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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Instructions from inhabitants of Mecklenburg County to their delegates for the Provincial Congress of North Carolina
No Author
November 01, 1776
Volume 10, Pages 870a-870f

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[Reprinted from the University Magazine. Vol. 4. P. 259.]
Instructions to the Delegates from Mecklenburg to the Provincial Congress at Halifax in November, 1776.1

At a general Conference of the inhabitants of Mecklenburg assembled at the Court-house on the first of November, 1776, for the express purpose of drawing up instructions for the present Representatives in Congress the following were agreed to by the assent of the people present and ordered to be signed by John M. Alexander, Chairman chosen to preside for the day in said Conference.

To Waightstill Avery, Hezekiah Alexander, John Phifer, Robert Erwin and Zacheus Wilson, Esquires:

Gentlemen: You are chosen by the inhabitants of this county to serve them in Congress or General Assembly for one year and they have agreed to the following Instructions which you are to observe with the strictest regard viz.: You are instructed:

1. That you shall consent to and approve the Declaration of the Continental Congress declaring the thirteen United Colonies free and independent States.
2. That you shall endeavor to establish a free government under the authority of the people of the State of North Carolina and that the Government be a simple Democracy or as near it as possible.
3. That in fixing the fundamental principles of Government you shall oppose everything that leans to aristocracy or power in the hands of the rich and chief men exercised to the oppression of the poor.
4. That you shall endeavor that the form of Government shall set forth a bill of rights containing the rights of the people and of individuals which shall never be infringed in any future time by the law-making power or other derived powers in the State.
5. That you shall endeavour that the following maxims be substantially acknowledged in the Bills of Rights (viz.):
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1st. Political power is of two kinds, one principal and superior, the other derived and inferior.
2d. The principal supreme power is possessed by the people at large, the derived and inferior power by the servants which they employ.
3d. Whatever persons are delegated, chosen, employed and intrusted by the people are their servants and can possess only derived inferior power.
4th. Whatever is constituted and ordained by the principal supreme power can not be altered, suspended or abrogated by any other power, but the same power that ordained may alter, suspend and abrogate its own ordinances.
5th. The rules whereby the inferior power is to be exercised are to be constituted by the principal supreme power, and can be altered, suspended and abrogated by the same and no other.
6th. No authority can exist or be exercised but what shall appear to be ordained and created by the principal supreme power or by derived inferior power which the principal supreme power hath authorized to create such authority.
>7th. That the derived inferior power can by no construction or pretence assume or exercise a power to subvert the principal supreme power.

6. That you shall endeavour that the Government shall be so formed that the derived inferior power shall be divided into three branches distinct from each other, viz.:

The power of making laws

The power of executing laws and

The power of Judging.

7. That the law making power shall have full and ample authority for the good of the people to provide legal remedies for all evils and abuses that may arise in the State, the executive power shall have authority to apply the legal remedies when the judging power shall have ascertained where and upon what individuals the remedies ought to be applied.
8. You shall endeavour that in the original Constitution of the Government now to be formed the authority of officers possessing any branch of derived power shall be restrained; for example,
9. The law making power shall be restrained in all future time from making any alteration in the form of Government.

10. You shall endeavour that the persons in whose hands the law making power shall be lodged, shall be formed into two Houses or

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Assemblies independent of each other, but both dependent upon the people, viz.:

A Council and General Assembly.

