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North Carolina State Normal & Industrial 
College Historical Publications 



Number 2 



REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS 
OF NORTH CAROLINA 

BY R. D. W. CONNOR 

SECRETARY NORTH CAROLINA HISTORICAL COMMISSION 
Lecturer on North Carolina History, State Normal College 



Issued under the Direction of the Department of History 

W. C. JACKSON, EDITOR 



PUBLISHED BY THE COLLEGE 
1916 



PRESSES OF 

THE PETRIE COMPANY 
HIOH POINT. N. C 



I 



NORTH CAROLINA FROM 
1765 TO 1790 



INTRODUCTORY LECTURE 

Two periods in the history of the United States 
seem to me to stand out above all others in dramatic 
interest and historic importance. One is the decade 
from 1860 to 1870, the other is the quarter-century 
from 1765 to 1790. Of the two both in interest and 
importance precedence must be given to the latter. 
The former was a period of almost superhuman ef 
fort, achievement, and sacrifice for the preservation 
of the life of the nation, but it did not evolve any new 
social, political, or economic principles. Great prin 
ciples already thought out and established were saved 
from annihilation, and given a broader scope than 
ever before in the history of mankind, but no new 
idea or ideal was involved in the struggle. The ideas 
and ideals involved in the struggle of the sixties were 
those that had already been established during the 
quarter-century from 1765 to 1790. That epoch was 
a period of origins. Ideas and ideals of government 
developed in America then came into conflict with the 
ideas and ideals of Europe. Colonies founded on 
these new principles revolted against the old, threw 
off the yoke of their mother country, organized inde 
pendent states, and having achieved their independ 
ence, established a self-governing nation on the fed 
eral principle on a scale never before attempted in the 
history of the world. 

It was a period of ideals. Other great revolutions 
have found their origin in actual physical suffering 



531^55 



4 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

and oppression. People of other ages and countries 
have dared and suffered as much for freedom as 
Americans, but probably nowhere else have a people, 
free, contented, prosperous, and happy, deliberately 
imperilled all for the sake of an ideal. At the time of 
the American Revolution the condition of the Ameri 
can people was the envy of the world. No other peo 
ple enjoyed so much political freedom, or so much 
material prosperity. The acts of the British govern 
ment of which they complained and against which 
they revolted were not oppressive, and among any 
other people at that time would have been accepted 
quietly, as the acts of a benevolent government. But 
they violated a principle, which the American people 
conceived to be the foundation of their liberty, pros 
perity, and happiness. Other peoples perhaps would 
have waited until the acts became actually oppres 
sive ; the Americans chose to resist the first trespass on 
their privileges and liberties. As Burke said : "In other 
countries, the people, more simple, and of a less mer 
curial cast, judge of an ill principle in government 
only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the 
evil, and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the 
badness of the principle. They foresee misgovern- 
ment at a distance ; and snuff the approach of tyranny 
in every tainted breeze." 

It is this fact, it seems to me, that makes the Ameri 
can Revolution the most interesting event in our his 
tory. From 1861 to 1865, the American people raised 
armies that make Washington s little band of Conti 
nentals appear like a small body-guard; they fought 
battles which by comparison dwarf Bunker Hill, 
Moore s Creek Bridge, Saratoga, and Guilford Court 
House into mere skirmishes. But when we look 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 5 

beneath the surface and see the motives which 
inspired the men of the Revolution, when we under 
stand the ideals and principles for which they fought, 
and when we see the momentous results that hung 
upon their deeds, we shall better understand why it is 
that Washington and those who followed him must 
always remain first in the list of American immortals. 
The part which North Carolina played in that con 
test as seen in the careers of four of her leaders will 
form the theme of the first series of these lectures. 
Four events stand out as the chief achievements of 
that period in North Carolina. They were, first, the 
incitement and organization of the people for revolu 
tion; second, the development of the sentiment for 
independence; third, the adoption of the state consti 
tution and the inauguration of the independent state 
government; fourth, the ratification of the constitu 
tion of the United States and the formation of the 
American Union. In each of these movements a man 
of commanding genius led the people. It was John 
Harvey who from 1765 to 1775 fanned the spirit of 
revolt and organized the colony for revolution ; it was 
Cornelius Harnett who embodied the spirit of inde 
pendence and became its mouth-piece ; it was Richard 
Caswell who, having stood watch over the state 
government at its birth, was placed in charge during 
its infancy and guided it in its growth into strength 
and power; and it was Samuel Johnston, leader of the 
North Carolina Federalists, around whom the friends 
of the Union and good government rallied in the fight 
to make permanent the results of the Revolution. 
The lives and works of these four men, therefore, will 
be the topics which I shall discuss; but before enter- 



6 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

ing upon my task, something must be said of the stage 
upon which they moved and of the means with which 
they worked. 

Let us take a glance first of all at the stage upon 
which the drama was enacted. In 1765 North Caro 
lina stretched from the Atlantic on the east to the 
Mississippi on the west and embraced more than one 
hundred thousand square miles of territory. A large 
part of this territory was a wilderness, inhabited by 
wild beasts and hostile barbarians. Its white popula 
tion was thinly scattered along the coast, the river- 
banks, and up and down the fertile valleys of the 
Piedmont section. Daniel Boone, James Robertson, 
and a few other bold hunters and pioneers were just 
beginning to get a peep over the mountain wall on 
the west, where they were to be followed during the 
next decade by a few adventurous spirits who were 
to lay the foundations of the states of Tennessee and 
Kentucky. The white population of North Carolina 
at that time, as nearly as can be estimated, numbered 
perhaps 300,000. In this respect North Carolina 
ranked fourth among the thirteen colonies, following 
Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. 1 In the 
eastern part of the colony, along the Atlantic coast, 
the banks of the Roanoke, the Pamlico, the Neuse, and 
the lower Cape Fear, the predominating element was 
English. These people, proud of their English 
ancestry and their connection with the British Empire, 
were thoroughly imbued with the spirit of English con 
stitutional liberty, jealous of their rights, and quick 
to resent any trespass upon them. Their leaders 
thoroughly understood the British constitution, and 

1. Colonial Records of North Carolina, XVIIL, xlv.-xlvi. 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 7 

conceived themselves, even in the wilds of America, 
to be fully protected by its principles ; and when those 
principles, as they understood them, were violated by 
the British Crown and Parliament, they were ready 
to appeal to arms in their defense. To the west of 
these English settlements, on the upper waters of the 
Cape Fear, were the Scotch-Highlanders, a brave, 
war-like race, newly settled in the province, and 
wholly ignorant of the causes of the revolt against 
the mother country. They knew nothing of the 
British constitution or of the charters upon which the 
colonial government was founded. Accustomed to be 
governed by an hereditary chief, whose word was their 
only law, and having recently sworn allegiance to the 
Crown, they looked upon the king as the chief to 
whom they owed explicit and unquestioned obedi 
ence. Scattered among the hills of the Piedmont 
section were the Scotch-Irish, a democratic people, 
trained to self-government in their church affairs and 
as little likely as their English cousins of the East to 
submit to oppression. The German, whose settle 
ments bordered on those of the Scotch-Irish, were an 
industrial people. Neither in their native land nor 
in America had they taken any part in the govern 
ment. It was a matter of indifference to them 
whether they were governed by a sovereign in Eng 
land or by one in America, by a monarchy or by a 
democracy. So long as the government maintained 
peace, protected them in the enjoyment of their prop 
erty, and allowed them freedom of conscience in their 
religious life, they did not trouble themselves as to 
who wielded the power of the state. During the Revo 
lution, therefore, they remained neutral, distributing 
their supplies and offering their hospitality to Britons 



8 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

and Americans alike. The Revolution in North Caro 
lina, therefore, was waged by the English of the 
eastern and the Scotch-Irish of the western parts of 
the province, against the active opposition of the 
Scotch-Highlanders and the passive indifference of the 
Germans. 

Agriculture was the principal occupation of the 
people. In the East, among the English, agriculture 
was carried on by slave labor ; among the Scotch-Irish 
the settlers owned but few slaves and largely per 
formed their own labor. Accordingly the prevailing 
sentiment of the East, socially and politically, was 
aristocratic ; in the West it was democratic. It is 
characteristic of an aristocracy that its leaders are 
efficient and well-trained. While the great mass of 
the people were illiterate, the wealthy planters were 
well educated. Many of them were graduates of the 
English universities, while others were educated at 
Harvard, Yale, and William and Mary College. The 
greatest difficulty with which the Americans had to 
contend during the Revolution was the lack of manu 
factures. Such manufactures as existed in North 
Carolina were home-made. Most of the manufactured 
articles used in the colony were imported from Eng 
land and exchanged for farm products. Thus quite 
an extensive commerce had been established between 
North Carolina and the other colonies, and between 
North Carolina and the mother country. Wilmington, 
New Bern, and Edenton were the chief towns on the 
coast; in the interior Halifax, Hillsboro, and Salis 
bury were centers of political and social life. Four 
teen miles below Wilmington on the west bank of the 
Cape Fear, was an important town which has since 
been abandoned. This was Brunswick, the residence 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 9 

of Governor Tryon, and the scene of the resistance 
to the Stamp Act. Before 1771 there was no per 
manent seat of government; the governors resided 
where they pleased and the Assembly met at Wilming 
ton, New Bern, Halifax, or Edenton as it pleased the 
governor. But after the completion of the Tryon 
Palace in 1771, New Bern became the capital. 

In order to understand the careers of the men whom 
we shall study, it is important that we shall under 
stand the organization of the colonial government 
and the relations of the several departments to each 
other. The organization followed the plan of the 
British government. 2 Corresponding to the king was 
the governor; to the judiciary, the colonial courts; 
and to Parliament, the General Assembly. The 
governor was, of course, the chief of the executive 
branch. He received his appointment from the king, 
was responsible only to the king, and could be re 
moved by the king. None of our colonial governors, 
during the period of royal rule, was selected from 
among the colonists themselves. The governor was 
usually some favorite of the king, or the friend of 
some nobleman influential at Court. He thus came 
among the people totally ignorant of their conditions, 
needs, and ideals, and, as a rule, hostile to their 
political principles. All of his important acts were 
controlled by instructions sent him from time to time 
from England, and these instructions he was com 
pelled to obey regardless of the wishes or the interests 
of the colony. As they frequently conflicted with the 
views of the colonists, the result was an almost con- 



2. See Raper, C. L. : North Carolina : A Study in English 
Colonial Government. 



10 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

tinuous state of political warfare between the 
Assembly, representing the people, and the governor, 
representing the Crown. The people did not regard 
the governor as their representative, nor did the 
governor regard himself as such. He represented the 
Crown, and he regarded his duty to the king as 
superior to any obligation he owed to the people. He 
was, in a word, not the people s governor ; he was the 
king s vice-gerent, and his first duty was to obey the 
commands of his master. This is a point of cardinal 
importance in the study of the Revolution. 

In his executive duties the governor was assisted 
by a Council, but the Council had no control over his 
actions beyond the giving of advice. The members 
of the Council were appointed by the Crown upon the 
recommendation of the governor, and as they owed 
their selection to the governor, we may easily imagine 
that their advice did not often conflict with his wishes. 
This tendency, however, was to a certain degree off 
set by the fact that the councillors, as a rule, were 
residents of the colony, imbued with the same ideas 
as their fellow-colonists, and controlled, to a certain 
extent, by public opinion. We occasionally find, there 
fore, a councillor willing to risk the governor s dis 
approval and removal from office, in the interest of 
the colony. The Council formed part of the judicial 
branch of the government; and also formed the 
upper chamber of the General Assembly. Appoint 
ment to the Council was regarded as one of the highest 
honors that could be conferred upon a colonist and 
was sought by the wealthiest and most prominent men 
of the province. 

