Forty years ago, the state of Montana held a constitutional convention to rewrite and replace Montana’s first enacted constitution, approved in 1889. The 100 delegates to this groundbreaking constitutional convention came from all walks of life to represent ordinary Montanans. There were ranchers and farmers, business people, educators, housewives, attorneys, and even a beekeeper and a retired FBI agent. None of them at the time held a political office; all were charged by the people of Montana to rewrite what was seen as an outdated, “creaky, lumbering” state constitution. What came out of this convention was a constitution that the delegates hoped would better serve the needs of Montanans now and in the future. The new constitution, adopted by the 100 delegates to the Constitutional Convention on March 22, 1972, was ratified by Montanans on June 6, 1972.
We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.
--Preamble to the Constitution of the State of Montana
To recognize and celebrate the adoption of their state constitution, Humanities Montana organized a two-day conference hosted by Carroll College in Helena, Montana on April 20-21, 2012, We the People: Conversations on the Montana and U.S. Constitutions. Instead of traditional panels, Humanities Montana decided to focus the conference on a series of moderated conversations on specific topics, using participants to represent and offer alternative perspectives. The council’s main goal was to have all the conversations build towards the closing plenary in which all participants had the chance to come together to share their discoveries, lingering questions, as well as any issues for further reflection. That goal was achieved. The outcome of the conference was two days of wide-ranging, thoughtful, and engaging conversations on issues central to the civic lives of Montanans.
During the conference weekend, Humanities Montana also had the chance to honor the delegates to the 1972 Constitutional Convention at a luncheon. Long-time capital reporter Chuck Johnson was on hand to share his insights about the 1972 constitution and how it shaped Montana over the past 40 years.
Although the conference weekend has concluded, the discussions and ideas brought up during the conversations are still relevant, and currently are increasing their reach across the state. The conference was recorded and was televised in full on April 28th and 29th on TVMT, the statewide public affairs television network. The conference recordings are also available on Humanities Montana’s YouTube channel.