11. You shall endeavour that the good people of this State shall be justly and equally represented in the two Houses; that the Council shall consist of at least thirteen persons, twelve of whom shall be annually chosen by the people in the several districts, and that every person who has a right to vote for members of the General Assembly shall also have a right to vote for member of Council, and that the Council and General Assembly shall every year at their first meeting form one body for the purpose of electing a Governor who shall then be chosen by ballot and that the Governor by virtue of his office shall be a member of Council but shall never vote in Council on the subject of making laws unless when the Council are divided, in which case the Governor shall have the casting vote.
12. That the law making power shall be lodged in the hands of one General Assembly composed of Representatives annually chosen by the people freely and equally in every part of the State according to ——.
13. N. B. Considering the long time that would be taken up and consequent delay of business the choice of a Council by the people would at this time occasion, it is thought best for the dispatch of public business, and this county do assent that after the form of Government shall be agreed to by the people, the present delegates in Congress shall resolve themselves into a General Assembly for one year and that they choose 12 persons, inhabitants residing in the several districts, to form a Council and the persons so chosen shall be possessed of all the powers of a Council for one year as fully as if chosen by the people.
14. You shall endeavour that no officer of the regular troops or collector of public money shall be eligible as a member of General Assembly or if being elected he shall afterwards accept of such office or collectorship he shall thereby vacate his seat. And in general that no persons in arrears for public money shall have a seat in General Assembly.
15. You shall endeavour that the delegates to represent this State in any future Continental Senate shall never be appointed for longer time than one year and shall not be capable to serve more than three years successively and that the Council and General Assembly
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shall have power to appoint the said delegates for one year and give them instructions and power to bind this State in matters relating to peace and War and making treaties for that purpose with Foreign Powers and also for the purposes of General Trade and Commerce of the United States.
16. You shall endeavour that all Treasurers and Secretaries for this State shall be appointed by the General Assembly.
17. You shall endeavour that all Judges of the Court of Equity, Judges of the Court of Appeals and Writs of Error and all Judges of the Superior Courts shall be appointed by the General Assembly and hold their office during one year.
18. You shall endeavour that Trials by Jury shall be forever had and used in their utmost purity.
19. You shall endeavour that any person who shall hereafter profess himself to be an Atheist or deny the Being of God or shall deny or blaspheme any of the persons of the Holy Trinity or shall deny the divine authority of the Old and New Testament or shall be of the Roman Catholic religion shall not sustain hold or enjoy any office of trust or profit in the State of North Carolina.
20. That in all times hereafter no professing christian of any denomination whatever shall be compelled to pay any tax or duty towards the support of the clergy or worship of any other denomination.
21. That all professing christians shall enjoy the free and undisturbed exercise of religion and may worship God according to their consciences without restraint except idolatrous worshipers.
22. You shall endeavour that the form of Government when made out and agreed to by the Congress shall be transmitted to the several counties of this State to be considered by the people at large for their approbation and consent if they should choose to give it to the end that it may derive its force from the principal supreme power.

And after the Constitution and form of Government shall be agreed upon and established [and] the General Assembly formed you shall endeavour that they may exercise the law making power on the following subjects of legislation (viz)

1. You shall endeavour to have all vestry laws and marriage acts heretofore in force totally and forever abolished.
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2. You shall endeavour to obtain an attachment law providing for creditors a full and ample remedy against debtors who run away to avoid payment.
3. You shall endeavour to obtain an appraisement law for the relief of the poor when their goods are sold by execution.
4. You shall endeavour to obtain a law to establish a college in this county and procure a handsome endowment for the same.
5. You shall endeavour to diminish the fees of Clerks in the Superior and Inferior Courts and make the Fee Bill more perspicuous and clear it of all ambiguities.
6. You shall endeavour to obtain a law that Overseers may be elected annually in every county, with power to provide for the poor.
7. You shall endeavour to obtain a law to prevent clandestine marriages, and that Gospel ministers regularly ordained, whether by Bishops, by Presbyteries or by Association of regular ministers, shall have legal authority to marry after due publication of banns where the parties live.
8. You shall endeavour that all Judges and Justices may be impowered and required by law to administer oaths with uplifted hand when the party to be sworn shall desire that the same may be done without the book.
9. You shall endeavour to pass laws for establishing and immediately opening superior and inferior Courts.
10. You shall endeavour to pass a law for establishing a Court of Equity.
11. You shall endeavour to obtain a law for paying the Justices of the County Court.
12. You shall endeavour by law to inforce the attendance of the Judges of the Superior Court, and in case of due attendance to make them —— allowance.
13. You shall endeavour that so much of the Habeas Corpus Act and the Common and Statute law heretofore in force and use and favorable to the liberties of the people shall be continued in force in this State, excluding every idea of the kingly office and power.
14. That persons be chosen annually in every county to collect taxes.
15. That a General and equal land tax be laid throughout the State.
16. That people shall be taxed according to their estates.
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17. That sheriff, clerk and register shall be chosen by the freeholders in every county, the register to continue in office during good behaviour, the sheriff to be elected every year. The same person to be capable to be elected every year if all moneys due by virtue of his office shall be faithfully paid up.

18. That men shall be quieted in their titles and possessions and that provision shall be made to secure men from being disturbed by old and foreign claims against their landed possessions.

J. McKnit.
The signature J. McKnit, according to Governor Stokes, was an abbreviation not unfrequently adopted by Mr. Alexander instead of writing his name at length.


1 The instrument is in the well-known sharp, angular handwriting of Colonel Avery, with the exception of Sections 17 and 18, which are in the small, cramped hand of John McKnit Alexander. Sections 10, 11 and 13, as appears from a marginal note in the handwriting of Mr. Alexander, were rejected by the people.

Additional Notes for Electronic Version: The footnotes on pages 870a and 870f are both on the same page in the Magazine.