The legislative power of the government was vested 
in the General Assembly which, like the British 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 11 

Parliament, was composed of two houses the 
Council and the House of Commons. The members 
of the House of Commons were elected by the people. 
Each county was entitled to two members, except 
Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell, Chowan, and Curri- 
tuck, which under an old law were entitled to five, and 
Northampton to three. Certain towns, viz : New Bern, 
Wilmington, Brunswick, Edenton, Halifax, Hillsboro, 
and Salisbury, were entitled to send one member each. 
Members of the Colonial Assembly like members of 
the British Parliament, were not required to live in 
the county or town which they represented, and they 
were not elected for any specific term. The life of 
an Assembly depended solely upon the will of the 
governor. He had the power to call the Assembly 
together, to select the place for it to meet, to dismiss 
it for any length of time that pleased him, or to dis 
solve it altogether and order a new election when he 
pleased, and it could not meet or remain in session 
except by his will. If, therefore, as sometimes 
happened, an Assembly was composed of men who 
were disposed to please the governor, he would keep 
that Assembly for several years, calling the members 
together or proroguing them according to his own 
wishes ; on the other hand, if the members were hostile 
to him and his measures, he might either refuse to 
call them together at all, or dissolve them and order 
a new election as he pleased. Thus Assemblies some 
times lasted ten or a dozen years, at other times ten 
or a dozen days, according to the whim of the 
governor. Several attempts were made to pass laws 
setting regular times for elections and for the sessions, 
but the governor had the veto power and always used 
it against such bills. He could either veto a bill him- 



12 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

self, or if he did not care to take the responsibility he 
could refer it to the king for his approval or disap 
proval. In either event the king had the power to 
approve or revoke the governor s action. The 
Assembly elected its own officers, but its choice was 
subject to the approval of the governor. The speaker 
of the Assembly was the highest officer over which 
the people, or their representatives had any control, 
and consequently the leader of the popular party was 
usually elected to it. Thus it happened that the 
governor, as the representative of the Crown and the 
royal party in the colony, and the speaker, as the 
representative of the Assembly and the popular party, 
were frequently the leaders of hostile factions; and 
much of the politics of colonial times turns on this 
relationship. It was as speaker of the Assembly that 
John Harvey, from 1765 to 1775, became the leader 
of the revolutionary party and the organizer of the 
Revolution. 

The Revolution was due to the fact that the 
colonists and the British government held conflicting 
theories as to the relation existing between the colonies 
and the British Parliament. The colonial government 
of North Carolina was based upon charters issued by 
the Crown to the Lords Proprietors. In every one of 
these charters, in the charter granted to Sir Walter 
Raleigh by Queen Elizabeth in 1584, 3 in that granted 
by Charles I. to Sir Robert Heath in 1629, 4 and in those 
granted by Charles II to the Lords Proprietors in 1663 
and in 1665, 5 it was distinctly set forth that the people 



3. Printed in Thorpe: American Charters, Constitutions and 

Organic Laws, I., 53-57. 

4. Printed in Col. Rec., I., 5-13 

5. Printed in Col. Rec., I., 20-33, 102-114. 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 13 

of the colony should be entitled to all the privileges, 
franchises and liberties held and enjoyed by the 
people of England. The English people considered 
that the foundation of all their privileges and liberties 
rested upon the principle that the subject should not 
be taxed except by his own consent or the consent of 
his representatives. This principle was not denied by 
George III and his ministry. Their trouble with the 
colonies arose over the question, who were the repre 
sentatives of the colonists? The ministry declared 
that they were represented in Parliament ; the Atntri- 
cans replied that they were represented only in their 
colonial assemblies. Parliament, they contended, 
was supreme in all imperial affairs; but the 
Parliament of England had no more power over 
the local affairs of the several colonies than 
the assemblies had over the local affairs of 
England. Within their spheres the assemblies were 
supreme; they bore the same relation to the in 
ternal affairs of the colonies that Parliament bore to 
the internal affairs of Great Britain. Between the 
colonies and England, according to the colonial theory, 
there existed the same relation as existed between the 
several colonies themselves; that is to say, they 
acknowledged allegiance to the same sovereign, but 
in all other respects they were independent of each 
other. Therefore, in all the controversy between the 
colonies and the mother country the former addressed 
all of their petitions and remonstrances to the king. 
They did not send petition to Parliament, because to 
do so would be to acknowledge the very thing they were 
protesting against, i.e., the authority of Parliament, 
and when they came to declare their independence, 
it was the king, not Parliament, against whom they 



14 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

brought their charges of misgovernment. They could 
not declare themselves independent of Parliament, be 
cause they denied that Parliament had ever had any 
constitutional control over them. Read the Declaration 
of Independence, you will observe that nowhere in 
that document is Parliament mentioned. It was the 
king who had refused his assent to wholesome and 
necessary laws; the king who had obstructed the 
administration of justice; the king who had quartered 
soldiers on the people ; the king who had rendered the 
civil power dependent upon the military power. The 
only reference made to Parliament in the Declaration 
of Independence, is the charge that the king "has com 
bined with others [i. e. Parliament] to subject us to 
a jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution and un 
acknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their 
acts of pretended legislation." 

You are, of course, familiar with these "acts of 
pretended legislation," but let me recall them briefly 
to your memory in the order in which they occurred 
so that in the future mere reference to them will be 
sufficient. First came the Stamp Act in 1765. Noth 
ing could have been further from the thought of the 
British ministry, when this act was passed, than the 
idea that it would be resisted in America. The taxes 
levied under it were not oppressive indeed, no form 
of taxation is so little vexatious as a stamp act. So 
little did anyone in England dream of resistance, that 
Benjamin Franklin, then representing Pennsylvania 
in London, recommended one of his friends in Phil 
adelphia as the stamp agent for his colony, and thought 
that he was doing his friend a service. England was 
astonished at the outburst of wrath with which 
America greeted the Stamp Act. As you know, it 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 15 

was promptly repealed the next year. Its repeal how 
ever, was coupled with the passage of another act, 
little noticed at the time in the celebrations over the 
repeal of the Stamp Act, but very important in its 
bearing on the Revolution. This was the Declaratory 
Act, passed in 1766, which declared that Parliament 
had the right to legislate for the colonies "in all cases 
whatsoever." If the matter had been allowed to drop 
there, nothing would ever have been heard of the 
Declaratory Act. But in 1767 an effort was made 
to put this declaration into effect. Then was passed 
the Townshend Acts, better known in our history as 
the Tea Tax. The object of this act was to raise 
money to pay the colonial governors and other officials 
so as to render them independent of the colonial 
assemblies. As the resistance to this act was led by 
Massachusetts, five acts were passed to punish that 
colony. Under these acts, persons in Massachusetts 
suspected of encouraging resistance to Parliament 
were to be arrested and sent to England for trial; 
town-meetings were forbidden and two regiments of 
British troops were ordered to Boston to overawe 
the people of that town. The blow was aimed at 
Massachusetts alone, but the other colonies promptly 
rallied to her support and raised the cry that the 
cause of Massachusetts was the cause of all. Finally 
after ten years of petitions, remonstrances, and ad 
dresses, the dispute came to blows and bloodshed. 
Then it was, in February, 1775, that the king issued 
his proclamation, declaring the colonies out of his 
protection, ordering his fleets and armies to enforce 
obedience to the acts of Parliament, and thus drove 
the colonies into open war and revolution. These five 
steps, therefore, must be borne carefully in mind if 



16 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

you would follow my story of the careers of Harvey, 
Harnett, Caswell, and Johnston, viz: the Stamp Act 
of 1765, the Declaratory Act of 1766, the Townshend 
Acts of 1767, the five Massachusetts Acts of 1774, 
and the king s proclamation of 1775. 

In North Carolina, as in the other colonies, 
resistance to these acts was first made through the 
Assembly. From 1765 to 1774, the voice of the 
Assembly was the voice of the people, and so long as 
this voice was free there was no thought of substi 
tuting any other for it. But it must be remembered 
that this voice was not always free as the life of the 
Assembly was dependent upon the will of the governor 
who, of course, supported the Crown in this contro 
versy. Thus, in 1765, when North Carolina was asked 
to send delegates to the Stamp Act Congress, Governor 
Tryon, in order to prevent it, refused to call the 
Assembly together until it was too late to elect dele 
gates. The colony, therefore, was not represented in 
the Stamp Act Congress. Again, in 1774, when the 
colony was asked to send delegates to a continental 
congress, Governor Martin, who had succeeded Tryon, 
tried the same tactics. He too refused to call a meet 
ing of the Assembly. But the revolutionary leaders 
were prepared for such a contingency. John Harvey, 
speaker of the Assembly, met the governor s refusal 
by issuing a call for a provincial congress independent 
of the governor. This Congress met in August, 1774, 
and was the beginning of the revolutionary govern 
ment which superseded the royal government and 
ruled the colony until the establishment of the state 
government in 1777. It is necessary to describe this 
provincial, or revolutionary government. At its head 
was the Provincial Congress. While supreme in all 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 17 

civil and military affairs, it was really the successor 
of the General Assembly and its especial functions 
were legislative. Under this Congress was the Pro 
vincial Council, later the Council of Safety, which 
was the chief executive power of the government, 
although at times it also exercised certain judicial 
functions. Under the control of the Council were the 
committees of safety. 

Congress was the supreme power in the state. It 
met annually at such time and place as were desig 
nated by the Provincial Council. Each county was 
represented by five delegates elected by the people 
just as the members of the Assembly had been elected. 
The borough towns each had one delegate. No con 
stitutional limitation was placed on the powers of 
Congress, and as the supreme power in the province 
it could review and pass upon the acts of the execu 
tive branch of the government. The executive branch 
consisted of the Provincial Council and the com 
mittees of safety. Committees of safety were 
organized in each town and county. It was their duty 
to execute the orders of the Provincial Council and 
the Continental Congress ; to collect taxes ; to purchase 
arms, gunpowder, and other munitions of war; to 
arrest, try, and punish persons suspected of disaffec 
tion to the American cause; and to make such rules 
and regulations as they saw fit to enforce their 
authority. The Provincial Council was the chief 
executive authority of the new government. It was 
composed of thirteen members elected by the Con 
gress. Authority was given to the Council to direct 
the military operations of the province, to call out 
the militia when needed, and to execute the acts of the 
Congress. It could issue commissions, suspend 



18 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

officers, order courts-martial, reject officers of the 
militia chosen by the people, and fill vacancies. But 
its real power lay in a sort of "general welfare" clause 
which empowered it "to do and transact all such 
matters and things as they [sic] may judge expedient 
to strengthen, secure, and defend the colony." To 
carry out its powers, the Council was authorized to 
draw on the public treasury for such sums of money 
as it needed, for which it was accountable to Congress. 
In all matters it was given authority over the com 
mittees of safety, and in turn was subject to the 
authority of Congress. Its authority continued only 
during the recess of Congress, and Congress at each 
session was to review and pass upon its proceedings. 
Such was the government that was to organize, equip, 
and direct the military forces raised by the Congress 
and to inaugurate the great war about to burst upon 
the colony. 6 

This revolutionary government ruled the colony 
from 1774 to 1777. After the Declaration of Inde 
pendence, it became necessary to organize and 
establish a more permanent form of government. An 
effort was made by the Congress at Halifax in April, 
1776 to adopt a constitution, but the members could 
not agree, and the matter was postponed until the fol 
lowing December. The Congress met in November 
and after two months of arduous work, finally agreed 
on a constitution which was adopted December 18. 
1776. 7 Under this constitution the powers of the 
government were divided into three departments 



6. For a more detailed account of this provisional govern 

ment, see Connor: Cornelius Harnett: An Essay in 
North Carolina History, 102-119, 152-178. 

7. Col. Rec., X., 1006-1013. 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 19 

executive, embracing a governor and his Council; 
judicial, embracing a superior court and inferior 
county courts; legislative, embracing two houses, the 
Senate and the House of Commons. The governor 
and his Council were to be elected by the Legislature 
for one year and no man could serve as governor for 
more than three years in any term of six years. The 
judges were also elected by the Legislature, and held 
office for life, or during good behavior. The General 
Assembly was composed of two representatives and 
one senator from each county. Warned by its experi 
ence with the royal governors the Congress gave the 
governor under the Constitution no power over the 
General Assembly. "What powers, sir," asked one 
of William Hooper s friends, "were conferred upon 
the governor by the new constitution?" "Power," re 
plied Hooper, "to sign a receipt for his salary," and 
indeed, that was about all. The Assembly met 
annually at such time and place as it chose, deter 
mined the length of its sessions for itself, and its acts 
did not require the approval of the governor. This 
relation between the governor and the Assembly 
established in 1776 continues until this day, and 
though there are those who think the governor should 
be granted the veto power, nevertheless in view of our 
past history, the burden of proving the advantage of 
this innovation is certainly upon them. The govern 
ment as inaugurated under the constitution of 1776 
was put into operation January 1, 1777, with Richard 
Caswell at its head, and more than half a century 
passed before any changes were made in it. 8 



8. Col. Rec., X., 1013. 



20 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

The grand result of the war of the Revolution was, 
of course, the formation of the American Union. 
How great an event it was the framers of the consti 
tution themselves could not fully appreciate ; and even 
today we can appreciate only by calling in the aid of 
our imagination. As the United States continues to 
grow in wealth and in power, as English-speaking peo 
ple continue to spread over the face of the earth, car 
rying with them their social and political ideals, the 
world will come to appreciate more and more the mag 
nitude of the work accomplished by the little band of 
English-speaking colonies which fringed the Atlantic 
coast during the quarter-century from 1765 to 1790. 
Already we see the influence that the ideals for which 
they struggled have had in liberalizing and democratiz 
ing the older governments of the world, until today we 
behold the people of the most ancient empire on earth 
seeking admission into the ranks of the world s re 
publics. 9 As we recede in years further and further 
from the men who started this movement in 1765 and 
brought it to its successful consummation in 1790, 
their figures will loom larger and larger on the pages 
of history. It remains for me now briefly to trace 
the beginning of this movement. 

