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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Preface to Volume 21 of the State Records of North Carolina
Clark, Walter, 1846-1924
May 20, 1903
Volume 21

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This volume contains the proceedings of the Assembly for the sessions November, 1788, November, 1789, and November, 1790; also the letter-book of Governor Sam. Johnston from January, 1789, to December, 1789.

It was during this period that the State of North Carolina, not having acceded to the Union formed by the new Constitution of the United States, at the Hillsboro Convention of 1788 was in a measure separated from the other States of the Union until the Convention at Fayetteville in the following year. In the Legislature of November, 1788, petitions were introduced to call a new Convention for the purpose of reconsidering the action of the State in not accepting the proposed Constitution, and a second Convention being called, North Carolina became a member of the Union. In the meantime the new government had gone into operation. Hugh Williamson, one of our delegates to the Congress of the Confederation, writes from New York to Governor Johnston on 9 March, 1789: “On the fourth instant, according to appointment, sundry members of the new Congress, viz., eight Senators and fourteen of the House of Representatives, met at the public buildings in this city. Since that time the members of the old Congress have not attempted to form a House; some of them are in the new Congress, the remainder are chiefly gone home.”

Some weeks had still to elapse before a sufficient number of members had arrived to form a quorum, and about the end of April Williamson again wrote: “On Thursday next, the President of the United States, G. Washington, is to take the oath and enter upon the duties of his office. The new form of government will then have commenced, and my privilege of presenting letters as a member of Congress will probably be disputed.” Up to that time, the formation of the new government, Mr. Williamson “considered himself a member of Congress,” and still remained at New York looking after the interest of North Carolina.

After the Fayetteville Convention had ratified the Constitution of the United States, and Alexander Martin had been elected Governor

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to fill the vacancy caused by the election of Governor Sam. Johnston as Senator, he sent a parting message to the Legislature on the subject of the State’s joining the Union—“as an event which must be the subject of great joy to our sister States.” The apprehensions that led to doubt about the advisability of adopting the new Constitution are referred to, and he seeks to quiet them by such suggestions as this: “That the President, with all his supposed powers of royalty, the Senators, with their pretended aristocratic authority, and all members of the House of Representatives, after the several periods of their political existence, limited by the Constitution, have expired, must all return to the class of fellow-citizens and be amenable for their conduct and feel with them the effects of that government they have administered.”

Still the succeeding Legislatures were not entirely complacent. At the session of November, 1789, when two Senators were to be elected, Governor Sam. Johnston, who was the most eminent public man in the State, was on the first ballot chosen a Senator; while several ballots had to be taken before the other Senator was chosen. At length, however, Benjamin Hawkins received a majority of the ballots.

At the session 1790 it was enacted that no person holding a Federal office should be eligible to a seat in the Assembly—or to a State office; but the Assembly refused to embrace in the prohibition Senators and Representatives in Congress, they being regarded as State officers. Our Senators being deemed remiss in not communicating promptly and fully with the State authorities, the Assembly passed a resolution: “Whereas, the secrecy of the Senate of the United States, the alarming measures of the late session of Congress, and the silence observed by the Senators of this State,” etc., followed by direct resolutions of instructions.

Thus early the practice of instructing our Senators began.

There was also a clash between the judiciary as soon as the Federal judiciary system was put in force. In December, 1790, the State Judges, who at that time sat together in holding their courts, laid before the General Assembly a letter informing that body that they had refused to obey a writ of certiorari issued by a Federal Judge, removing a case to the Federal Court, and the Assembly, by resolution, commended them and approved their conduct.

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Again, it being proposed that State officers should take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, the Legislature refused to pass such an enactment; and the Governor, in being inducted into office, took only the oath of allegiance to North Carolina and an oath of office.

There evidently was considerable jealousy on the part of the North Carolina Assembly as to the government of the United States. The conflicting interests of the different towns also led to a long struggle over the proposition to give effect to the ordinance of the Convention locating a permanent Capital. On November, 1790, the proposition passed the House by the casting vote of the Speaker, Mr. Cabarrus; and on the same day failed in the Senate by the casting vote of the Speaker of the Senate.

It was at this period that the clause of the Constitution enjoining the establishment of a State School was given effect by the appointment of Trustees of the University of North Carolina, and Benjamin Smith made his donation to the University, receiving therefor the thanks of the Assembly, and provision was made, by State laws, for the erection of buildings and putting the school into operation. Alexander Martin, who had ever been a promoter of education, should be gratefully remembered by posterity for his warm interest in this educational work.

Our territory across the mountains was also at this period a cause of anxious solicitude. Spain claimed the Mississippi Valley and the Indians to the southward were easily swayed by Spanish emissaries to give trouble to the settlers who were now rapidly advancing into the Indian hunting grounds.

By our treaties with the Indians, their territory south of the French Broad was to be exempt from settlement; while further north purchases had been made and the settlers were free to move westward. Washington County (now in Tennessee) was ninety miles in length and forty in width, and listed about two thousand polls.

To the south of the French Broad, however, about fifteen hundred families had settled. There were some murders committed on each side, and John Sevier seems to have taken matters in his own hands and proposed to deal with the Indians without regard to the views of the North Carolina State authorities. His action was severely reprehended, as putting the entire western settlement in peril of a murderous

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Indian warfare, and entailing a heavy and unnecessary expense upon the State. But after much negotiation a treaty was made, all prisoners were exchanged, and the Indians quieted. It was during that period, 1789, that Andrew Jackson was appointed Attorney-General for the district of “Mero,” and entered on his official career in which he became so distinguished. Shortly afterwards a deed of cession was made to the United States for our territory west of the mountains, and the foundations of the State of Tennessee were laid.

As being worthy of mention, we note that John Paul Jones held his appointment from North Carolina, and because of his eminence Mr. Robert Burton presented his bust to the State.

Two incidents of the Craig invasion of the Cape Fear are referred to in this volume: one on page 694, relates to the seizure of public property and papers by Major Craig and their destruction; another is to the effect that General Lillington had a party of militia at Great Bridge, while the British were on the other side of the river at Mount Blake; and upon the withdrawal of the British the American officers burnt Mount Blake. The incidents of 1781 are so meagre that we call attention to the above.

Walter Clark

Raleigh, N. C.,
20 May, 1903.