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Day 31 of the Convention

Tuesday, February 18, 1868

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

The Bill of Rights was taken up for its third reading and final passage.

The amendment proposed by Mr. Ashley on February 15 now appears as follows:

SEC 27. The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the State to guard and maintain that right.

This is the same as proposed by Mr. Ashley on the floor of the convention, except it now refers to “privilege” instead of “privileges.”

Delegates debated the provision of freedom of the press:

SEC. 20. The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and therefore ought never to be restrained, but every individual shall be held responsible for the abuse of the same.

Mr. Durham: I move to strike out from the clause in relation to the freedom of the press, Sec. 20 the words “and every individual shall be held responsible for the use of the same.”

Mr. Abbott: I voted for the amendment because I think the license of the press too great, and I desire to say merely that such license should render the editors of the press responsible. An editor should always address another person in a gentlemanly way.

Mr. Durham: I am opposed to such restrictions. The Constitution of the United States has no such provision—it has never been found necessary before, and is not necessary now. In times of political excitement, men’s minds run to extreme, and this of all times is not the proper period to confer strange and dangerous powers.

Mr. Abbott: the intention of these words is merely to prevent scandal or libelous attacks by the press on private character. I would be held responsible for words of an abusive or detractive character, and editors should be held equally accountable. In New York the Herald and Tribune both pay heavily for libels, often unwittingly committed. Such is the intention of the law—to prevent libelous attacks and preserve the reputation of private individuals.

Mr. Rodman: these words merely reaffirmed the common law of the State. I know that cases of libel are already tried by the Courts for words said in newspapers. The delegate from Cleveland mistakes the intention of the clause—it is to restrain the license and not to abridge the freedom of the press.

Mr. Durham: I desire to know the necessity of making this a statutory law, when Mr. Rodman admits that it is now of the common law? I think it another step towards military despotism. It would confer powers on the Legislature to stifle free discussion, and in times of party excitement would be used by the party in power to crush the other. The result would be to infringe the liberty of the press. 

The yeas and nays were called on the resolution [amendment] as follows: Yeas – 25, Nays – 79 

Delegates also debated whether to keep the right to bear arms language from the previous North Carolina Constitution or change to the language in the United States Constitution. Mr. Hood said that right to bear arms was questioned under the old constitution and the proposed amendment was better than the original. Mr. Rich said the amendment was in the language of the United States Constitution, and he could not see why any one objected to it. The change would be as follows:

[SEC. 24. The people have a right to bear arms for the defence of the State; and, as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power. A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

The amendment was read, put and carried.

Final passage called for the Bill of Rights, Yeas – 87, Nays- 20.

The convention then took up the majority and minority reports on suffrage and eligibility to office.

This led to lengthy speeches. Mr. Pool said, in part:

“It is amusing, Sir, to observe what flimsy arguments are used by our opponents to bolster up their falling cause. For example, they ask with great complacency why negroes should be advanced to higher political positions than women and minors? The question is easily answered. The relations of parent and child, by a law of nature which no human legislation can alter, is very nearly akin to that of master and servant. A child, from his birth to his majority, is a servant, subject to the orders of his father, and cannot from the very nature of things exercise his own discretion. Hence it is that this privilege is withheld from him till he arrives at a certain age; but his right to vote is inherent, and is only in abeyance during the period of his minority. The reasons why women do not vote are based upon other grounds. Their constitutions and their instincts fit them for domestic duties. Their home is their world, and a pure, intelligent, virtuous woman reigns over her household with a sway as despotic as that of any oriental monarch over his dominions. She is satisfied with her proud position, and does not ask to mingle in the dirty whirlpool of party politics. But I do not hesitate to say that I believe her right to vote is inherent, and is only suspended by her consent; and, for one, whenever any considerable proportion of our female population demand suffrage, I shall be in favor of according it to them. But with the colored people the case is entirely different from both that of women and of minors. They are men, as we are, and freemen, too. They demand the right of the ballot, and as surely as the morrow’s sun will rise, just so surely will this inherent right be guaranteed to them and to their posterity forever.”

After many lengthy speeches, the convention adjourned until 7:00 p.m. When reconvened, suffrage speeches continued. Not all delegates had the opportunity to speak. Mr. Watts claimed the floor for tomorrow.

On motion the Convention adjourned.

 

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.)

 

*The debate and other quotes are close to verbatim from the reported resources with some adjustment to put all comments in first person, present tense.

 

 

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.