I have already pointed out the relations of the 
thirteen English colonies to each other in 1765. 
Politically their only bond of union was the fact that 
each acknowledged allegiance to the Crown of Eng 
land. Otherwise they were, as regards each other, as 
separate and distinct as they were from the Spanish 
colonies to the south of them. Not only was there 



9. When these lectures were delivered the short-lived Chinese 
Republic had just been organized. 



NORTH CAROLINA, 1765-1790 21 

no bond of union between them : there was little senti 
ment favorable to the formation of any such union. 
You will remember that in 1754, during the French 
and Indian War, Benjamin Franklin proposed a plan 
of union for the purpose of resisting the French, and 
urged it with all of his great ability, but he found no 
responsive chord in the hearts of the colonists. What 
was needed to effect this object was a common cause 
in which the fate of every colony was involved. This 
common cause was supplied in 1765 when Parliament 
without a thought of its consequence passed the Stamp 
Act. Here was a cause that involved the oldest as 
well as the youngest of the colonies, the largest equally 
with the smallest, the wealthiest no less than the 
poorest, New England in common with the South. In 
the movement which resulted in the Federal Union 
there were five steps to which it is necessary for me 
to call your attention. First, the Massachusetts and 
Virginia circulars; second, the committees of corres 
pondence; third, the Continental Congress; fourth, 
the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union ; 
fifth, the Constitution of the United States. 

As soon as news of the passage of the Stamp Act 
reached America, it became apparent that the colonies 
ought to adopt some uniform method of protest and 
resistance. It was important that in presenting their 
arguments against the measure there should be sub 
stantial agreement as to the principles upon which 
their opposition rested. Accordingly Massachusetts, 
through her Assembly, adopted and sent to each of 
the colonies a circular letter suggesting the line of 
argument to be followed and urging unity of action. 
Virginia adopted the same tactics after the passage of 
the Townshend Acts. Most of the colonies responded 



22 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

favorably and thus in this simple way took the first 
step toward union. As the contest progressed it be 
came necessary that there should be in each colony 
some permanent agency for co-operation in order that 
each colony might keep in close touch with all the 
others. The assemblies could not serve this purpose 
because, as we have seen, they were too dependent 
upon the royal governors who, of course, sympathized 
with the Crown and Parliament. Virginia, therefore, 
suggested that each colony should appoint a com 
mittee composed of nine of its leading men who should 
be a committee of correspondence, to keep in close 
touch with each other and to keep alive the spirit of 
resistance throughout the continent. Thus a still 
stronger bond of union was forged. But even this 
soon proved inadequate for the task, and men began 
to ask themselves, why should these committees do 
their work by correspondence only? Why should 
they not all hold a great meeting in New York or 
Philadelphia, a sort of congress of committees, and 
discuss our common affairs face to face? This idea 
found favor, and so the call went forth for a con 
tinental congress to which each colony was invited to 
send delegates. Thus, by this third step, a real union, 
never more to be dissolved, was effected. At first, of 
course, the Continental Congress had no real power. 
It had to depend upon public sentiment for the enforce 
ment of its decrees. In the beginning when the 
enthusiasm of the people was high, this was sufficient ; 
but as the struggle dragged on, it became apparent 
that Congress must have behind it some power more 
real than public opinion. And so a plan of union was 
drawn up, and submitted to the several states, called 
"The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union." 



XDKTU CAROLINA, 1765-1790 23 

But this plan had many serious defects in it. Under 
it, Virginia, the largest of the states had no more 
power than Rhode Island, the smallest. Congress still 
had no power to enforce its own decrees, but had to 
depend on the states for it, and the states, after the 
danger from the common enemy was removed, fre 
quently refused. Congress could not punish an indi 
vidual for violation of its ordinances ; it could not levy 
or collect taxes, but had to look to the several states 
for the very means of its existence. In a few years, 
therefore, Congress through its inherent weakness, 
fell into disrepute. It lost the respect of the people, 
and with the loss of respect of course it lost even its 
semblance of authority. The country was on the 
verge of civil war and anarchy through the lack of 
an effective national government, when Washington 
again came to the rescue and persuaded Virginia to 
invite the colonies to elect delegates to a convention 
at Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confedera 
tion. The invitation was accepted, the great conven 
tion of 1787 met, and after a long summer of hard 
work, agreed upon a constitution and submitted it to 
the several states for ratification. It met with a great 
deal of opposition, but nowhere with so much as in 
Rhode Island and North Carolina. North Carolina 
held a convention at Hillsboro in 1788 to consider the 
new constitution. The friends of the Union rallied 
around their leader, Samuel Johnston, and fought a 
great battle for it; but they were defeated. All the 
other states, except Rhode Island, adopted the con 
stitution, and the United States government was put 
into operation without the help of North Carolina and 



24 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF 

Rhode Island. But the friends of the constitution in 
North Carolina had not lost heart. They continued 
their fight in its favor, and in 1789 had a second con 
vention called, this time at Fayetteville, and after a 
session of only six days, succeeded in having the con 
stitution ratified. 

In the movements which I have thus hastily and 
briefly sketched four men came to the front as the 
embodiments of the thoughts, the sentiments, and the 
ideals of the people of North Carolina. It was John 
Harvey who fanned the spirit of the people into action 
and organized them for revolt; it was Cornelius 
Harnett who nursed the sentiment of the people for 
independence and became their spokesman on that 
subject; it was Richard Caswell who led the people 
in battle and on the battle-field helped to win that 
independence for which he had spoken in the halls of 
legislation ; and it was Samuel Johnston whose leader 
ship resulted in the ratification of the Constitution of 
the United States and who first represented his state 
in the Senate of the Federal Union which he had 
done so much to make possible. It is to a considera 
tion of the lives, services, and characters of these four 
patriots that I shall now invite your attention. 



II 

JOHN HARVEY 

During the decade from 1765 to 1775 the decade 
that witnessed the revolt against the authority of 
Parliament, the inauguration of the Revolution, and 
the overthrow of the royal government in North Caro 
lina the dominant figure in our history is the figure 
of John Harvey. Although Harvey was truly the 
"Father of the Revolution in North Carolina," less 
perhaps is known of his life, character, and services 
than of any of the other Revolutionary leaders of 
North Carolina. But little has been written about 
his career, and outside of the official records the stu 
dent will find little more than a bare mention of 
the public offices that he held. Beyond the simple 
fact that he was born about the year 1725 in Per- 
quimans County and, according to the injunctions of 
his father s will, 1 received a good education, we know 
nothing of his early years. We may assume that like 
other boys of his time and situation he gave due atten 
tion to riding, hunting, fishing, swimming, rowing, and 
other sports common to frontier settlements. As soon 
as he was old enough to understand such things he 
manifested a lively interest in colonial politics; and as 
he was a promising member of a large, wealthy and 
influential family he early attracted the attention of 
the local politicians of the popular party. He was 
barely turned twenty-one when they brought him for 
ward as a candidate for the General Assembly and 



1. Grimes, J. B. (Ed.) : North Carolina Wills and Inventories, 
230-32. 



26 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

elected him a member of the session held at New 
Bern, June 12, 1746. 2 From that day till the day of 
his death twenty-nine years later, he served con 
tinuously in the Assembly, and gradually forged his 
way to the front until in 1766 he was elected speaker 
of the House of Commons, thus becoming the leader 
of the people in their contest with the Crown and its 
representative, the governor. 

During the second decade of his services, that is 
from 1754 to 1764, the most important work with 
which Harvey was concerned was in connection with 
the French and Indian War. During this critical 
period in our history, it was the misfortune of the 
colony to be governed by Arthur Dobbs, a dull, over 
bearing Irishman, who was so bitterly hostile to the 
French both as his country s hereditary foes and as 
Roman Catholics, that he made the wringing of money 
and soldiers out of the province for the prosecution 
of the war almost the sole object of his administra 
tion. The Assembly met his demands as liberally as 
it thought the situation and circumstances of the 
province justified, but it could not satisfy the governor. 
Greater demands pressed in impolitic language gave 
rise to sharp controversies over the powers of the 
Crown and the privileges of the Assembly. The 
governor, caring nothing for the privileges of the 
people and eager only to please the king and his 
ministry, was willing to raise troops and levy taxes for 
their support without regard to the Assembly; the 
Assembly, on the other hand, determined to keep the 
purse strings in its own hands and stoutly maintained 
that the only authority on earth that could legally levy 

2. Col. Rec. IV., 318. 



JOHN HARVEY 27 

taxes on the people of North Carolina was their repre 
sentatives in the General Assembly. It was in these 
debates that John Harvey won his way to the leader 
ship of the people. 

Though Harvey was firm in opposing the governor s 
efforts to usurp the functions of the Assembly, he 
nevertheless took broad and liberal views as to the 
duty of North Carolina in the struggle against the 
French. In the Assembly of 1754 he served on a com 
mittee which recommended an appropriation of 8,000 
for war purposes, and secured its passage. 3 Within 
less than a year, all British- America was thrown into 
consternation by the disastrous ending of Braddock s 
expedition. Governor Dobbs promptly called the 
Assembly together in special session and in a sensible, 
well-written address suggested that "a proper sum 
cheerfully granted at once will accomplish what a very 
great sum may not do hereafter." 4 The House im 
mediately went into committee of the whole with John 
Harvey as its presiding officer, to consider the means 
of raising 10,000. Harvey was on the committee 
which prepared the bill, by which 10,000 and three 
companies of soldiers were placed at the disposal of 
the governor. In 1756 the Assembly voted an appro 
priation of 4,400, 5 and in 1757 an appropriation of 
5,000, for war purposes. 6 Harvey was again the 
leader of the House in securing these appropriations. 

In the meantime the war had been going against the 
English. The summer of 1757 was one of the 



3. Col. Rec., V., 243 et seq. 

4. Col. Rec., V., 495 et seq. 

5. Col. Rec., V., 734. 

6. Col. Rec., V., 829 et seq. 



28 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

gloomiest in the annals of the British empire. Suc 
cess everywhere, in Europe, in India, and in America, 
crowned the arms of France. In America the French 
Empire "stretched without a break over the vast terri 
tory from Louisiana to the St. Lawrence." 7 The 
Indians called Montcalm the "famous man who 
tramples the English under his feet." 8 In July, how 
ever, a new force, fortunately for the American 
colonies, was introduced into the contest which, it is 
not mere rhetoric to say, in a few months raised the 
banner of England from the dust of humiliation to 
float among the most exalted stars of national glory. 
This force was the genius of William Pitt, "the 
greatest war minister and organizer of victory that 
the world has seen." 9 Under the inspiration of his 
genius British armies in every quarter of the globe 
marched from victory to victory; and the summer of 
1758 was as glorious as the summer of 1757 had been 
gloomy. In America the French stronghold at Louis- 
burg fell before the assaults of the New England 
militia; Fort Frontenac, the strongest French post on 
the frontier of New York, surrendered; while Vir 
ginia and North Carolina troops took Fort Duquesne 
and rebaptized the place as Fort Pitt in honor of Eng 
land s great war minister. 

