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Day 46 of the Convention

Friday, March 6, 1868

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

Today the Report of the Committee on Education, Common Schools, University and the Means of Their Support was taken up. Mr. Samuel S. Ashley, chairman, said that the committee had reported that this article, which was necessarily lengthy, but herein provision was made for school districts, revenue and the University. There were portions of the article which might seem novel to the ears of delegates, but when they came up, explanation would be made.

The only rancorous debates were about proposed amendments to provide for separate schools by race. The following are key parts of the discussion and debate.*

The 1st section was read.

SECTION 1. Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to the good government and happiness of mankind, schools, and the means of education, shall forever be fostered and encouraged.

Mr. Ashley: The first section is from the immortal of ’87 [Northwest Ordinance of 1787]. It is worthy of a place in any constitution. It is good conservative doctrine, enunciated by the fathers.” Section 1 was adopted. 

Section 2 was read.

SEC. 2. The General Assembly at its first session under this Constitution provide for a general and uniform system of Public Schools, wherein tuition shall be free of charge to all the children of the State between the ages of six and twenty-one years.

Mr. Ashley: I ask for unanimous consent to insert to 2nd line after provide, “by taxation or otherwise.”

Adopted. [SEC. 2. The General Assembly at its first session under this Constitution provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of Public Schools, wherein tuition shall be free of charge to all the children of the State between the ages of six and twenty-one years.]

Mr. French of Bladen: I move to strike out 6 and insert 5.

Mr. French, of Chowan: The committee had agreed upon 6 years of age for children to go to school. Many wished to put in 8 instead of 6 years.

Mr. French, of Bladen: Many children under six were capable of learning as much as other under eight. He desired the former to have a fair chance.

Mr. Nicholson: I am opposed to sending children under five years of age to school. The children at such age, if practicable, could be taught at home. I know that tender children are often injured by such early application to letters.

Mr. French, of Bladen: Many children in North Carline could not be taught at home.

The amendment was lost. The section was adopted (with the amendment by Mr. Ashley).

Section 3 was read.

SEC. 3. Each County of the State shall be divided into a convenient number of Districts, in which one or more Primary Public Schools shall be maintained at least four months in every year; and any County which shall fail to comply with the aforesaid requirement of this section shall be liable to indictment.

Mr. Ashley: I move to insert “Commissioners” after “County.”

Adopted. [SEC. 3. Each County of the State shall be divided into a convenient number of Districts, in which one or more Primary Public Schools shall be maintained at least four months in every year; and any County Commissioners which shall fail to comply with the aforesaid requirement of this section shall be liable to indictment.]

Section 4 was read providing for an irreducible school fund.

Verbally amended on suggestion of Mr. Graham, of Orange, and adopted.

[SEC. 4. The proceeds of all lands that have been, or hereafter may be granted by the United States to this State and not otherwise specially appropriated by this State, or the United States or heretofore by this State; also, all moneys, stocks, bonds, and other property now belonging to any fund for purposes of education; also, the net proceeds that may accrue to the State from sales of estrays, or from unclaimed Dividends, or from fines, penalties and forfeitures; also, the proceeds of all sales of the swamp lands belonging to the State or of any other public lands which may have been, or may hereafter be, paid over to this State, (unless forbidden by Congress; also, all money that shall be paid as an equivalent for exemption from military duty; also, all grants, gifts or devises that may hereafter be made to this State, and not otherwise appropriated by the grant, gift or devise, shall be securely invested, and sacredly preserved as an irreducible educational fund, the annual income of which, together with so much of the ordinary revenue of the State as may be necessary, shall be faithfully appropriated for establishing and perfecting in this State a system of Free Public Schools, and for no other purposes or uses whatsoever.**

Section 5 was stricken out, as “taxation and otherwise” was now, by Mr. Ashley’s amendment, addressed in Section 2.

[SEC. 5. The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation or otherwise, as will secure a thorough and efficient system of Public Schools throughout the State

Mr. Durham then offered a new section providing for separate schools for white and black children:

The General Assembly shall provide separate and distinct schools, for the black children of the State, from those provided for white children.

This derailed the convention from the review of the proposed provisions for a lengthy debate. Mr. Hood in one of the lengthiest speeches in opposition said in part,

I do not believe that it is good for our children to eat and drink daily the sentiment that they are naturally inferior to the whites, which they do in three-fifths of all the schools where they have white teachers. There are numbers of colored people who really think that they are naturally inferior to white people. Nothing tries me more than to hear a black man make this admission…

But Mr. Chairman for this very reason I am opposed to putting it in the organic law. Make this distinction in your organic law and in many places the white children will have good schools at the expense of the whole people, while the colored people will have none better or what will be but little than none.

If the schools are all free to all, colored children will be insured good schools in order to keep them out of the white schools. This is all we ask, this we expect to contend for. I have expressed my objection time and again to the words white or black being put in this Constitution.

Mr. Ashley moved an amendment to the section proposed:

That it was understood the section was not offered in sincerity, or because of its necessity, but for the purpose of bringing about prejudice and the practical enslavement of the colored people.

Mr. Durham: I believe that the amendment of Mr. Ashley had been introduced to kill off his own. I do not care whether that amendment was adopted or not, I wish to test the Republicans here on the amendment introduced by myself.

After further debate, the vote Mr. Durham’s amendment as amended by Mr. Ashley was put and lost.

Section 6th was read and adopted.

SEC. 6. The University of North Carolina, with its lands, emoluments and franchises, is the property of the State, and shall be held to an inseparable connection with the Free Public School system of the State.

