This afternoon, members of the North Carolina House of Representatives will hold session in the Old Capitol Building — instead of in their normal digs over at the Legislative Building. The special occasion is to commemorate the 242nd anniversary of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, the first declaration of independence made in the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution. (This week also marks the 223rd anniversary of the General Assembly’s first session in that historic old building.)
The date — May 20, 1775 — is emblazoned on both our state flag and our state seal. It’s also why North Carolina gets to claim the mantle of “First in Freedom,” which you may have seen on our license plates.
In early 1775 the 13 British Colonies in North American were in ferment. In the 12 years since the end of the French and Indian War the King and Parliament had attempted to increase their power over these independent minded citizens. These attempts such as the Stamp Act and the Tea Taxes were unsuccessful, only causing the colonials to contemplate making a break with the mother country. The reaction of the Crown to the Boston Tea Party was to close the port of Boston and occupy the city with the British Army. As word of this spread through the North Carolina Colony and into the back country, people in Mecklenburg met by twos and threes to discuss what should be done. At length they determined to have a county-wide meeting and authorized Colonel Thomas Polk, the commander of the county Militia, to call this meeting. There were to be two representatives from each of the nine Militia Companies and their decisions would be binding on the citizens of the county.
On Friday, May 19th the elected representatives met at the courthouse in the middle of Charlotte and began their discussions. It just so happened that on that particular day an express rider arrived with the news of the battles of Lexington and Concord. As can be imagined, after hearing that British soldiers had fired on, and killed and wounded, fellow British citizens, the discussion increased in urgency and intensity, resulting in the five resolutions that make up the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. This document was not called a declaration at that time or for many years afterwards. Rather it was a resolution of the citizens of Mecklenburg County, to be sent to the North Carolina representatives at the Continental Congress, declaring the fact that they had separated themselves from the mother country.