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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Preface to Volume 20 of the State Records of North Carolina
Clark, Walter, 1846-1924
May 20, 1902
Volume 20

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In this volume will be found the Journals of the Senate for the session of November, 1785, and of both the House and Senate for the session of 1787, and of the Senate for the session of 1788: together with interesting correspondence for the year 1787.

The movement to remedy the defects of the Articles of Confederation which took shape in 1786, led in 1787 to the Philadelphia Convention that framed our existing Federal Constitution.

Some of the States appointed delegates to a convention that met in Annapolis in September, 1786, for the purpose of considering amendments to the Articles of Confederation in respect to trade and commerce.

That convention convened, and not waiting for all the delegates appointed to reach Annapolis, passed a resolution suggesting a convention with more ample powers, to be held in May, 1787, at Philadelphia.

Pursuant to that recommendation the General Assembly of North Carolina, which held an adjourned session at Fayetteville in January, 1787, appointed Governor Caswell, Alexander Martin, Davie, Spaight and Willie Jones as delegates from this State to attend such a convention, should it be held.

Willie Jones, however, on being notified of his appointment, replied that it was doubtful whether he could attend at that time; and because it was a matter of so much importance that it must necessarily require the fullest representation, he begged that some one else should be appointed in his place; and Governor Caswell thereupon appointed Hugh Williamson.

In February Congress, acting on the recommendation of the Annapolis Convention, passed a resolution convening the proposed convention; and that body accordingly met in May at Philadelphia, and George Washington, a delegate from Virginia, presided over its deliberations. The members were sworn to secrecy, so our delegates, in their correspondence with their friends in North Carolina, could

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not keep them advised as to the progress of the matters under consideration, or, indeed, as to the lines of action. On June 14th, however, our delegation united in a letter to Governor Caswell, in which they mentioned:
“Though we sit from day to day, Saturdays included, it is not possible for us to determine when the business before us can be finished. A very large field presents to our view without a single straight or eligible road that has been trodden by the feet of nations. An Union of Sovereign States, preserving their civil liberties, and connected together by such ties as to preserve permanent and effective governments, is a system not described: it is a circumstance that has not occurred in the history of men. If we shall be so fortunate as to find this indescript, our time will have been well spent.”

On the 20th of August, Colonel Martin wrote that “the Convention, having agreed on some great principles in the government of the Union, adjourned for a few days, having appointed a committee of five to detail, or render more explicit, the chief subjects of their discussion. On the report of these gentlemen the Convention met again, and are now employed taking up the same, paragraph by paragraph; and so slow is the progress that I am doubtful the business will not be fully reduced to system before the middle of September next, if then.” On the 17th of September the Convention, however, did finish their work, and reported it to Congress. Eleven days later Congress adopted a resolution submitting it to the several States—to be considered and acted on by State conventions called for that purpose.

Immediately after the removal of the seal of secrecy, our North Carolina delegates joined in a letter to Governor Caswell detailing the substantial features of the proposed constitution. That letter is of considerable historic interest. They refer to their severe and painful application and anxiety during the four months’ session of the Convention, and assure the Legislature that no exertions have been wanting on their part to promote the particular interests of North Carolina. They say that the Northern States yielded to the wishes of the Southern States in some particulars in exchange for the power vested in the hands of the National Government to regulate commerce. In regard to the few representatives in Congress accorded to

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our State, they throw some light on our small representation by adverting to the fact that our delegates in Congress have not been zealous to magnify our population because our quota of the national debt would have been increased; and they point to the advantages of uniform taxation secured by the proposed Constitution.

As indicating the necessity of action early in December, our delegates in Congress being in attendance on the Legislature, made an address on the condition of the country. They declared that we are on the eve of bankruptcy and the total dissolution of government. Doubtless these views were largely shared by the thoughtful men of that day.

Copies of the proposed Constitution being submitted to the States on December 5th, the two houses of our Legislature met in joint conference, Elisha Battle being chairman, and having taken into consideration the proposed Constitution, recommended to the people to elect delegates to a State Convention to pass on the same, and fixed the time for holding the Convention on the third Monday in July, 1788.

Accordingly the Convention met at Hillsboro at that time, and, as is well known, merely declined to act, but suggested amendments. A sufficient number of other States, however, adopted the Constitution to give it effect among the States ratifying it, and the first Presidential election was held and the first Congress met while North Carolina was out of the Union. But eventually our Legislature called another convention, which sat at Fayetteville, and on the 21st day of November, 1789, ratified the Constitution, sundry important amendments having been recommended and substantially adopted.

The Confederation went into effect in 1781. In seven years its inefficiency was demonstrated and the new Union supplanted it. Thus was instituted our present Federal government, the outgrowth of the old Confederation, but a new departure in an untried field. It was called the great experiment, but it has proved to be wonderfully perfect and admirably adapted to the needs of the American States. Under its influences our country has expanded to the Pacific Ocean, and independent States have risen in the remote wildernesses of the continent: and government has never sat more lightly than on the American citizen. It is to the credit of North Carolina that

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in the Philadelphia Convention her delegates gave the most important casting votes that secured the adoption of the most admirable features of the Constitution; while the position taken by the State at the Hillsboro Convention tended to secure the very important amendments that remedied some of the defects of the original instrument.

The Hillsboro Convention was also empowered to select a place for the permanent seat of government for the State; and the steps then taken led to the selection of a site for the capital city near Bloomsbury, as Wake Court House was called.

Population had largely increased across the mountains; and in the fall and winter of 1786, a land office having been opened by the Franklin Government within the territory occupied by the Indians, the savages became very hostile. Troops were being raised in February, 1787, to go to the assistance of the settlers, and a road was to be cut beyond the mountains to expedite transportation. By April it was expected that these troops under Major Thomas Evans would reach the lower part of the Clinch river, and would begin the road through the wilderness. But there was the usual delays, and an expedition under Major Logan, from Holston, having penetrated into the Indian country, the savages rose and cut off quite a number of whites. It would seem that the settlers had enough to occupy them. Determined not to submit to the State of North Carolina, they were preparing to maintain their separate government, although the population was divided in their opinions. Some adhered to the parent State—while the bulk of the people proposed to set up for themselves at every cost. Governor Caswell very adroitly sought to pacify them, and induce a submission to established authority, declaring that their separation would not be long delayed, when they should become able to support a government: but for a time all his arts failed, and at this time there was in operation a dual government out in that wilderness, one under the authority of North Carolina, the other upholding the State of Franklin.

By August, Major Evans, with seventy-six men, had gotten well into the wilderness, but was delayed by the necessity of cutting the road. On November 10th he wrote that without any money and with little stores, he had performed a march of four hundred miles through a wilderness and in a strange country, where no supplies could

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be had either on public or private credit. He had marched to Kentucky, and there he furloughed his men—so that they might work for sustenance—but, agreeably to his orders, they had all reported to him at Nashville.

It was understood that Spanish and French influences, for Spain and France held dominion along the Mississippi to the Great Lakes, were exciting the Indians of the interior to check the advance of the English-speaking people to the westward, and were supplying the hostile savages with arms and ammunition. And the aggressions of the settlers on the Tennessee and French Broad met with swift retribution from the tomahawk. In the turmoil arising from this border conflict, the division of the people in regard to their home government was an element of weakness, and the leaders eventually entered into an agreement that seemed to recognize the validity of both governments—and opened the way for a complete restoration of the authority of North Carolina across the mountains.

Walter Clark

Raleigh, N. C.,
20 May, 1902.