North Carolina Constitution

Research by Raquel Kelly

  1. “Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, March 1, 1669.”

In 1669, the Carolina Proprietors adopted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina to establish “the interest of the lords proprietors with equality and without confusion.” Drafted for “the better settlement of the government,” the Constitutions grants the control and organization of the colony to the proprietors. Carolina was to have eight supreme courts, each one led by a proprietor and made up of other members of nobility. While it did not mention procedures for appointing a governor, it prohibits people from speaking “irreverently or seditiously of the government or governors.” The group of eight proprietors controlled the government. They appointed the governor of North Carolina, who governed the state alongside the Assembly. The Assembly was an elected group of officials that formed the North Carolina legislature. This was the only governmental body that was elected by the North Carolina colonists. Justices in North Carolina courts during the seventeenth century were appointed by the proprietors or by the governor, depending on the court. The Fundamental Constitutions of North Carolina was a complicated, feudal form of government that suffered several revisions and ultimately failed. In 1729, after a series of rebellions, the British government took control from the proprietors. But the form of government, including the governor, Council, Assembly, and courts remained the same.   The people were still able to vote for representatives of the Assembly, but the rest of the government was appointed.

To read the text of the original document, click here.

2. “Minutes of the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, August 20, 1775-September 10, 1775.”

In the summer of 1775 the Third Provincial Congress of North Carolina met to discuss the organization of the militia to defend against British attack and to set up a form of government for the “Internal Peace, Order and Safety of [the] Province.” The Provincial Congress remained the supreme power in the state. Under their rule, each district within the state organized a Committee of Safety consisting of 13 members. These Committees were in charge of the safety and protection of their respective districts and were in charge of local level government. Congress appointed the members of these Committees. The document also provided for the election of members to the Provincial Council, which oversaw the actions of the Committees of Safety. The form of government established under the Third Provincial Congress was in response to the war efforts at the time, and were, therefore, meant to be temporary. For the people of North Carolina, the form of government remained similar to the government under British rule. Like the Assembly, the representative members of the Provincial Congress was the only elected body within the state. The governor and the judiciary were both appointed by the Provincial Congress. North Carolinians still did not have a democratic voice in the executive or judicial branches.

To view the document, click here.

3. “Minutes of the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, November 12, 1776-December 23, 1776.”

The North Carolina Provincial Congress met during the fall of 1776 to discuss the war and to agree on a Constitution. Throughout the meeting, the Congress discussed the Constitution and debated each paragraph. On December 18, 1776, the Congress decided to adopt the North Carolina Constitution of 1776.

To read the minutes of the Congress, click here.

4. “Letter from William Hooper to the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, October 26, 1776.”

William Hooper was a North Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress. The North Carolina Provincial Congress asked Hooper to be a part of the drafting committee charged with writing the North Carolina Constitution in 1776. Hooper wrote a letter to the Provincial Congress in October of 1776 explaining that his duties with the Continental Congress outweighed his ability to take part in the drafting committee. With the letter, he sent copies of other state constitutions as a way to help the drafting committee.

To read the document, click here.

5. “The Constitution of North Carolina: December 18, 1776.”

On December 18, 1776, the North Carolina Fifth Provincial Congress adopted a Constitution declaring the state’s first permanent form of government independent from England. The Constitution is divided into two parts. The first part consists of the Declaration of Rights listing twenty five principles, including the right to popular sovereignty and the right to due process. The second part of the Constitution, the Form of Government, outlined the three branches of North Carolina state government. The legislative branch, called the General Assembly, was divided into the Senate and the House of Commons with annual popular elections for each of the Representatives. The executive branch, consisting of the Governor elected by the General Assembly, was “for the time being” in charge of the military, could petition for money, and could lay embargoes. The judicial branch consisted of the Supreme Court of Law and Equity, Admiralty courts, and the Attorney-General, which were elected and constructed by the General Assembly. By giving the election decision for the Supreme Court justices and the governor, the Form of Government gave the General Assembly the most power in the North Carolina State government.

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To view the complete document, click here.