Within his sphere, as William Pitt did within his, 
John Harvey contributed his full share toward the 
achievement of these triumphs. The North Carolina 
Assembly had quarrelled with Governor Dobbs, but 
inspired by the words and spirit of Pitt it made 
renewed efforts to support the war. Under the 

7. Green : Short History of the English People. 

8. Parkman: Montcalm and Wolf, I., 489. 

9. Fiske: New France and New England, 315. 



JOHN HARVEY 29 

leadership of John Harvey, it voted to raise three more 
companies of troops and appropriated 7,000 for 
their support; and requested that the governor send 
them forward to the army in Virginia "without loss 
of time." 10 These troops, under the command of 
Colonel George Washington, led the party that cap 
tured Fort Duquesne. In the winter of 1758, the 
Assembly voted another appropriation, 2,500, for 
the North Carolina troops then serving on the Ohio. 11 
After this Governor Dobbs made a total failure in his 
efforts to direct the Assembly. More zealous than 
judicious, he allowed himself to become involved in 
a foolish quarrel over a trifling matter, and rather 
than yield a little where resistance could do no good, 
he foolishly threw away the supplies which a burdened 
people reluctantly offered. Quarrel followed quarrel ; 
the sessions were consumed with quarrels. The 
Assembly, insisting upon its constitutional rights, re 
fused to vote appropriations and levy taxes at the 
command of a royal governor; and Dobbs, in an out 
burst of wrath, wrote to the authorities in England 
that the members were "as stubborn as mules," and 
appealed to the king to strengthen his authority so that 
he might "prevent the rising spirit of independency 
stealing into this colony." 12 

In March, 1765, Dobbs died and was succeeded by 
William Tryon. Tryon called a new Assembly to 
meet at New Bern, November 3, 1766. 13 On the first 
day of the session, records the journal, Richard Cas- 



10. Col. Rec., V., 1003. 

11. Col. Rec., V., 1063. 

12. Col. Rec., VI., 251. 

13. Col. Rec., VII., 342. 



30 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

well "moved that John Harvey, Esquire, be chosen 
speaker; and [he] was unanimously chosen speaker 
and placed in the chair accordingly. Mr. Howe and 
Mr. Fanning waited on his Excellency, the Governor, 
and acquainted him the members had made choice of 
a speaker, and desired to know when they should wait 
on him for his approbation ; and being returned 
acquainted the members that his Excellency said he 
would receive them immediately. The members 
waited on his Excellency the Governor in the Council 
Chamber and presented John Harvey, Esquire, to his 
Excellency for approbation, who was pleased to ap 
prove of their choice. Then Mr. Speaker asked his 
Excellency to confirm the usual privileges of the 
House, particularly of that of freedom of speech, to 
which his Excellency for answer was pleased to say 
that the House might depend he would preserve to 
them all their just rights and privileges." 

Thus John Harvey at last had come to his own. 
Since the people then had no voice in the choice of 
their governor, the highest office within the gift of 
their representatives was the speakership of the 
Assembly. To this office the ambitious politician 
aspired, and to it the leader of the popular party was 
generally elected. This position John Harvey now 
assumed and during the remaining ten years of his life 
he never lost it, though he was once forced by ill health 
to lay it aside temporarily. It is of course impossible 
from the bare records that have been preserved to 
estimate accurately the exact share which he had in 
all of the stirring scenes enacted in the province during 
the next ten years ; nevertheless, we know that as the 
recognized leader of the popular party his was the 
mind that directed the movements which inaugurated 



JOHN HARVEY 31 

the Revolution in North Carolina, that he was himself 
the author of many of them, while none was attempted 
until he had been consulted and his co-operation 
secured. 

Grave matters, destined to change the course of 
history, awaited the attention of Mr. Speaker Harvey 
and the Assembly of 1768. The Stamp Act had been 
repealed, but the continent was now in a turmoil over 
the Townshend Acts. Massachusetts and Virginia 
had issued their famous circular letters inviting the 
co-operation of the other colonies in concerting 
measures of resistance in order, as they said, that 
their petitions and remonstrances to the king "should 
harmonize with each other." These circular letters, 
as I have already pointed out, were the first step in 
the formation of the American Union. On Novem 
ber 11, 1768, Mr. Speaker Harvey laid them before 
the Assembly for consideration. 14 The Assembly 
promptly directed the speaker to answer them and 
ordered that a committee, of which Harvey was chair 
man, be appointed to prepare an address to the king 
protesting against the acts of Parliament levying 
taxes on the colonists. In his letter to the speaker 
of the Massachusetts Assembly Harvey said : 

"I am directed to inform you that they [the mem 
bers of the North Carolina Assembly] are extremely 
obliged to the Assembly of Massachusetts Bay for 
communicating their sentiments on so interesting a 
subject; and shall ever be ready firmly to unite with 
their sister colonies in pursuing every constitutional 
measure for redress of the grievance so justly com 
plained of. This House is desirous to cultivate the 

14. Col. Rec., VII., 928. 



32 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

strictest harmony and friendship with the assemblies 
of the colonies in general, and with your House in 
particular. . . . The Assembly of this colony will at 
all times receive with pleasure the opinion of your 
House in matters of general concern to America, and 
be equally willing on every such occasion to communi 
cate their sentiments, not doubting of their meeting a 
candid and friendly acceptance." 15 

In the address to the king, which Harvey as chair 
man of the committee probably wrote, the king was 
reminded that in the past whenever money was needed 
for the service of the public, the Assembly, upon the 
request of the king, had "cheerfully and liberally" 
voted it; and a like compliance in the future was 
promised. Then occurs the following passage remark 
able for the plainness and boldness of its utterance : 

"We therefore humbly beseech your Majesty to do 
us the justice to believe that on any future demand of 
a necessary supply for the support of Government or 
defence of your Majesty s dominions, the inhabitants 
of this province will, with the utmost cheerfulness and 
alacrity, contribute their full quota, but humbly con 
ceive that their representatives in Assembly can alone 
be the proper judges not only what sum they are able 
to pay, but likewise of the most eligible method of 
collecting the same. Our ancestors at their first 
settling, amidst the horrors of a long and bloody war 
with the savages, which nothing could possibly render 
supportable but the prospects of enjoying here that 
freedom which Britons can never purchase at so [too?] 
dear a rate, brought with them inherent in their 
persons, and transmitted down to their posterity, all 

15. The Boston Evening Post, May 15, 1769. 



JOHN HARVEY 33 

the rights and liberties of your Majesty s natural 
born subjects within the parent State, and have ever 
since enjoyed as Britons the privileges of an exemp 
tion from any taxations but such as have been im 
posed upon them by themselves or their representa 
tives, and this privilege we esteem so invaluable that 
we are fully convinced no other can possibly exist 
without it. It is therefore with the utmost anxiety 
and concern we observe duties have lately been im 
posed on us by Parliament for the sole and express 
purpose of raising a revenue. This is a taxation which 
we are firmly persuaded the acknowledged principles 
of the British Constitution ought to protect us from. 
Free men cannot legally be taxed but by themselves 
or their representatives, and that your Majesty s sub 
jects within this province are represented in Parlia 
ment we cannot allow, and are convinced that from 
our situation we never can be." 16 

The king turned a deaf ear to all such addresses 
and petitions. Thereupon the Americans began a 
movement to impress the people of England with a 
sense of the seriousness of the situation in order that 
public opinion in England itself might be brought to 
bear on the Crown and on Parliament. This plan pro 
posed that all the colonies should bind themselves to 
purchase and import no more goods from British 
merchants and manufacturers until the acts of which 
they complained were repealed. The Americans 
shrewdly conceived that the quickest and surest way 
to strike John Bull s sense of justice was through his 
pocket-book. Such agreements, called the "Non-Im 
portation Association," were drawn up and sent to 

16. Col. Rec., VIL, 980. 



34 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

all the colonies for adoption. John Harvey brought 
the matter to the attention of the North Carolina 
Assembly, November 2, 1769. 17 The Assembly had 
it under consideration when the governor, hearing of 
its purpose, hastily put an end to the session. 

This sudden turn of affairs would have been a fatal 
blow to the patriot cause in North Carolina had it not 
been for the courage and prompt decision of John 
Harvey. Everybody knew that the effectiveness of 
the "Non-Importation Association" as a weapon for 
fighting the Townshend duties depended upon the 
unanimity with which it was adopted and enforced. 
Any one colony, especially so large and important a 
colony as North Carolina, could defeat the whole 
scheme. Governor Tryon knew that well enough and 
doubtless congratulated himself that he had been in 
time to prevent its adoption in North Carolina. But 
Tryon underestimated the boldness and resourceful 
ness of John Harvey, who resolutely threw himself 
into the breech and called upon the members of the 
Assembly to meet in a convention independent of the 
governor "to take measures for preserving the true 
and essential interests of the colony." Sixty-four of 
the seventy-seven members rallied at his call, organ 
ized as a convention, and elected Harvey moderator. 
After discussing the situation fully during a session of 
two days, the convention agreed upon a complete plan 
of non-importation and recommended it to the 
people in order to show their "readiness to join 
heartily with the other colonies in every legal method 
which may most probably tend to procure a redress" 

17. Col. Rec., VIII., 121-24. 



JOHN HARVEY 35 

of grievances. 18 When this same plan of non-importa 
tion was tried in opposition to the Stamp Act it was 
not successful and the Loyalists were disposed to 
ridicule the attempt to revive it against the Townshend 
Acts. But a new element had now entered into the 
controversy : the union sentiment had developed into 
a reality, and the patriots taking advantage of this 
fact, pushed the new movement with vigor and suc 
cess. Colony after colony joined in the agreement, 
and when North Carolina, under the leadership of 
John Harvey, came in, the Whig papers declared with 
great satisfaction: "This completes the chain of 
union throughout the continent for the measure of 
non-importation and economy." 

In 1771 Governor Tryon was appointed governor 
of New York and was succeeded in North Carolina 
by Josiah Martin. Martin was a man ill calculated 
to conduct an administration successfully even in 
ordinary times. Stubborn and tactless, obsequious to 
those in authority and overbearing to those under 
authority, he suddenly found himself in a position 
that required almost every quality of mind and 
character that he did not possess. No worse selection 
could have been made at that time; the people of 
North Carolina were in no mood to brook the petty 
tyranny of a provincial governor, and Martin s 
personality became one of the chief factors that drove 
men headlong into revolution, and prepared the 
colony, first of all the colonies, to take a definite stand 
for independence. 



18. For a complete copy of these proceedings see Connor s 
"John Harvey," in North Carolina Booklet, Vol. VIII., 
No. 1, pp. 21-26. 



36 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

At the very outset of his administration the dull, 
unelastic mind of Martin came into sharp contact 
with the vigorous intellect and determined spirit of 
John Harvey. One of the vexing problems with which 
the Assembly had long been dealing was the boundary 
line between North Carolina and South Carolina. The 
king had ordered the line to be run in such a way as 
to work to the disadvantage of North Carolina, but 
the Assembly had declined to vote any money for the 
purpose. Finally, in the summer of 1772, the king 
instructed Governor Martin to have the line run and 
to send the bill to the Assembly with the royal com 
mand that it be paid. But when Martin sent his 
demand for the money, it was met by a prompt and 
sharp refusal. In order to give it an opportunity to 
reconsider its action which, under its rules it seems 
could not be done at that session, Martin prorogued 
the Assembly for three days. When he was ready 
to meet the Assembly on the third day he found to 
his astonishment that the majority of the members 
had gone home. He convened those who had re 
mained and commanded them to proceed to business. 
There had long been a dispute between the Assembly 
and the royal governors as to the number of members 
necessary to make a quorum. The Assembly insisted 
that a majority was necessary; the governors fixed 
upon a smaller number. The dispute now became a 
practical matter. The members refused to organize 
for business unless a majority should return. Martin 
sent for Harvey and asked if he expected a sufficient 
number to return to make a majority. Harvey replied 
that he had not the least expectation that any such 
event would occur; whereupon Martin in an outburst 
of rage declared that "the Assembly had deserted the 



JOHN HARVEY 37 

business and interests of their constituents and 
flagrantly insulted the dignity and authority of govern 
ment," and forthwith dissolved them. 19 

In the meantime the quarrel with the king and 
Parliament continued with increasing bitterness, and 
it had become apparent to all that if the Americans 
expected to make a successful stand for their liberties 
they must stand and act in concert. In the spring of 
1774, therefore, Virginia sent out her call for a con 
tinental congress. When Governor Martin learned 
that North Carolina intended to join in this Congress, 
he determined to prevent it by refusing to call the 
Assembly together until it was too late to elect dele 
gates. 20 Tryon as we have seen had adopted this plan 
to prevent the election of delegates to the Stamp Act 
Congress, but Martin lacked a good deal of Tryon s 
tact and personality, and the men with whom he was 
contending were not the kind to be caught twice in 
the same trap. James Biggleston, the governor s 
private secretary, let the secret out by communicating 
the governor s intention to John Harvey. Harvey 
flew into a rage. "In that event," he exclaimed, "the 
people will convene an assembly themselves." He 
promptly consulted Samuel Johnston, Edward Bun 
combe, and other leaders. On April 5, 1774, John 
ston wrote the following interesting letter to William 
Hooper : 

"Colonel Harvey and myself lodged last night with 
Colonel Buncombe, and as we sat up very late the con 
versation turned on continental and provincial affairs. 
Colonel Harvey said during the night, that Mr. 



