed the document were from Georgia.
“We don’t want to get it out a lot because it’s fragile, and we don’t want to celebrate it,” said Chuck Barber, associate director of public services and outreach for UGA’s Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library, part of the university’s Richard B. Russell Special Collections Libraries.
The annual one-day exhibit of the Confederate document is designed “just to let people see it and let people see it existed,” Barber explained.
When it’s not on public view, the Confederate Constitution is stored in a vault kept at 50 degrees with 30 percent relative humidity as preservation measures, Barber explained.
John Maxey, an amateur Confederate historian, took an interest in the document 25 years ago when he overheard a news crew reporting on it, and felt, as he reiterated Friday, that they were “trampling all over the history of the Confederacy.”
Maxey has been back to UGA for the Confederate Constitution display every year since he heard the news report to share his state’s-rights-based outlook on the document and on the history of the Confederacy.
According to information on the Special Collections Libraries website, the copy of the Confederate Constitution now belonging to UGA was discovered in a railway station in Chester, S.C., in April 1865, in boxes containing Confederate records abandoned by fleeing troops. The records were recovered by Felix G. DeFontaine, a war correspondent, and the Confederate Constitution was sold in 1883 to a Mrs. George Wimberly Jones DeRenne. The university acquired it from the DeRenne family in 1939.