On this day in 1775, the Mecklenburg Resolves are adopted by colonial leaders in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. State leaders would take a similar action when they approved the Halifax Resolves, but that action was still nearly a year away.
By contrast, Mecklenburg County leaders were ready to act immediately. Their Resolves more or less told King George III to take a flying leap!
All Royal commissions, the Resolves declared, “are null and void.” Instead, all legislative and executive power would be vested in the colonies’ own Provincial Congresses.
Needless to say, the Royal Governor of North Carolina was irate. He soon wrote London about the “horrid and treasonable” action taken by the colonists.
The Mecklenburg Resolves (May 31) should not be confused with the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (May 20). Historians dispute whether the May 20 Declaration ever occurred, because the text of the Declaration was not discovered until many years after the fact. Did the text represent an actual separate vote on May 20? Or was it simply a later attempt to reconstruct, from memory, what had happened on May 31?
The authenticity of the Declaration was being questioned as early as 1819. On June 22 of that year, John Adams wrote Thomas Jefferson about the Declaration, which had just been published in a newspaper. “The Genuine sense of America,” Adams wrote, “at that moment was never so well expressed before nor since.” Jefferson was unimpressed. He’d never heard of the Mecklenburg Declaration and wrote: “[Y]ou seem to think it genuine. I believe it spurious.”
To be fair, Jefferson was the author of the American Declaration of Independence, so perhaps he was inclined to disbelieve the story!?!
With or without the May 20 Declaration, the May 31 Resolves were valuable in their own right. Leaders in Mecklenburg had just received news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and they decided to take action. The resolution they passed did not declare independence outright, but it came close. The Resolves suspended royal authority in Mecklenburg County, stating that “all Laws and Commissions confirmed by, or derived from the Authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated . . . .” It affirmed colonial authorities as the source of “all legislative and executive Powers” and provided that such a situation was to be continued until Parliament “resign its unjust and arbitrary Pretentions with Respect to America.” The Resolves concluded with provisions regarding arms for war with Britain.
And, of course, the official American Declaration of Independence would soon be unanimously approved by all thirteen colonies.
The fight for independence was off to a good start!
George Washington Graham, The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, May 20, 1775, and Lives of Its Signers (1905)
Letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (June 22, 1819)