19. Col. Rec., IX., 594-96. 

20. Col. Rec., IX., 959. 



38 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

Biggleston told him, that the governor did not intend 
to convene another Assembly until he saw some chance 
of a better one than the last; and that he told the 
secretary that then the people would convene one 
themselves. He was in a very violent mood, and 
declared he was for assembling a convention inde 
pendent of the Governor, and urged upon us to co 
operate with him. He says he will lead the way and 
will issue hand-bills under his own name. ... As for 
my part, I do not know what better can be done. . . . 
Colonel Harvey said that he had mentioned the matter 
only to Willie Jones, of Halifax, whom he had met 
the day before, and that he thought well of it, and 
promised to exert himself in its favor. I beg your 
friendly counsel and advice on the subject, and hope 
you will speak of it to Mr. Harnett and Colonel Ashe, 
or any other such men." 21 

Harvey s bold and revolutionary proposition fell 
upon willing ears. The people rallied to his support, 
the convention was called, and in defiance of Governor 
Martin s proclamation forbidding it, met at New Bern, 
August 25, 1774. 22 Seventy-one delegates were 
present. When they came to choose their presiding 
officer, all involuntarily turned to one man, the father 
of the convention. A series of resolutions was 
adopted denouncing the acts of Parliament, stating 
the position of the Americans, expressing approval of 
the call for a continental congress, and naming three 
delegates to represent North Carolina. John Harvey 
was then authorized to call another convention when 
ever he deemed it necessary. It was then unanimously 



21. Col. Rec., IX., 968. 

22. Col. Rec., IX., 1029, 1041. 



JOHN HARVEY 39 

resolved "that the thanks of this meeting be given to 
the Hon. John Harvey, Esquire, moderator, for his 
faithful exercise of that office and the services he has 
thereby rendered to this province and to the friends 
of America in general." 

No more significant step was ever taken in North 
Carolina than the successful meeting of this conven 
tion. It revealed the people to themselves; they now 
began to understand that there was no special magic 
in the writs and proclamations of a royal governor; 
they themselves could elect delegates, organize con 
ventions, and enact laws without the intervention of 
a king s authority. This was a long step toward 
independence and self-government; John Harvey took 
it, the people followed. 

Because Boston would not pay for the tea destroyed 
by the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed the 
Boston Port Bill closing that port and forbidding any 
vessel to import or export any cargoes into or out of 
its harbor. During the summer of 1774 the distressed 
condition of the people of Boston, because of this 
measure, touched the hearts of the American people. 
"The cause of Boston is the cause of all," became the 
watch word of the patriots throughout the continent. 

The Congress of North Carolina took up the cry 
and the people, by their contributions, showed that 
their sympathy lay deeper than words. Wilmington, 
New Bern, Edenton and the surrounding counties 
dispatched ship-loads of supplies free of all freight 
charges to be used for the poor of the New England 



40 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

city. On September 20, 1774, John Harvey addressed 
the following letter to the Boston Committee of Cor 
respondence : 

Perquimans Co., 20th Sept., 1774. 23 
HONORABLE GENTLEMEN : 

Joseph Hewes, Esquire, appointed a trustee with 
me to collect the donations of the inhabitants of two 
or three counties in the neighborhood of Edenton, for 
the relief of our distressed brethren of Boston, being 
absent attending the Continental Congress at Phila 
delphia, I have the pleasure to send you, as per en 
closed bill of lading, of the sloop Penelope, Edward 
Herbert, master, which [I] wish safe to hand, and 
that you will cause the amount of the same to be 
divided among the poor inhabitants according to their 
necessities. 

"The Captain has received the most of his freight 
here. The balance will be paid him on return, the 
cargo to be delivered clear of any expense ; which you 
would have received some months sooner, but the dif 
ficulty of getting a vessel on freight prevented. [I] 
hope to be able to send another cargo this winter, for 
the same charitable purpose, as the American inhabi 
tants of this colony entertain a just sense of the suf 
ferings of our brethren in Boston, and have yet hopes 
that when the united determinations of the Continent 
reach the royal ear, they will have redress from the 
cruel, unjust, illegal and oppressive late acts of the 
British Parliament. I take the liberty to inclose you 



23. Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 4th Series, 
Vol. 4, p. 85-86. 



JOHN HARVEY 41 

the resolves of our provincial meeting of deputies, and 
have the honor to be, with the most perfect respect 
and esteem, in behalf of Mr. Hewes and self, 

"Honorable Gentlemen, your most obedient and 
very humble servant, 

JOHN HARVEY/ 

This cargo was received October 15th probably at 
Salem or Marblehead, which towns had offered their 
harbors and wharves free of charge to Boston. It 
consisted of 2,096 bushels of corn, 22 barrels of flour, 
and 17 barrels of pork, which, as the Boston commit- 
teemen said in their letter of thanks to Harvey, was 
a noble and generous donation from their worthy 
brethren and fellow countrymen of the two or three 
counties in the neighborhood of Edenton. "We thank 
you," continued the Boston Committee, "for the re 
solves of your provincial meeting of deputies, which 
you were so kind as to inclose. We esteem them as 
manly, sprited and noble, worthy of our patriotic 
brethren of North Carolina." 24 

Foiled by Harvey s bold and determined action in 
his purpose to keep North Carolina aloof from the 
Continental Congress, Governor Martin made the best 
of a bad situation and summoned the Assembly to 
meet him at New Bern April 4, 1775. John Harvey 
immediately called a second congress to meet at the 
same place April 3rd. 25 It was a wise precaution, for 
the Assembly sat only at the pleasure of the governor 
who would of course dissolve it at the first manifesta 
tion of opposition to the Crown. It was Harvey s 



24. Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 4th Series, 

Vol. 4, p. 86-88. 

25. Col. Rec. f IX., 1125. 



42 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

plan that the members of the Assembly should also be 
members of the Congress, and this plan was gener 
ally carried out. There were, however, a few mem 
bers of each body who were not members of the 
other. Martin was furious and denounced Harvey s 
action in two resounding proclamations. 26 The Con 
gress replied to it by electing Harvey moderator, the 
Assembly by electing him speaker. 27 The governor 
roundly scored both bodies, and both bodies roundly 
scored the governor. It was indeed a pretty situation. 
One set of men composed two bodies one legal, sit 
ting by authority of the royal governor and in obe 
dience to his writ ; the other illegal, sitting in defiance 
of his authority and in direct disobedience to his proc 
lamation. The governor impotently demanded that 
the former join him in denouncing and dispersing the 
latter, composed of the very men whose aid he so 
licited. The two bodies met in the same hall, the Con 
gress at nine o clock, the Assembly at ten, and were 
presided over by the same man. When the governor s 
private secretary was announced at the door, says 
Colonel Saunders, in an instant, in the twinkling of 
an eye, Mr. Moderator Harvey would become Mr. 
Speaker Harvey, and gravely receive his Excellency s 
message. 28 

Neither body accomplished much. The Congress 
adopted resolutions approving the measures of the 
Continental Congress and recommended them to the 
people of the province. A resolution declaring that 
the people had a right to assemble in person or through 



26. Col. Rec., IX., 1145, 1177. 

27. For proceedings of these two bodies see Col. Rec., IX., 

1178-1185, 1187-1205. 

28. Col. Rec., Prefatory Notes, IX., xxxiv. 



JOHN HARVEY 43 

their representatives to petition the Throne for redress 
of grievances was adopted and the governor s procla 
mation forbidding the meeting of the Congress was de 
nounced as "illegal and an infringement of our just 
rights and, therefore, ought to be disregarded as wan 
ton and arbitrary exertions of power." Hooper, 
Hewes, and Caswell were re-elected delegates to the 
Continental Congress, and a resolution thanking them 
for their services was adopted. Finally a resolution 
was adopted authorizing John Harvey, or in the event 
of his death Samuel Johnston, to call a session of 
Congress whenever he deemed it necessary. The 
Congress then adjourned. 

The Assembly had time only to organize and ex 
change messages with the governor when it, too, came 
to a sudden end. Its first offense was the election of 
John Harvey speaker. The governor had authority to 
veto the Assembly s choice if he saw fit, but however 
bitter the pill was he did not dare reject it. In a let 
ter to Lord Dartmouth the secretary of state for the 
colonies, Martin described his humiliation in the fol 
lowing language: 

"On the 3d instant, the time appointed for the meet 
ing of the Convention . . . hearing that many deputies 
from the counties were come here, I issued the 
proclamation, of which I now transmit your Lordship 
a copy numbered I, 29 notwithstanding which I found 
this unlawful body met for a short time and elected 
Mr. Harvey moderator, by whose advertisement it had 
been convened. I still hoped the Assembly on what 
I had to say to it would secede from this Convention, 
although I well knew that many of the members had 



29. Col. Rec., IX., 1177. 



44 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

been sent as deputies to it. And this hope, together 
with my desire to lay no difficulties in the way of the 
public business, induced me on the next day to admit 
the election of Mr. Harvey, who was chosen speaker 
of the Assembly, and presented by the House for my 
approbation. Indeed, to say the truth, my Lord, it 
was a measure to which I submitted upon these prin 
ciples not without repugnance even after I found the 
Council unanimously of the opinion that it would not 
be expedient to give a new handle of discontent to 
the Assembly by rejecting its choice if it should fall 
as was expected upon Mr. Harvey, for I considered 
his guilt of too conspicuous a nature to be passed over 
with neglect. The manner, however, of my admitt : ng 
him, I believe sufficiently testified my disapprobation 
of his conduct while it marked my respect to the elec 
tion of the House." 30 

The next day the Assembly committed its second 
offense by inviting the delegates to the Congress, who 
were not also members of the Assembly, to join in the 
latter s deliberations. The governor promptly sent the 
sheriff of Craven county with his proclamation to for 
bid this unhallowed union. The only notice taken of 
it was by James Coor, one of the members from Cra 
ven. After the sheriff had read the proclamation, 
Coor retorted : "Well, you have read it and now you 
can take it back to the governor." 31 "Not a man obeyed 
it," reported Martin to Lord Dartmouth. Thus far 
the governor had kept his temper very well. But on 
the fourth day of the session, the Assembly adopted 
resolutions approving of the measures of the Conti- 



30. Col. Rec., IX., 1212. 

31. Col. Rec., IX., 1213. 



JOHN HARVEY 45 

nental Congress, thanking the North Carolina dele 
gates for their services, and endorsing their re-election. 
This was more than the governor had bargained for, 
and when he learned of it his wrath boiled over. He 
promptly issued his proclamation dissolving the As 
sembly, April 8, 1775. This was the last Assembly 
that ever met in North Carolina under the authority 
of Great Britain and by its dissolution, Josiah Mar 
tin put an end forever to British rule in that province. 
In a letter to Lord Dartmouth describing these events 
he said: 

"I am bound in conscience and duty to add, my 
Lord, that government is here as absolutely prostrate 
as impotent, and that nothing but the shadow of it is 
left. . . . I must further say, too, my Lord, that it is 
my serious opinion which I communicate with the last 
degree of concern that unless effectual measures, such 
as British spirit may dictate, are speedily taken there 
will not long remain a trace of Britain s dominion over 
these colonies." 32 

It was impossible for Josiah Martin to let slip an 
opportunity to vent his wrath at a rival. John Harvey 
had long been a justice of the peace in Perquimans 
County. Three days after the dissolution of the As 
sembly, Governor Martin laid before the Council the 
proceedings of the late Provincial Congress, which 
were signed by "John Harvey, moderator, wherein," 
says the journal of the Council, "are certain resolves 
highly derogatory to the honor and dignity of his 
Majesty s government, tending to destroy the peace 
and welfare of this province, in the highest degree op 
pressive of the people, and utterly subversive of the 



32. Col. Rec., IX., 1215. 



46 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

established constitution. He therefore submitted to 
the consideration of this Board the propriety of mark 
ing its indignation of such unlawful and dangerous 
proceedings by striking Mr. John Harvey out of his 
Majesty s commission of the peace for the county of 
Perquimans where he resides." 33 The councillors of 
his Majesty s governor gravely concurred in these 
sentiments, and John Harvey s judicial head fell at 
the block. 

