Some of you realize, I live in North Carolina, a state draped in rich history. One of those events is the the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Charlotte, North Carolina will celebration this event on Sunday: A year before Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration,” there was Meck-Dec, as we in the area fondly call it.
After the French and Indian War, King George and the British Parliament sometimes ignored the American colonies and sometimes saw them as a source of income for the numerous wars in which they engaged. The Stamp Act and the taxes on tea, however, provoke the colonists into breaking with Great Britain. When the British Army occupied Boston and close the port, word of the aggression quickly spread, even to the backwoods of Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. Not liking what they heard, those within the county authorized Colonel Thomas Polk, the commander of the county militia, to call a meeting where the “aggression” might be discussed. Two representatives were named by each of the nine militia companies within the county. Whatever decision theses men would make would be binding on the county’s citizens. These men met at the county courthouse, which was located in Charlotte, a town named for King George III’s queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
This meeting took place on Friday, 19 May 1775. Imagine how these men felt when an express rider, on the very day of the meeting, brought word of the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord. The news that British soldiers had killed and wounded British citizens (which was what the Americans considered themselves at the time) brought a new urgency to the discussion taking place in Charlotte.
Out of these discussion came the five resolutions that make up the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. It was sent to the North Carolina representative at the Continental Congress, and it declared that Mecklenburg County had separated from the Great Britain.
The five resolutions explained how Great Britain had “wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties and inhumanly shed the innocent blood of American patriots at Lexington.” It went on the say, we “dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the Mother country” and declare ourselves “a free and independent people.” The laws were to remain the same but “The Crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein.” To read the complete text of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, click here.
“This document was read from the courthouse steps the next day at noon to the acclamation of a large assembly of Mecklenburg citizens. Everyone knew of the meeting on Friday the 19th and that whatever resulted, the news would be read out from the courthouse steps on Saturday. The news of Lexington and Concord greatly increased the people’s interest. Since the decisions made here would be binding on all of the citizens of the county, people came from far and wide to hear the news.
“Even as they were debating and approving what came to be known as The Mecklenburg Declaration, the delegates had realized that it lacked coherence and organization and they appointed a committee to revise it. By May 31st the committee had completed their work which was not a revision but rather a completely new document, and which came to be called the Mecklenburg Resolves. This new document was less emotional, more logical, and much better organized than the original:
- The introduction states the reason for declaring independence: Parliament had declared the Colonies to be in a state of rebellion, thereby annulling the King’s authority and forcing the colonies to provide for their own governance.
- The first three resolves remove all royal officers, suspend all royal laws and place all legislative and judicial powers in the Congress of each Province.
- Resolves 4-15 lay out laws governing the Militia and the courts of justice and is concerned mostly with debts, rents and taxes.
- Numbers 16 and 17 deal with the punishment of those who remain loyal to the King and Parliament.
- Number 18 says that these resolves are in force until the NC Provincial Congress says otherwise, or until Great Britain changes its attitude toward the Colonies.
- Number 19 says that everyone should arm themselves and be ready for action.
- And finally resolve number 20 directs Col. Thomas Polk and Dr. Joseph Kennedy to buy 300 pounds of gunpowder, 600 pounds of lead and 1,000 flints on behalf of the county.
“In short, finding themselves declared outlaws by the King, they set up their own government and prepared to defend themselves. And note that they did this not just for Mecklenburg County, but for the whole thirteen colonies. To read the complete text of the Mecklenburg Resolves, click here.
“On about June 1, 1775 Militia Captain James Jack set off for Philadelphia with both documents to lay them before the Second Continental Congress then meeting in that city. When he returned he said that the representatives from North Carolina had read and approved the documents. However, at that time the Congress was debating and approving a petition to the King asking for reconciliation so the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was forgotten and not head from outside of Mecklenburg County for many years.” (James Williams, June 10, 2008, The Mecklenburg Historical Association)
Blythe, Legette; Brockman, Charles Raven (1961). “Mecklenburg Resolves, Preamble and Resolution 2”. Hornet’s Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Charlotte, NC: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. p. 429.
Graham, George Washington (1905). The Mecklenburg Declaration Of Independence, May 20, 1775, And Lives Of Its Signers. The Neale Publishing Company.
Hoyt, William Henry (1907). The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence: A Study of Evidence Showing that the Alleged Early Declaration of Independence by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, is Spurious. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.