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North Carolina. Convention (1788)
Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of North-Carolina, Convened at Hillsborough, on Monday the 21st Day of July, 1788, for the Purpose of Deliberating and Determining on the Constitution Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, the 17th Day of September, 1787: To Which is Prefixed the Said Constitution
Edenton: Printed by Hodge & Wills, 1789.


Printed in Edenton right after North Carolina's Hillsborough Convention, which ratified the federal Constitution, this document contains the official proceedings of that important gathering. It is a day-by-day minutes-like account of the events of the Convention, as the body deliberated over each and every clause of the proposed document, noting which individual made what motion, who seconded it, and the out-come of the vote. In some instances, full transcripts of remarks made on the floor of the Convention are recorded in verbatim fashion, interspersed between such notations as "after some desultory conversation . . ." Found here are the classic arguments for and against a strong federal government, with the Anti-Federalists being led by Willie Jones and Samuel Spencer, and the Federalists by James Iredell and William R. Davie.

The Anti-Federalists feared a tyrannical central government made up of representatives not easily dislodged from their posts. This strong government, they insinuated, would levy heavy taxes and wield intrusive powers such as impeachment of all elected officials (not just those on the federal level). It would be a government that would slowly erode the power of the individual states. Most telling, the Anti-Federalists stated, was the use of the phrase "We the People" in the new document, as opposed to "We the States." Another, perhaps more fundamental, objection to the document by the Anti-federalists was based upon its lack of a written guarantee of basic freedoms. It had no Bill of Rights. The Federalists, on the other hand, bemoaned the disorder and weakness of the present ineffectual federal government, which could hardly pay its bills, lacked a ready mechanism to raise the funds necessary to pay those bills, and which did not have the power to coordinate, much less direct, the activities of the constituent states, a problem that was especially worrisome in matters of national defense. Of special note in these proceedings is the speech of William R. Davie, beginning on page 36, which points out the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the United States' earlier attempt at a form of federal government; the speech of James Iredell, which explains the reasoning behind the length of a Senator's term and also gives a bit of philosophy behind why two houses in the legislature are necessary (beginning on page 59), and Judge Samuel Spencer's primary argument against the Constitution, which notes that the "most certain criterion of happiness" of a people is to be taxed by their most immediate representatives—not politicians at a nation's remove (p. 102).

The more numerous Anti-Federalists members of North Carolina's Constitutional Convention in Hillsborough easily defeated ratification 184-84, and North Carolina, along with Rhode Island remained separate from the new federal government for more than a year. North Carolina finally became the last state to join the original Union when a Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.

Kevin Cherry

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