But little cared John Harvey. His time for earthly 
honors and earthly contests was rapidly drawing to 
its close. His pale cheeks and wasted frame warned 
both him and his colleagues that his end was not far 
off and, as we have seen, the Congress had prepared 
for the vacancy his death would make in their ranks 
by selecting as his successor his life-long friend and 
neighbor, Samuel Johnston. Within less than two 
months after the adjournment of his last Congress 
and the dissolution of his last Assembly the expected 
event occurred, hastened by the shock of a fall from 
a horse. These last days were passed under the 
clouds of a rapidly approaching revolution. That rev 
olution no man in North Carolina had done so much 
to produce as John Harvey. No man had watched its 
outcome with greater confidence, or awaited it with 
greater hope. How well he had marked out the course 
it was to take, how carefully he had watched over its 
feeble beginnings, and how effectively he had organ 
ized the forces which were to propel and guide it, is 
shown by the fact that though his strong hand was 
snatched from the helm at the most critical moment, 
nevertheless the Revolution moved on apace without 



33. Col. Rec., IX., 1215. 



JOHN HARVEY 47 

a jar, without swerving an instant from its destined 
end. It is one of the tragedies of human life that men 
often are not permitted to see and enjoy the fruits of 
their labors and sacrifices. So it was with this man 
of the people, this political leader with the vision of 
a prophet, this organizer of a Revolution destined to 
mark the beginning of an era in the history of man 
kind. The South Carolina Gazette and Country Jour 
nal, published at Charleston June 6, 1775, contained 
the following letter written at New Bern, May 19th : 

"With inexpressible grief and concern we have re 
ceived from Edenton the melancholy account of the 
death of Col. John Harvey, of Perquimans County, 
who a few days since died at his seat there after a 
very short illness, occasioned, it is said, by a fall from 
his horse. The respectable and uncommon character 
of this worthy member of society has, for many years 
past, placed him in the highest department of this prov 
ince in the gift of the people, that of speaker of the 
House of Assembly ; and the great assiduity and dili 
gence with which he discharged that, and many other 
important trusts committed to his care, and his perse 
verance in seeking the real and substantial good of 
his country, renders his death a public loss, which will 
be truly lamented by a grateful people. It is hoped 
that some abler pen will do justice to his Manes; we 
can only say, that as in public life all his actions were 
directed to the good of his country, so in private his 
house was one continued scene of hospitality and be 
nevolence, and his purse, his hand and heart, were 
ever devoted to the service and relief of the distressed. 
In him the advocates for American freedom have lost 
a real and true friend ! In him this province may 
mourn a substantial and irretrievable loss." 



48 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

On the last day of May, Robert Howe, Cornelius 
Harnett and John Ashe, three patriots who had never 
failed to follow when John Harvey led the way, wrote 
to Samuel Johnston: "We sincerely condole with all 
the friends of American liberty in this province on 
the death of our worthy friend, Colonel Harvey. We 
regret it as a public loss, especially at this critical junc 
ture." 34 

"He will be much missed," wrote Joseph Hewes 
from Philadelphia. "I wish to God he could have been 
spared." 

Few the words, but sincere the tribute, from men 
who knew his virtues and appreciated his worth. 35 



34. Col. Rec., IX., 1285. 

35. For a fuller account of the career of John Harvey see 

Connor s "John Harvey" in North Carolina Booklet, 
Vol. VIIL, No. 1 (July, 1908). 



Ill 

CORNELIUS HARNETT 



Cornelius Harnett was one of that group of North 
Carolina statesmen whose leadership during the dec 
ade and a half following the passage of the Stamp 
Act swung North Carolina into line with the great 
continental movement of the American colonies, over 
threw the royal authority in the province, and set in 
motion the wheels of government in the independent 
state. From this group his conspicuous ability as an 
organizer and administrator led his associates to place 
him at the head of the Revolutionary government 
where his great executive powers contributed largely 
to the success of the Revolution in North Carolina. 

Harnett first came into prominence in the affairs 
of the province as the leader of the Cape Fear sec 
tion. Born the same year in which that region was 
opened to settlement, and taken thither by his father 
from Chowan county when a babe of three years, Cor 
nelius Harnett grew to manhood as the settlement de 
veloped from a wilderness into a civilized community. 
He entered upon his public career just as the Cape 
Fear section was on the point of wresting the palm 
of leadership in colonial affairs from the Albemarle 
section, and during the two decades in which he was 
the leader of the Cape Fear that section reached the 
highest point of influence it has ever attained in the 
history of the state. He early became identified with 
the interests of Wilmington and was one of the lead 
ers in the industrial development of that town and 
the surrounding country. Growing up with the Cape 
Fear section, he became thoroughly imbued with the 



50 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

spirit of the new country, of which the dominant note, 
then, as now, was high standards of personal integrity 
and honor, and passionate devotion to that ideal of 
individual liberty which calls every man s house his 
castle. The customs of the people, their habits of 
thought, their feelings and sentiments, and their faults 
and virtues, all became his own. His intimate knowl 
edge of their life and character, his sympathy with 
their ideals and ambitions, his wealth and his attrac 
tive social qualities, his genius and his culture, com 
bined to make him the leader in the movements of 
which Wilmington was soon to become the center, and 
produced in him, as he has been called, "the represen 
tative man of the Cape Fear." 

Harnett s public career extended over a period of 
thirty years. In April, 1750, he entered upon the du 
ties of his first office. In April, 1781, he died. Between 
these two dates he was continuously in the service of 
his town, his county, his state, and his country. In 
1754 he became a member of the General Assembly 
as the representative of the borough of Wilmington. 
Twelve other Assemblies were held in North Caro 
lina under the authority of the British Crown in all 
of which Harnett sat for Wilmington. His legislative 
career covered a period of twenty-seven years and 
embraced service in the Colonial Assembly, in the 
Provincial Congress, and in the Continental Congress. 
There was nothing dramatic about his services. He 
had no power, as William Hooper had, to stir men s 
passions with an outburst of eloquence, nor had he, 
like Richard Caswell, the military genius to inflame 
their imaginations by a brilliant feat of arms. Yet 
a careful and scholarly student after a painstaking 
study of the records more than a century after Har- 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 51 

nett s death unhesitatingly declared as his sober judg 
ment : "To one who studies impartially the annals of 
this state during the last half of the eighteenth cen 
tury, the conviction will become irresistible that the 
mightiest single force in North Carolina history during 
the whole of the Revolutionary period was Cornelius 
Harnett, of New Hanover county." 1 

The second decade of Harnett s legislative career 
began with the coming of William Tryon and the pas 
sage of the Stamp Act. Tryon took the oath of office 
April 3, 1765. At that time the Stamp Act was the 
chief topic of discussion in the political circles of 
America. The opposition to it in North Carolina 
brought to the front a new set of leaders and for the 
first time put them in touch with continental affairs. 
Among these leaders Cornelius Harnett soon became 
conspicuous. Even before the passage of the Stamp 
Act, the Assembly, through a committee of which 
Harnett was a member, had united with the other 
colonies in protesting against the proposed stamp 
duty. 2 During the summer following its passage pub 
lic demonstrations were made against it in various 
parts of the colony. At Wilmington large crowds 
gathered from the surrounding counties, listened to 
the harangues of popular orators on the rights of the 
colonies, drank toasts to "Liberty, Property and no 
Stamp Duty," hanged Lord Bute, the king s minister, 
in effigy, compelled the stamp agent to resign his of 
fice, required the printer to publish his newspaper 
without affixing the necessary stamps, and organized 
an association pledged to resist the Stamp Act to the 



1. Smith, C. Alphonso: "Our Debt to Cornelius Harnett," in 

North Carolina University Magazine, May, 1907, p. 379. 

2. Colonial Records, VI., 12%. 



52 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

death. 3 A few weeks later the royal sloop-of-war, 
Diligence, Captain Phipps, with a cargo of stamps for 
the colony, cast anchor off Brunswick. Quickly 
spread the news of her arrival. Up and down the 
Cape Fear, and far into the country, men snatched 
their rifles, and hurried to Brunswick where they de 
clared their purpose to resist any attempt to land the 
stamps in North Carolina. A month later Governor 
Tryon wrote to the authorities in England, "the 
stamps remain on board the said ship;" and after 
still another month, he added, "where they still re 
main." 

Day by day the people and the governor kept watch 
on each other, anxiously awaiting the result of the 
contest. With the opening of the new year, 1766, the 
struggle reached its climax. Three merchant vessels 
which arrived at Brunswick without stamps on their 
clearance papers, were instantly seized by the man-of- 
war, Viper, and their cargoes confiscated. The people 
now rose in open rebellion, and with arms in their 
hands boarded the royal Cruizer, and forced her com 
mander to release the captured vessels. To prevent 
any further danger from this source, the leaders of 
the people now determined to require all royal offi 
cials, except the governor, to take an oath not to make 
any further attempt to execute the Stamp Act. One 
of these officials, a Mr. Pennington, the king s comp 
troller, sought refuge in the governor s house. The 
people surrounded the house and demanded that they 
be permitted to speak with Pennington. Tryon re 
plied: "Mr. Pennington being employed by his Ex- 



3. For the proceedings against the Stamp Act on the Cape 
Fear see Colonial Records, VII., 123 et seq. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 53 

cellency on dispatches for his Majesty s service, any 
gentleman that has business with him may see him at 
the governor s house." A few hours later Tryon ob 
served "a body of men in arms from four to five hun 
dred," moving about his house. Three hundred yards 
away they drew up in line and sent a detachment of 
sixty men down the long avenue to the front door of 
the governor s mansion. At the head of this detach 
ment as its leader and spokesman marched Cornelius 
Harnett. 

Now followed the most dramatic scene of the 
struggle over the Stamp Act, a brief but intense 
interview between William Tryon, representative 
of the king s authority, and Cornelius Harnett, 
representative of the people s will, for possession 
of one of the king s officers. Harnett opened 
the interview by demanding that Pennington 
be allowed to go with him. Tryon replied that 
Pennington had come to his house seeking refuge, that 
he was an official of the Crown, and as such should 
receive all the protection the governor s roof and dig 
nity of character could afford him. Harnett insisted. 
"The people," said he, "are determined to take him out 
of the house if he is longer detained, an insult," he 
added quickly, "which they wish to avoid offering to 
your Excellency." "An insult," retorted Tryon, "that 
will not tend to any consequence, since they have al 
ready offered every insult in their power, by surround 
ing my house and making me in effect a prisoner be 
fore any grievance or oppression had been first repre 
sented to me." During this interview Pennington be 
came restless and finally said that he would go with 
Harnett. To Tryon he declared that whatever oaths 
might be imposed upon him, he would consider as acts 



54 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

of compulsion and not of free will. "I would rather re 
sign my office," he added, "than do anything contrary to 
my duty to the king and to your Excellency." "If that is 
your determination," replied the disgusted governor, 
"you had better resign before you leave here." Har- 
nett quickly interposed his objection to this sudden 
turn of affairs, but Pennington sided with the gover 
nor. Paper and ink were accordingly brought and the 
resignation was written and promptly accepted. "Now, 
sir," said Tryon, bitterly, "you may go ;" and Harnett 
led the frightened official out of the house to his fol 
lowers who were waiting for him outside. They then 
rejoined the main body of the "inhabitants in arms," 
and the whole withdrew to the town. There they drew 
up in a large circle, placed the royal officials in the 
center, and administered to them all an oath "that they 
would not, directly or indirectly, by themselves or by 
any other person employed under them, sign or exe 
cute in their several offices any stamped papers, until 
the Stamp Act should be accepted by the province." 
The clerk of the court and all the lawyers were sworn 
to the same effect; and as each took the pledge the 
cheers of the crowd bore the news to the enraged and 
baffled governor as he sat alone in his room keenly 
conscious of his defeat. 4 

Throughout this contest the conduct of no man 
stands out so conspicuously as that of Cornelius Har 
nett. From the announcement of the British minis 
try s intention to levy a stamp duty in America, he was 



4. For more detailed accounts of these proceedings see Con 
nor; Cornelius Harnett: An Essay in North Carolina 
History, 30-47; Waddell : A Colonial Officer and His 
Times, 73-129; Ashe: History of North Carolina, I., 
310-325; Sprunt: Cape Fear Chronicles, 67-78. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 55 

among the foremost in opposition ; and it is stating 
nothing more than the records will bear out to say 
that when the struggle closed, no man could justly 
claim more credit for the failure of the Stamp Act in 
North Carolina than he. At the beginning of the 
struggle there were several strong, forceful men in 
Wilmington and Brunswick capable of leading the 
opposition, but none of them stood so conspicuously 
above the others that he can be designated as the 
leader; but as the contest progressed the opposition 
centers more and more around Cornelius Harnett, un 
til at its climax he and Tryon stand face to face, the 
acknowledged leaders of their respective causes. "Be 
fore this incident," as Dr. C. Alphonso Smith has so 
well said, "Harnett had been best known as a skillful 
financier. . . . But after his defiance of Tryon in 1766 
an act performed ten years before the Declaration 
of Independence and seven years before the Boston 
Tea Party Harnett became in an especial sense the 
leader of his people and the target of British malevol 
ence and denunciation. Every State boasts its heroes 
of the Stamp Act, but in all the examples of resistance 
to this oppressive act, I find no deed that equals Har- 
nett s in its blend of courage, dignity and orderliness. 
He and Tryon had looked each other in the eyes, and 
the eyes of the Englishman had quailed." 

