North Carolina - Notes on the 1776 Constitution

North Carolina's first State Constitution was drafted by the Fifth Provincial Congress, which met in Halifax from November 12th to December 23rd in 1776. The Declaration of Rights were separate from, but accompanied, the original State Constitution, and this combined document outlined the functions of the new state government, while securing the rights of citizens from government interference.

Although the separation of powers was explicitly confirmed and the now-familiar three branches of state government were provided for, it was quite evident that the state's Founding Fathers vested most of the power in the General Assembly, which of course was within the Legislative Branch. This body not only exercised full legislative control, it also selected all of the state's executive and judicial officers - the former for very short terms and the latter for life.

Profound distrust of executive power is clearly evident throughout the original State Constitution. The General Asssembly elected the Governor for a one-year term and he was eligible for only three terms within six years. The little power granted him was hedged in many instances by requiring the concurrence of a seven-member Council of State, of course also selected by the General Assembly.

Judicial officers were elected by the General Assembly, which resulted in a court system designed by legislators. No system of local government was defined by the new Constitution, however, it did define the offices of Sheriff, Coroner, Constable, and Justice of the Peace.

The voters of each county elected one Senator and two members of the House of Commons, while six (later seven) towns each elected one member of the House. It was clearly a property-owner's government - only landowners could vote for Senators until 1857, and progressive property qualifications were required for members of the House of Commons, Senators, and the Governor until 1868.

The General Assembly - Senate & House of Commons - were the only state officers elected by the people until after Amendments were implemented in 1836 as a result of the 1835 Constitutional Convention.



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