12TH STATE: November 21, 1789, North Carolina Ratifies the U.S. Constitution

(Historical account originally published by Andrew Glass in 2017)

On this day in 1789, North Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution to become the 12th state in the Union. The vote to approve the fledgling nation’s revised founding document came some 200 years after the first white settlers arrived on its fertile mid-Atlantic coastal plain.

In 1663, King Charles II of England had granted a charter for a colony to be named Carolina in honor of his deposed father, Charles I. (The name “Carolina” stems from the Latin word “Carolinus,” which means “of Charles.”)

Originally inhabited by several indigenous tribes — including the Cherokee, Catawba, Tuscarora, Chowanoke, Roanoke, Pamlico, Machapunga, Coree, Cape Fear Indians, Waxhaw, Waccamaw, and Croatans — North Carolina was the first American territory that English settlers sought to colonize.

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Sir Walter Raleigh (1512-1618), for whom the state capital is named (and who was executed by the order of James I), had chartered two colonies on the North Carolina coast in the late 1580s. Both attempts ended in failure. The demise of one of them, the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island, remains a mystery.

By the late 17th century, several permanent settlements finally had taken hold in what was then known as the Carolina territory — also encompassing present-day South Carolina and Tennessee. From 1629 until 1712, the North and South Carolina colonies were one political unit.

Under the terms of the North Carolina Biennial Act (1712), North Carolina became a separate colony with its own assembly and council. In 1729, North Carolina became a Royal English colony. On April 12, 1776, the North Carolina Provincial Congress, in its Halifax Resolves, authorized its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence from the British crown.

In the aftermath of the war, the Constitution, which had been drafted in Philadelphia in 1787, proved to be a controversial document in North Carolina. Delegates, meeting at Hillsborough in July 1788, initially voted to reject it on anti-federalist grounds. In time, they were persuaded to change their minds — partly by the efforts of James Iredell and William Davies and partly by the prospect of adopting a Bill of Rights.

Meanwhile, residents in the wealthier northeastern part of the state, who generally supported the proposed Constitution, threatened to secede if the rest of the state failed to fall into line. A second ratifying convention, held in Fayetteville, ended in approval of the Constitution. […]

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