In the struggle over the Stamp Act was born a un 
ion sentiment that contained the germs of nationality, 
and the development of this sentiment in the contests 
with the mother country from 1765 to 1775 gives to 
the events of that decade their chief significance. Cor 
nelius Harnett enlisted heartily in this movement, and 
contributed largely to its success in North Carolina. 
So far, then, as North Carolina s adherence to the con- 



56 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

tinental or national cause was a factor in its success, 
so far must we think of Harnett s work as of national 
significance, and of himself as entitled to rank as 
among American statesmen. 

The first step taken toward union was the adoption 
of the Non-Importation Association by the several 
colonies. But it was a much simpler matter to adopt 
such an association than to enforce it, for the Tories, 
of course, opposed the whole scheme, and would gladly 
have welcomed an opportunity to defeat it. In North 
Carolina the merchants of the Cape Fear section were 
the largest importers of British goods in the colony 
and everybody recognized that their action would de 
termine the matter. No non-importation association 
could be enforced without their co-operation. For 
tunately, Cornelius Harnett, one of the chief mer 
chants of the province, was also chairman of the Sons 
of Liberty; and under his leadership this powerful 
organization, representing the towns of Wilmington 
and Brunswick and the six counties on the Cape Fear, 
determined that the association should be enforced. 
They declared that they would have no dealings with 
any merchant who imported goods "contrary to the 
spirit and intention" of the Non-Importation Associa 
tion; and constituted themselves a special committee 
to inspect all goods imported into the Cape Fear and 
to keep the public informed of any that were brought 
in contrary to the association. They then ordered their 
resolves to be "immediately transmitted to all the trad 
ing towns in this colony;" and in the spirit of co 
operation, Cornelius Harnett wrote to the Sons of 
Liberty of South Carolina to inform them of their 
action. In this letter he said: 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 57 

"We beg leave to assure you that the inhabitants of 
those six counties and we doubt not of every county 
in this province, . . . are tenacious of their just rights 
as any of their brethren on the continent and firmly 
resolved to stand or fall with them in support of the 
common cause of American liberty. Worthless men 
. . . are the production of every country, and we are 
also unhappy as to have a few among us who have 
not virtue enough to resist the allurement of present 
gain/ Yet we can venture to assert, that the people 
in general of this colony, will be spirited and steady 
in support of their rights as English subjects, and will 
not tamely submit to the yoke of oppression. But if 
by the iron hand of power, they are at last crushed; 
it is however their fixed resolution, either to fall with 
the same dignity and spirit you so justly mention, or 
to transmit to their posterity entire, the inestimable 
blessings of our free Constitution. The disinterested 
and public spirited behavior of the merchants and 
other inhabitants of your colony justly merits the ap 
plause of every lover of liberty on the continent. The 
people of any colony who have not virtue enough to 
follow so glorious examples must be lost to every 
sense of freedom and consequently deserve to be 
slaves." 6 

In the meantime, while Cornelius Harnett and his 
colleagues were bending all their energies toward the 
union of the colonies against the authority of Parlia 
ment, the revolt of the Regulators in the interior of 
the province came near to counteracting all the good 
results of their work. Harnett sympathized with the 



5. South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, July 5, 1770; 
July 26, 1770; August 9, 1770. 



58 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

grievances of the Regulators and in the Assembly ad 
vocated measures to relieve them of their burdens; 6 
but he disapproved of their violent and destructive 
methods, and when Governor Tryon marched against 
them, Harnett accompanied him on his Alamance 
campaign and contributed largely from his private for 
tune to the support of his army. 

It is not difficult to understand Harnett s feelings. 
He was keenly aware of the injury the conduct of the 
Regulators would do to the American cause in Eng 
land. Though the opposition to the Stamp Act and 
the Townhend Acts had been firm and decided, it had 
been carried on peaceably and orderly ; yet the Amer 
icans had been freely denounced in England as law 
less and violent men, delighting in riot and rebellion. 
They had found it by no means the easiest part of their 
work to counteract this view even among those who 
wished them well. The proceedings of the Regula 
tors, when reported to the home government, could 
not fail to give to their enemies a decided advantage, 
for the people of the mother country would draw no 
distinction between the Sons of Liberty on the Cape 
Fear and the Regulators on the Eno. All would be 
classed as rebellious subjects who deserved punish 
ment. Besides this, the course of the Regulators, if 
successful, would divide the people into warring fac 
tions at the very time when union was the great essen 
tial. Cornelius Harnett understood this. He was too 
clear sighted and practical a statesman not to see that 
the movements of the Regulators were antagonistic to 
the continental movement toward the union of the 
American colonies against the encroachments of Par- 



6. Col. Rec., VIII.. 388-89. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 59 

liament. He accordingly threw himself into the cam 
paign against the Regulators with so much earnestness 
that the Assembly passed special resolutions expressive 
of its appreciation "of the great service rendered his 
country by his zeal and activity therein/ and voted to 
reimburse him for "the extraordinary expenses he was 
at in that service." 7 

The condition of the colony and the quarrels be 
tween the Assembly and Governor Josiah Martin, who 
succeeded Try on in 1771, made it imperative that the 
leaders of the popular party should not rest in idle 
ness, and many an anxious conference was held for 
the purpose of devising a more effective plan of united 
action. One of the most important, as it was one of 
the most interesting of these conferences, was held 
between Josiah Quincy, Jr., of Massachusetts, and 
Cornelius Harnett, of North Carolina, at the home of 
the latter on the Cape Fear. Quincy arrived at Bruns 
wick March 26, and spent the next five days enjoying 
the hospitality of the Cape Fear patriots. In his diary 
he left us a record of his conferences with these men. 
This one he found "seemingly warm" against the 
measures of Parliament; another was "apparently in 
the Whig interest." The night of March 30th he spent 
at the home of Cornelius Harnett. Here all doubt of 
his host s political sentiments vanished. "Spent the 
night," he records, "at Mr. Harnett s, the Samuel 
Adams of North Carolina (except in point of for 
tune). Robert Howe, Esq., Harnett and myself made 
the social triumvirate of the evening. The plan of 
continental correspondence highly relished, much 
wished for, and resolved upon as proper to be pur- 

7. Col. Rec., IX., 195-205. 



60 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

sued." Quincy was so delighted at finding Harnett s 
views coinciding so entirely with his own, that he 
sprang up from his chair and gave his host a cordial 
embrace. Both esteemed the opportunity for further 
conference of such importance that Quincy remained 
with Harnett through the next day and night, and 
then and there they agreed upon the plan for a sys 
tem of committees of correspondence. 8 This system, 
as we have seen, was adopted by the North Carolina 
Assembly at its next session in December. The North 
Carolina Committee of Correspondence was composed 
of John Harvey, Robert Howe, Cornelius Harnett, 
William Hooper, Richard Caswell, Edward Vail, John 
Ashe, Joseph Hewes and Samuel Johnston. 9 

The work of the committee bore good fruit, for the 
members brought to their work a truly national spirit 
in dealing with continental affairs. To use a modern 
political term, they adopted a platform in which they 
declared that the inhabitants of all the colonies "ought 
to consider themselves interested in the cause of the 
town of Boston as the cause of America in general ;" 
that they would "concur with and co-operate in such 
measures as may be concerted and agreed on by their 
sister colonies" for resisting the measures of the Brit 
ish ministry; and that in order to promote "con 
formity and unanimity in the councils of America" a 
continental congress was "absolutely necessary." 10 
The significance of this system of committees of cor 
respondence was soon apparent. Indeed, as John 
Fiske declares, it "was nothing less than the beginning 
of the American Union. ... It only remained for the 

8. Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, June, 1916. 
10. State Records, XL, 245-48. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 61 

various inter-colonial committees to assemble together, 
and there would be a Congress speaking in the name 
of the Continent." 11 

We have already seen how the call for a conti 
nental congress was made and how, under the leader 
ship of John Harvey, it led to the assembling of the 
first Provincial Congress of North Carolina, in August, 
1774. The most important action of this Congress was 
the adoption of a resolution providing for the organi 
zation of a system of committees of safety to execute 
the ordinances of the Provincial and Continental Con 
gresses. The plan contemplated one committee in 
each of the towns, one in each of the counties, one 
in each of the six military districts into which the 
colony was divided and one for the province at large. 

The most active and efficient of these committees 
were those of Wilmington and New Hanover county. 12 
Of these committees Cornelius Harnett was the mas 
ter-spirit. When the Wilmington committee was or 
ganized, November 23, 1774, though he was then ab 
sent from the colony, he was unanimously elected 
chairman. When the New Hanover committee was 
organized, January 5, 1775, "to join and co-operate 
with the committee of the town," he was promptly- 
placed at the head of the joint committee. The people 
were fully alive to the importance of the step they took 



11. The American Revolution, I., 81. 

12. The proceedings of the Wilmington-New Hanover com 

mittees may be found in the Colonial Records, Vol. IX., 
pp. 1088, 1095, 1098, 1101, 1107, 1108, 1118, 1120, 1122, 
1126, 1127, 1135, 1143, 1149, 1166, 1168, 1170, 1185, 1222, 
1265, 1285 ; Vol. X., pp. 12, 15, 24, 50, 64, 65, 68, 72, 87, 
89, 91, 93, 112, 116, 121, 124, 141, 151, 157, 158, 220, 262, 
263, 279, 282, 298, 304, 328, 331, 334, 335, 336, 345, 348, 
363, 388, 389, 393, 405, 410, 411, 418, 421, 425, 431, 435, 
477. 



62 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

in organizing these committees. The men whom they 
selected represented the wealth, the intelligence and the 
culture of the community. They were men of ap 
proved character and ability. Some of them after 
wards achieved eminence in the history of North Car 
olina. Seldom have men entrusted with such exten 
sive authority fulfilled their trust with greater fidelity. 
They discharged every duty with firmness and pa 
tience, with prudence and wisdom, and in the interest 
of the public welfare. From the first, we are told, 
Cornelius Harnett was "the very soul of the enter 
prise," "the life-breathing spirit of liberty among the 
people/ possessing their confidence "to an extent that 
seems incredible." Archibald Maclaine Hooper 
says : "The first motions of disaffection on the Cape 
Fear were prompted by him. When the conjunction 
favorable for his projects arrived, he kept concealed 
behind the curtain, while the puppets of the drama 
were stirred by his wires into acts of turbulence and 
disloyalty. Afterwards when a meeting was convened 
at Wilmington, he was bold in the avowal of his senti 
ments and in the expression of his opinions." As 
chairman of the joint committee, by his activity in 
"warning and watching the disaffected, encouraging 
the timid, collecting the means of defense, and com 
municating its enthusiasm to all orders," he made this 
local committee the most effective agency in the prov 
ince, except the Congress itself, in getting the Revolu 
tion under way in North Carolina. Governor Martin 
recognized in him the chief source of opposition to the 
royal government; and the Provincial Congress 
demanded his services for the province at large. When 
the Provincial Council was created Harnett was 
unanimously elected president, a position that made 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 63 

him in all but name the first chief executive of the 
newborn state. The work of this Council, too, was 
largely his work, and its success is proof of the ability 
which he brought to his task. 13 

The effect of the activity of these committees was 
immediately felt. Under their stimulus the Revolution 
moved on apace, and by April of 1775, when Governor 
Martin dissolved the last Assembly under British rule, 
was in full swing. April of 1775 was a stirring month 
in North Carolina. It witnessed the convocation and 
adjournment of the most revolutionary body ever held 
in the state. It saw the convening and dissolution of 
the last Assembly ever held under the authority of the 
British Crown. It saw the governor of the province 
openly defied in his palace at the capital, closely 
watched by armed men, and virtually beseiged in his 
own house. It saw the guns he had set up for his own 
protection seized and carried off by men he had been 
sent to rule. It closed upon the flight of the terrified 
governor from the capital to the protection of the guns 
at Fort Johnston at the mouth of the Cape Fear river. 

