This Day in History: North Carolina's vote for independence
On this day in 1776, North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress approves the Halifax Resolves. The decision was about as close to declaring independence as the state could come without actually doing so.
North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress were now authorized to vote for independence!
The state had changed its mind—drastically—in a relatively short period of time. Only seven short months earlier, the state’s Third Provincial Congress had approved a message to British citizens. That letter scorned the concept of independence:
“We have been told that independence is our object,” that Congress wrote, “that we seek to shake off all connection With the Parent State. Cruel suggestion! . . . We again declare, and we invoke that Almighty Being who searches the recesses, of the human heart, and knows our most secret intentions, that it is our most earnest wish and prayer to be restored, with the other United Colonies, to the state in which we and they were placed before the year 1763 . . . .”
That letter was written in September 1775. But matters moved quickly, and a battle was soon fought early in 1776. The Battle at Moore’s Creek Bridge has been called the “Lexington and Concord of the South.” The conflict occurred on February 27, soon after the Royal Governor of North Carolina recruited Loyalists to side with British troops.
The battle was over within minutes: The Patriots had trounced the Loyalists. Ultimately, the series of events left North Carolina in an entirely different place than it had been before. A Fourth Provincial Congress was called and met on April 4.
“All our people here are up for independence,” one colonial leader wrote the next day. Another militia officer agreed: “Independence seems to be the word; I know not one dissenting voice.”
By April 8, the Provincial Congress had appointed a committee “to take into consideration the usurpations and violences attempted and committed by the King and Parliament of Britain against America, and the further measures to be taken for frustrating the same and for the better defense of this Province.” Four days later, the committee recommended a document that would come to be known as the Halifax Resolves. The Provincial Congress promptly approved it.
“Resolved that the delegates for this Colony in the Continental Congress be impowered to concur with the other delegates of the other Colonies in declaring Independency . . . .”
North Carolina was not only ready to be independent, but it was even ready to work with other colonies to achieve this goal. That was a bigger deal than you might imagine. Remember that a union of states was still a bit of a novel idea. Most people were then loyal to their state, first and foremost.
When the Halifax Resolves were read in the Continental Congress, it was well received. Others had been advocating for independence, but North Carolina was the first colony to endorse such a resolve. Soon, delegates from other states were sending copies to their own colonies, asking colonial leaders to “follow this laudable example.”
The rest, as you know, is history. All thirteen colonies would soon come together to declare our independence from Great Britain.
Halifax Resolves (Moores Creek National Battlefield website)
John H. Hazelton, The Declaration of Independence: Its History (1906)
Letter from North Carolina's Provincial Congress to the Inhabitants of the British Empire (Sept. 20, 1775) (reprinted on page 248-49 HERE)
Samuel A'Court Ashe, Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present (1906) (Vol. 4)
William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (1989)