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Day 23 of the Convention

Saturday, February 8, 1868

The Convention was called to order on Saturday at 10 o’clock, Mr. Pres. Cowles in the Chair.

Before getting to matters of the constitution, the delegates had extensive discussion of the replacement of delegate Mr. Williams with Mr. L.D. Hall of Sampson County. This was based on a review after Mr. Hall formally contested the results of the election. Mr. Durham complained that there were twenty other Halls in Sampson and electors did not know for whom they were voting. No decision was reached.

A resolution that all constitutional propositions be read and passed on three several times was read, the rules suspended and it was adopted.

The Committee of the Bill of Rights submitted the draft provisions of the constitution. After the first section was read, Mr. Heaton moved to amend to provide the exact words of the declaration of independence:

“That we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

This led to a lengthy debate on the equality of men. Mr. Heaton responded:

The Constitution of the United States is based on this principle. And after years of pillage and carnage and blood, the people of North Carolina are returning to that glorious principle of free government. [Applause.] Today let this Convention, in the presence of that portrait of Washington, herald it to the nation and the world, that they have founded their constitution upon the principle that all men are created equal. [Applause.] The spirit of universal liberty is abroad in the land, it is marching with irresistible force to the goal of victory. Let us meet the issue today, and reaffirm the words of the glorious fathers of the constitution. [Applause.]

Mr. Nicholson offered the following substitute:

“That all men are born free and equal in natural rights, some of these are inalienable, and among them are the rights to life, liberty, property and to the pursuit of happiness, none of which can be rightfully surrendered or taken away, or abridged in any respect to any person except in such measure as may be necessary to reconcile them with the equal rights of others or in punishment of crime.”

Mr. Tourgee seconded the substitute of Mr. Nicholson. He said it was clear as an icicle. No one would doubt his advocacy of Republican principles. It expressed his ideas exactly, and he would vote for it.

Mr. Hood said the colored people had read the language of the declaration until it had become a part of their natures.

Mr. Tourgee moved to adjourn. His motion was lost.

The amendment of Mr. Heaton was then adopted.

On motion the convention adjourned.

After the convention adjourned. Mr. Tourgee found time to write to his wife, Emma. His letter says, in part:

My Dear Wife –

I have been a very bad husband this week. I know – But I have been so very busy, Darling. I could not well help if we have done nothing but fight and quarrel all the week. I am up in the Commons Library in the Capitol today all alone with a good fire now writing to you. When in the library, I feel just at home and can manage to do a little quilling.

Tomorrow comes up the question of the old State debt. I shall oppose it but have no idea that it will be carried in my form. The knees are too weak and the vision of most men is too limited to admit of their taking my view of the matter. I expect to stand pretty much alone upon it. It can’t be helped. I am sorry your sickness increases. I was in hope it would diminish instead. My health is very good, save and except a bad cold, which gives me quite a cough. Regards to all

Yours Truly

A.W. Tourgee

 

Resources

Ferrell, Joseph, ed., Compilation of the Official Report of the Proceedings of the Convention (Chapel Hill, N.C.: unpublished manuscript 2007). (See day 8 for fuller explanation of this resource.)

Tourgée, A. W., & Chautauqua County Historical Society. (1801). Albion W. Tourgee papers, 1801-1924.

Ann McColl

Ann McColl is an attorney practicing in the field of education law since 1991. She currently serves as co-founder and president of the Innovation Project.