MECKLENBURG COUNTY – On this day, May 20, in 1775, upon hearing of the murderous actions of British soldiers against the King’s own ‘subjects,’ a group in Mecklenburg County declared independence from the British. At least, that’s the way the legend goes, and the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, along with the Halifax Resolves (April 12, 1776), contribute to North Carolina’s reputation as the ‘First in Freedom’ state.
Listen here to N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby describe the story of the Mecklenburg Declaration:
Both May 20, 1775 and April 12, 1776 are commemorated on the North Carolina state flag til this day, but many historians are skeptical of the veracity of the former date and alleged events. The problem being that the so called declaration did not surface until 44 years after the alleged event, and even then it was a reconstruction from memory and accounts of those that claimed to have been there.
“[…] The authenticity of the document was not seriously questioned until the posthumous publication of the works of Thomas Jefferson in 1829. In a letter of 9 July 1819 to John Adams, Jefferson dismissed the Mecklenburg Declaration as a hoax. The North Carolina legislature in 1830-31 was so aroused by this development that it established a committee to investigate. As committee chairman Thomas G. Polk organized the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration, it is not surprising that his committee gathered evidence to support the contention that the declaration was authentic.
Despite North Carolina’s efforts, a number of scholars outside the state maintained that the Mecklenburg document was a fraud. The ultimate scholarly blow came in 1907 with the publication of William Henry Hoyt’s The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence: A Study of Evidence Showing That the Alleged Declaration of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, Is Spurious. Using the latest methods of scientific history and internal criticism, Hoyt maintained that the evidence was overwhelming that the reconstructed declaration was a misconstruction of the Mecklenburg Resolves of 31 May 1775, which contemporary newspapers proved had been written. Most North Carolinians ignored Hoyt’s work, but not Samuel A. Ashe, editor, historian, and descendant of one of the state’s most prominent families. The first volume of Ashe’s History of North Carolina (1908) presented both sides of the issue but ultimately agreed with the naysayers. […]”
The fight over whether the Meck-Dec is authentic led to some acrimony in the N.C. General Assembly over the years. To be ‘First in Freedom’ was a point of pride, after all, and many lawmakers that were scions of the Old North State were protective of the Meck-Dec account.
Some defenders of the Meck-Dec legend suggested that those in Mecklenburg were still using the Julian calendar, instead of the relatively newer and more accurate Gregorian calendar, which would have placed them 11 days behind – May 20 versus May 31. As mentioned above, May 31, 1775 is the documented date of the Mecklenburg Resolves and that may indeed be what the the Meck-Dec legend is referring to.
Whatever the case (or date) may be, the legendary events are worth celebrating and taking pride in. That our North Carolina forefathers valued freedom and were among the first to grasp the sanctity of the American idea is a history worth honoring. Moreover, it is a reminder to rededicate ourselves to the the first principles of liberty and unalienable individual rights that inform that idea, because as we wade through ever changing political waters it serves as a mooring to keep us from floating adrift.
Happy Meck-Dec Day from First in Freedom Daily!