To Preserve the Blessings of Liberty: State Constitutions of North Carolina

[This blog post comes from Sarah Koonts, Director of Archives and Records for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

“A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty”

N.C. Constitution art. 1, sec. 35

Once separated from the rule of England, North Carolina—like other former colonies—found itself with no governmental structure. Before the end of 1776, the state had a constitution very different from today’s document. For example, the General Assembly—and not citizens—selected the governor for a one-year term. Only free men of at least twenty-one years of age could vote.  Only landowners could hold political office. The social structure of eighteenth-century America informed those men who drafted the constitution and North Carolina’s Declaration of Rights.

Portion of the Constitution of the United States as Approved by North Carolina, 1789.

Portion of the Constitution of the United States as Approved by North Carolina, 1789.

North Carolina continued to amend the constitution and eventually adopted entirely new constitutions in 1868 and 1971. The rights and protections of some of the state’s citizens were broadened while other rights remained restricted or hampered.  Over the years the structure of state government changed, increasing the power of the governor, providing for direct elections for many executive offices, reorganizing government departments and agencies, and eliminating restrictions to rights.

Part of the State Constitution of 1868.

Part of the State Constitution of 1868.

Throughout 2016 the State Archives is partnering with museums and historic sites to display historic constitutional materials around the state.  Called “To Preserve the Blessings of Liberty:  State Constitutions of North Carolina,” exhibit locations and times may be found on the State Archives’ Facebook page. The public is invited to view these documents while they are on display. The inaugural exhibit will take place at the opening of the 2016 General Assembly session.  It will feature North Carolina’s early constitutions, the original Declaration of Rights, and amendments to the state and U.S. Constitution that affected citizen voting rights.  The exhibit will be located on the main floor of the General Assembly building (16 West Jones Street in Raleigh) from 2 p.m. on April 25 through April 26 at 3 p.m.  All of the State Archives’ constitution materials housed in the vault collection are available for viewing any time in the North Carolina Digital Collections.

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