All the way back to Ancient Rome, democratic societies have recognized the individual right to hunt and fish. But during the Norman Conquest in England, a landowner could be put to death for hunting or fishing on his own property. On Bastille Day, the French go fishing to celebrate their independence – the inability to do so was a central issue that led to the revolution in 1789.
Benjamin Franklin and his Pennsylvania delegation brought a right to hunt and fish to the United States Constitutional Convention, but it was deemed unnecessary in such a free new world. Nevertheless, Vermont included the provision in its state constitution, ratified in 1777. States like Rhode Island and California followed suit through the 19th and early 20th centuries, and today, 17 state constitutions include the right.
In 2004, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation began the arduous process of securing a public referendum on the issue. After negotiating language that would pass constitutional muster and gain the support of appropriate stakeholders, the bill needed to pass with super-majority margins in two consecutive sessions of the Tennessee General Assembly.
TWF orchestrated an effective grassroots campaign—on a shoestring budget—to ensure the passage of the amendment.
In November of 2010, the measure appeared on the ballot of the statewide general election. In order to be ratified, it had to gain more than 50 percent of the votes cast in the gubernatorial election.
The voters of Tennessee approved the amendment by a 90 percent margin, shattering the previous record for a statewide referendum by 17 percent.