Section 7 was read, verbally amended and adopted.

SEC. 7. The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of the University, as far as practicable, be extended to the youth of the State free of expense for tuition; also, that all the property which has heretofore accrued to the State, or shall hereafter accrue from escheats, unclaimed dividends, or distributive shares of the estates of deceased persons, shall be appropriated to the use of the University.**

Sections 8 and 9 were read and adopted.

SEC. 8. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Auditor, Superintendent of Public Works, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Attorney General shall constitute a State Board of Education.

SEC. 9. The Governor shall be President, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall be Secretary of the Board of Education.

Section 10 was read, verbally amended and adopted.

[SEC. 10. The Board of Education shall succeed to all the powers and trusts of the Literary Board President and Directors of the Literary Fund of North Carolina, and shall have full power to legislate and make all needful rules and regulations in relation to Free Public Schools, and the Education fund of the State; but all acts, rules and regulations of said Board may be altered or amended, or repealed by the General Assembly, and when altered, amended and repealed they shall not be re-enacted by the Board.—Editor.]

Sections 11, 12, 13, and 14 were adopted.

SEC. 11. The first session of the Board of Education shall be held at the Capital of the State, within fifteen (15) days after the organization of the State government under this Constitution; the time of future meetings may be determined by the Board.

SEC. 12. A majority of the Board shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of a business.

SEC. 13. The contingent expenses of the Board shall be provided for by the General Assembly.

SEC. 14. The Board of Education shall elect Trustees for the University, as follows: one Trustee from each County in the State, whose term of office shall be eight (8) years. The first meeting of the Board shall be held within ten (10) days after their election, and at this and every subsequent meeting, ten (10) Trustees shall constitute a quorum. The Trustees, at their first meeting, shall be divided, as may be, into four (4) classes. The seats of the first class shall be vacated at the expiration of two (2) years; of the second class as the expiration of four (4) years; of the third class at the expiration of six (6) years; of the fourth class at the expiration of eight (8) years; so that one-fourth may be chosen every second year.

Section 15 was read. Mr. Ashley moved to add the President of the University to the Board of Trustees. Adopted.

As amended the section was adopted.

SEC. 15. The Board of Education, and the President of the University, shall be ex officio members of the Board of Trustees of the University, and shall, with three (3) other Trustees to be appointed by the Board of Trustees, constitute the Executive Committee of the Trustees of the University of North Carolina, and shall be clothed with the powers delegated to the Executive Committee under the existing organization of the Institution. The Governor shall be ex officio President of the Board of Trustees and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the University. The Board of Education shall provide for the more perfect organization of the Board of Trustees.

Sections 16 and 17 were read and adopted.

SEC. 16. All the privileges, rights, franchises and endowments heretofore granted to, or conferred upon, the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina by the charter of 1789, or by any subsequent legislation, are hereby vested in the Board of Trustees, authorized by this Constitution, for the perpetual benefit of the University.

SEC. 17. As soon as practicable after the adoption of this Constitution, the General Assembly shall establish and maintain in connection with the University a Department of Agriculture, of Mechanics, of Mining, and of Normal Instruction.

Section 18 was read,.

SEC. 18. The General Assembly is hereby empowered to enact that every child of sufficient mental and physical ability shall attend the Public Schools during the period between the ages of six (6) and eighteen (18) years, for a term of not less than sixteen months, unless educated by other means.

Mr. Graham made an amendment similar to that of Mr. Durham to provide to separate schools and Colleges for the white and colored races. One of the opponents to the amendment was Mr. Abbott, who said in part*:

The purpose of the amendment was to throw obloquy on the constitution, and to prejudice uninformed persons. At Harvard, where no man could enter without a heavy purse, there were rarely less then five or six colored students. Where he went to college there were four or five colored students, as good scholars as any one. At Oberlin, two-thirds of the students were colored. Now as to the University of North Carolina after a tax was raised from all the people, no class of people should be excluded. While he was willing to yield to prejudices, he thought that to exclude colored youths from the University of North Carolina would bring obloquy upon that institution even as far as Oxford, in England, where colored youth are admitted.

Mr. Tourgee offered an amendment:

“That separate and distinct schools may be provided for any class of citizens in the State, provided that in all cases where district schools shall be established there shall be as ample sufficient and complete facilities afforded for the one class as for others, and entirely adequate for all; and in all districts where the schools are divided, the apportionment to each shall be equal.”

Mr. Tourgee: Now if delegates have prejudices, they must pay for it. If they are afraid of their children being made sooty by sitting by four or five colored children, they must put their hands in their pockets and pay for a separate school. Will the delegate from Orange accept the amendment?

Mr. Graham: I am perfectly willing for the poll-tax collected from one race to be applied to the support of its schools. I cannot accept the substitute.

Mr. Tourgee: I did not expect that it would be accepted. The refusal shows the political clap-trap in the matter.

Mr. Graham’s amendment lost.

The vote was then taken on the whole education article: yeas – 88, nays – 12.

On motion of Mr. Ashley the article was made special order for Monday 11 o’clock.

In the evening session, the section on homestead was heard for its third reading. After some additional amendments, the adoption of the whole article was brought for a vote with yeas – 65, nays – 16.

On motion the Convention adjourned.



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.


**Joseph Ferrell notes in footnote 117 and 118 of his Compilation that none of the sources report the text of the amendment to sections 4 and 7. Ferrell provided this version from the enrolled constitution. No other amendments were offered to these sections.

Ann McColl

Ann McColl is an attorney and state constitutional scholar.