North Carolina - 1868 Constitutional Convention

At the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War, the Federal Government forced all Southern states to completely rewrite their Constitutions and most of their existing laws. At the time, many former leaders had been disenfranchised, and a number of newcomers or otherwise inexperienced men, as well as appointed or otherwise installed civil officials, were in positions of authority.

In 1865, Governor William W. Holden called for a conference to write a new State Constitution; it was rejected by a popular vote. In 1866, however, another Constitution was drafted, which was largely a mere restatement of the 1776 Constitution, the 1835 Amdendments, plus a few new items. It was rejected by a vote of 21,770 to 19,880 on August 2, 1866.

In early 1867, at the direction of the U.S. Congress, in which North Carolina was not yet represented, and the 2nd Military District Commanding Officer, delegates to the Constitutional Convention were duly elected on November 19-20, 1867, and they convened in January of 1868 to consider certain subjects mandated by the national government. The Convention met from January 13th to March 17th in 1868.

This new Constitution was ratified in April of 1868 by a vote of 93,086 to 74,016, and it was a relatively progressive document that borrowed from the former state Constitution and added many new provisions. It abolished slavery and provided for universal male suffrage. The power of the people to elect representatives and other officeholders, including key officials in the executive branch, judges, and county officials, was greatly expanded. Voters' rights were increased, with male citizens no longer required to own property or meet specific religious qualifications in order to vote. The position of governor was again strengthened with increased powers and a four-year term. A Constitutionally-based court system was established, county and town governments and a public school system were outlined, and the legislative branch's methods of raising revenue by taxation were codified.

Drafted and forced through the 1868 Constitutional Convention by native Republicans and a handful of Carpetbaggers, this Constitution was very unpopular with conservatives. For its time, it was very progressive and democratic. In this respect it differed markedly from the rejected proposed Constitution of 1866.

The Conservative Party, under whose banner the older political leaders had aligned themselves, was to repeal this new Constitution of 1868 at the earliest possible opportunity. The Conservative Party gained control of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1870 and they immediately offered to call another Convention of the People, but the voters rejected this in 1871 by a vote of 95,252 to 86,007.

The General Assembly then used their legislative iniative to subsequently amend the 1868 Constitution. Their procedure called for legislative approval of each proposed amendment at two successive sessions, then followed by a vote of the people soon thereafter. The 1871-1872 legislative session adopted an Act calling for about thirty-five (35) amendments to the 1868 Constitution, all of which were meant to restore to the Legislative Branch the bulk of the power over local governments, the courts, the public schools and the University of North Carolina, which had been taken from the Legislative Branch in 1868.

The 1872-73 session of the General Assembly approved eight (8) amendments for a second time and again submitted these to the voters. This time, all eight (8) were approved by a large margin. These Amendments restored biennial sessions of the General Assembly, transferred control of the University of North Carolina from the State Board of Education to the General Assembly, abolished various new state offices, altered the prohibition against double office-holding, and repealed the prohibition against repudiation of the state debt.

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