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North Carolina in the 1800s


Thomas Jefferson in United State
Thomas Jefferson in United State

After achieving statehood, North Carolina tended to turn against the concept of a strong federal government. Beginning in 1800, the state predominantly voted for the Democratic-Republican Party, which emphasized states’ rights. It remained basically a one-party state until the Whig Party emerged in 1834. At the same time, however, it rejected the extreme position that states could override federal power, as suggested by Thomas Jefferson, founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, in his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.

Largely because of strong support in the west, a state constitutional convention was held in Raleigh in 1835. In most respects the amendments adopted by the convention strengthened and democratized the government.

The governor was elected for a two-year term by the adult male taxpayers of the state. The house of commons was reorganized to contain 120 members, one for each county and the remainder apportioned among all the counties on the basis of population. Meetings of the legislature became biennial rather than annual. This legislative organization is still basically intact. In the provision imposing a religious restriction on officeholding, the word “Christian” replaced “Protestant,” thus legitimizing officeholding by Roman Catholics—but not Jews, Muslims, or atheists. Because of the growing desire to create a sharp distinction between free whites and enslaved blacks, the right of free blacks to vote was abolished. All the amendments were ratified by a statewide referendum.

The constitutional changes paralleled and stimulated a diminished sectionalism, an increased interest in government, the development of a two-party system, a heightened governmental concern with the people’s welfare, and a period of cultural and economic advancement. The Whig Party, representing largely the nonslave areas of the west, held the governorship and most public offices from 1836 to 1850. Thereafter the Democratic Party, usually dominated by slaveholders of the east, controlled the government.

Both parties used governmental power on the people’s behalf to an unprecedented extent. Money was appropriated to aid navigation companies and the building of roads and railroads. A public school system was established that was regarded as the best in the South prior to the Civil War. Nonetheless, the number of illiterate people remained high. In 1860 among the Southern states only Virginia, with a larger population, had more illiterates than North Carolina. Institutions for the deaf, blind, and insane were founded, and some of the harsh penalties inherited from English criminal law were abolished. The tax system was reformed, and taxes were raised to support the new services. However, as concern about slavery grew more intense, the free blacks, as well as the slaves, were increasingly repressed and their legal rights were restricted. "North Carolina" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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