This collection of the Laws of the State is of unusual historical interest, as it affords a view of the labors of the patriots of 1776, who, amid the clash of arms and in the throes of rebellion, went steadily forward in establishing civil government on a just and enduring basis.
In July, 1774, the inhabitants of the Cape Fear District met in general meeting and appointed and committee to address the people of each county and recommended that they appoint deputies to attend a Provincial Congress or Convention. This appeal gave rise to committees in the several counties, which later became “Committees of Safety,” and entirely supplanted the old system of government, while the Provincial Congress took the place of the General Assembly.
In December, 1776, a State Constitution was adopted and the first General Assembly of the State was elected under its provisions, and met in April, 1777. New Laws were now to be enacted in conformity with the provisions of the State Constitution. Already two parties had made their appearance, dividing the Patriot leaders into contending factions. The principal subjects on which there was a divergence of opinion were those relating to the administration of the law. Eventually there was a court system adopted, which engaged the best powers of James Iredell, and in the preparation of which Archibald Maclaine also seems to have had a hand. Dr. Kemp P. Battle, in his address on the 'History of the Supreme Court,” says that this law is essentially a copy of the Ac of 1767. He adds: “The codifiers of the Revised Statutes of 1836 give the credit to the unknown author of the Court Law of 1767, but an inspection of the Act of 1746 shows that its authors should have equal praise.”
By the Convention or Congress of December, 1766, quite a number of persons were appointed commissioners to prepare bills to be passed into laws, and the fruits of their labors are manifest in the laws embraced in this volume—“laws which have received repeated encomiums for the ability and skill and accuracy with which they are drawn.” Indeed, the records of those times, in every department of public action, bear ample testimony to the very superior merit of our North Carolina statesmen and legislators. In this volume will be found of special interest the laws by which the State raised its quota of men and means to carry on the war, and the difficult phases produced
During a part of the period covered by the acts contained in this volume North Carolina was not embraced in the union or sisterhood of American commonwealths. Those who are curious to trace her relations to the other States while she was not a member of the Union will find a manifestation of her attitude in her laws passed at that time.
It will also be seen that it was not until December, 1787, that North Carolina ratified the terms of peace according to the treaty made in 1783. She was reluctant to agree to the provisions of that treaty in regard to her Tory citizens. In dealing with them from the beginning the Patriot party used a strong hand, and those who fled the State lost their property. The treaty secured them certain property rights. On this account it was years before the people of North Carolina would consent to declare the treaty a part of the law of the land.
One is impressed with a sense of the importance which the people of the State attached to education, for as soon as the turmoils of war had subsided academies were incorporated in various parts of the State, under the direction of leading citizens; and as early as 1785 an act was passed securing to authors and publishers the fruits of their own literary labors.
Also, in those early years the Legislature declared that negro slavery was an evil, which it sought to mitigate and restrict by taxing the importation of slaves and prohibiting their being brought into North Carolina from any other State where slavery was abolished. At the North, where there were but few slaves, gradual emancipation was easy; but where the uncivilized Africans constituted a large proportion of the population their enfranchisement would have been attended with many dangers.
The period embraced in this volume covers not only the war for independence, but the earlier years of statehood, and the laws collated give expression to the social condition of the commonwealth as well as to the energetic action of the people in “the days that tried the souls of men.”