by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
North Carolina has long been a proponent of a Bill of Rights. In its 1776 constitution, the state of North Carolina chose to begin its constitution with a Bill of Rights. In the book, The South’s Role in the Creation of the Bill of Rights, contributor and Former Notre Dame Professor Walter F. Pratt, Jr. said:
Most notable about the North Carolina constitution of 1776 is the Declaration of Rights, which precedes the constitution, having been passed the day before the constitution itself. Fletcher Green has made the suggestive observation that “[i]t seems from this procedure that the convention looked upon the Bill of Rights as more fundamental than the constitution.”
The story, however, is even more interesting. Green writes:
November 13, a committee of eighteen was appointed to prepare “a Bill of Rights, and Form of a Constitution for the Government of this State.” …Thomas Jones of this committee reported a constitution on December 6, and a Bill of Rights, December 12, 1776. Though the constitution had been reported first, the convention delayed its adoption until the Bill of Rights had been determined upon.
Even though North Carolinians had been presented with a constitution first, they bypassed a vote on it until they could have a Bill of Rights in place. From the beginning, North Carolina’s founders put protecting the rights of citizens first and foremost.
This philosophy spilled over into the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. During North Carolina’s ratification convention for the federal constitution, North Carolinians made it clear they would not ratify the document until a Bill of Rights was added. By a vote of 184 to 83, North Carolina decided not to ratify or reject the constitution and provided a list of rights and suggested amendments for Americans. Many call the Hillsborough Convention “the great refusal.” It was only after North Carolina was assured a declaration of rights would be added to the constitution that they ratified the U.S. Constitution in November 1789.