The atmosphere was charged with the revolutionary 
spirit. Men breathed it in with the very air they 
sucked into their lungs and then showed it forth to the 
world by their actions. Events crowded one upon 
another in rapid succession. The committees of safety 
were everywhere active in the discharge of their 
various duties, legislating, judging, executing, com 
bining in themselves all the functions of government. 
The news of the battle of Lexington spread like wild 
fire through the province, arousing the forward, 



13. The proceedings of the Provincial Council are printed in 
the Colonial Records, X., 283-294, 349-362, 469-477. 



64 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

stirring the backward, and putting an end everywhere 
to all hope of a peaceful conclusion of the difficulties. 
The news was sped on its way by the committees and 
in no other instance did they give better evidence of 
their usefulness. 14 Governor Martin complained that 
the rebel leaders knew about the battle at least two 
months before he did, and that he did not learn of it in 
time to counteract the influence which the "infamous 
and false reports of that transaction" had on the 
people. 15 The news reached Cornelius Harnett on the 
Cape Fear in the afternoon of May 8, and he at once 
hurried it on to the Brunswick committee with the 
admonition, "For God s sake send the man on without 
the least delay and write to Mr. Marion to forward it 
by night and day." The proceedings of the second 
Continental Congress, which met amid all this excite 
ment, were followed with the closest attention. John 
Harvey, after a life devoted to the interest and liberty 
of his country, died at his home in Perquimans county, 
leaving a gap in the ranks of the patriots impossible to 
be filled. Scarcely had this sad news reached the Cape 
Fear before Cornelius Harnett was joined by Robert 
Howe and John Ashe in a letter to Samuel Johnston 
urging him to call a provincial convention without 
delay. 16 The suggestion met with favor, was endorsed 
by the committees of several counties, and approved 
by Johnston. He issued his call July 10th. Six days 
later Governor Martin wrote to Lord Dartmouth : 
"Hearing of a proclamation of the king, proscribing 
John Hancock and Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts 



14. Col. Rec., IX., 1229-1239. 

15. Col. Rec., X., 44. 

16. State Records, XL, 255. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 65 

Bay, and seeing clearly that further proscriptions will 
be necessary before government can be settled again 
upon sure, foundations in America, I hold it my 
indispensable duty to mention to your lordship 
Cornelius Harnett, John Ashe, Robert Howes, 17 and 
Abner Nash, as persons who have marked themselves 
out as proper persons for such distinction in this 
colony by their unremitting labours to promote sedi 
tion and rebellion here from the beginnings of the dis 
contents in America to this time, that they stand fore 
most among the patrons of revolt and anarchy." 18 
Within less than a week after this letter was written 
500 men, wearied of Governor Martin s abusive proc 
lamations, placed themselves under the leadership of 
John Ashe and Cornelius Harnett, marched to Fort 
Johnston, and burned the hated structure to the 
ground. 19 "Mr. John Ashe and Mr. Cornelius 
Harnett/ wrote the frightened governor, "were ring 
leaders of this savage and audacious mob." 20 Thirty 
days later, at the time and place appointed, the third 
Provincial Congress met in open session in defiance of 
the rewards offered by the impotent ruler for the 
arrest of the leaders. 

The Congress met at Hillsborough, August 20th. 21 
One hundred and eighty- four delegates were present. 
Cornelius Harnett was there from Wilmington, asso 
ciated, however, with Archibald Maclaine. Harriett s 
share in the work of the convention was of the greatest 
importance, but lack of space forbids an account of it 



17. For this spelling see Col. Rec., X., 98. 

18. Col. Rec., X, 98. 

19. Col. Rec., X., 114. 

20. Col. Rec., X., 108-109. 

21. Its proceedings are printed in Col. Rec., X., 164-220. 



66 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

here. The one thing that can be noticed was the reor 
ganization of the committee system. At the head of 
the new system and acting as executive head of the 
new government, was placed a provincial committee, 
called the Provincial Council. Its membership was 
composed of thirteen persons, one from the province 
at large and two from each of the six military dis 
tricts into which the province had been divided. 
Serving under this Council were to be committees in 
the several districts. 22 

Extensive powers were given to the Provincial 
Council. It was, as I have said, the executive head of 
the government, subject to no authority except that of 
the Provincial Congress. The success of this new 
scheme depended entirely upon the character and abil 
ity of the men who were to put it into operation. They 
were chosen as follows : Samuel Johnston, for the prov 
ince at large ; Cornelius Harnett and Samuel Ashe, for 
the Wilmington district ; Abner Nash and James 
Coor, for the New Bern district ; Thomas Person and 
John Kinchen, for the Hillsborough district ; Willie 
Jones and Thomas Eaton for the Halifax district ; 
Samuel Spencer and Waightstill Avery for the Salis 
bury district. 

The first meeting was held October 18th, at Johnston 
Court House. Of this meeting Bancroft writes : 
"Among its members were Samuel Johnston, Samuel 
Ashe, a man whose integrity even his enemies never 
questioned, whose name a mountain county and the 
fairest town in the western part of the commonwealth 
keep in memory ; Abner Nash, an eminent lawyer, de- 



22. For a more detailed account see Connor : "Cornelius Har 
nett," 106-110. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 67 

scribed by Martin as the oracle of the committee of 
Newbern and a principal supporter of sedition; but 
on none of these three did the choice of president fall ; 
that office of peril and power was bestowed unan 
imously on Cornelius Harnett, of New Hanover 
whose disinterested zeal had made him honored as the 
Samuel Adams of North Carolina." 23 By virtue of 
this office Harnett became the chief executive of the 
new government. The establishment of this central 
committee with adequate powers and authority im 
mediately bore good fruit. Governor Martin wrote 
that the authority, the edicts and the ordinances of the 
congresses and conventions and committees had be 
come supreme and omnipotent and that "lawful 
government" was completely annihilated. 24 There can 
be no better comment upon the effectiveness of the 
administration of Harnett and his colleagues. Every 
where the spirits and activity of the patriots took on 
new life, and everywhere, according to Martin him 
self, the spirits of the Loyalists drooped and declined 
daily. So effective was the work and so necessary 
did the Council prove itself to the welfare of the prov 
ince, the next convention passed a resolution requiring 
it to sit continuously instead of only once every three 
months. The Council, now called the Council of 
Safety, continued at the head of the government until 
the adoption of the state constitution ; and Cornelius 
Harnett remained at the head of the Council until 
elected a delegate to the Continental Congress. 

It was under the direction of this Council that the 
North Carolina troops marched to Moore s Creek 



23. History of the United States, Ed. I860, IV. 98. 

24. Col. Rec., X., 49, 232, 244. 



68 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

Bridge and on the 27th of February, won the initial 
victory of the Revolution. General Moore s report of 
his victory was made to President Harnett 25 This 
battle entirely changed the aspect of affairs in North 
Carolina. Heretofore the people had not considered 
seriously the question of independence; but now no 
other proposition met with such nearly universal 
acceptance. Day by day the conviction steadily grew 
upon them that there was no hope of coming to terms 
with the royal government, except upon humiliating 
conditions, and rather than submit to these the people 
preferred to risk all in a cast for independence. 26 The 
Congress, which met at Halifax April 4, 1776, was 
expected to take some definite steps to give official ex 
pression to the prevailing desire. 27 The day after the 
assembling of the Congress Samuel Johnston wrote 
to James Iredell : "All our people here are up for 
independence." Accordingly on April 8, a committee 
was appointed, composed of Cornelius Harnett, Allen 
Jones, Thomas Burke, Abner Nash, John Kinchen, 
Thomas Person and Thomas Jones, "to take into con 
sideration the usurpations and violences attempted by 
the king and Parliament of Great Britain against 
America, and the further measures to be taken for 
frustrating the same, and for the better defence of this 
province." To Cornelius Harnett fell the task of 
drafting the committee s report. In a report remark 
able for its calm dignity and restraint, but alive with 



25. Col. Rec., X., 482, 485 ; State Rec., XL, 383. 

26. For a discussion of the development of the sentiment for 

independence see Connor : "Cornelius Harnett," pp. 120- 

27. The Journal of this Congress is printed in Col. Rec., X., 

499-590. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 69 

suppressed emotion, he drew an indictment against the 
British ministry not equalled by any similar document 
of the Revolutionary period and surpassed only by 
the great Declaration itself. "In ringing sentences, 
not unworthy of Burke or Pitt," says Dr. Smith, "the 
report set forth in a short preamble the usurpations of 
the British ministry and the moderation hitherto mani 
fested by the United Colonies/ Then came the 
declaration which to those who made it meant long 
years of desolating war, smoking homesteads, widowed 
mothers, and fatherless children, but to us and our 
descendants a heritage of imperishable glory." This 
report, read by Harnett and unanimously adopted by 
the Congress, April 12, 1776, was as follows: 

"It appears to your committee, that pursuant to the 
plan concerted by the British ministry for subjugating 
America, the king and Parliament of Great Britain 
have usurped a power over the persons and properties 
of the people, unlimited and uncontrolled and disre 
garding their humble petitions for peace, liberty and 
safety, have made divers legislative acts, denouncing 
war, famine and every species of calamity, against the 
continent in general. That British fleets and armies 
have been, and still are, daily employed in destroying 
the people, and committing the most horrid devasta 
tions on the country. That governors in different 
colonies have declared protection to slaves, who should 
imbrue their hands in the blood of their masters. That 
ships belonging to America are declared prizes of war, 
and many of them have been violently seized and con 
fiscated. In consequence of all which multitudes of 
the people have been destroyed or from easy circum 
stances reduced to the most lamentable distress. 



70 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

"And whereas, the moderation hitherto manifested 
by the United Colonies and their sincere desire to be 
reconciled to the mother country on constitutional 
principles, have procured no mitigation of the afore 
said wrongs and usurpations and no hopes remain of 
obtaining redress by those means alone which have 
hitherto been tried, your committee are of opinion that 
the house should enter into the following resolve, to 
wit: 

"Resolved, That the delegates for this colony in the 
Continental Congress be empowered to concur with 
the delegates of the other colonies in declaring inde 
pendency, and forming foreign alliances, reserving to 
this colony the sole and exclusive right of forming a 
constitution and laws for this colony, and of appoint 
ing delegates from time to time (under the direction 
of the general representation thereof), to meet the 
delegates of the other colonies for such purposes as 
shall be hereafter pointed out." 

The Congress unanimously adopted the report. 
Comment is unnecessary. The actors, the place, th^ 
occasion, the time, the action itself, tell their own story 
far beyond the power of pen to add to it or detract 
from it. Discussing the growth of the sentiment for 
independence in America, Bancroft says : 

"The American Congress needed an impulse from 
the resolute spirit of some colonial convention, and the 
example of a government springing wholly from the 
people." Following an account of how South Caro 
lina let slip the honor of giving this impulse, Bancroft 
continues : "The word which South Carolina hesitated 
to pronounce was given by North Carolina. That 
colony, proud of its victory over domestic enemies, 
and roused to defiance by the presence of Clinton, the 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 71 

British general, in one of their rivers, . . . unani 
mously" voted for independence. "North Carolina 
was the first colony to vote explicit sanction to inde 
pendence." 28 

Immediately after the adoption of this report the 
Congress took up the consideration of a constitu 
tion for the state. Harnett was a member of the com 
mittee to prepare the document. But this was a matter 
too important for slight consideration, and the com 
mittee recommended that it be postponed until the 
next session of the Congress. At the same time the 
powers and authority of the Council of Safety were 
extended and the Council was ordered to sit con 
tinuously instead of quarterly. 

A few days before the adjournment of the Con 
gress the enemy again paid their compliments to 
Harnett s zeal and influence. This time they came 
from Sir Henry Clinton. Sir Henry had reached the 
Cape Fear too late to co-operate with the Highlanders 
in their disastrous attempts to subdue the colony, so 
there was nothing left for him to do but issue a 
proclamation and sail away. Accordingly, just before 
sailing, he proclaimed from the deck of his majesty s 
man-of-war, Pallisser, that a horrid rebellion existed 
in North Carolina, but that in the name of his sacred 
majesty, he now offered a free pardon to all who would 
acknowledge the error of their way, lay down their 
arms, and return to their duty to the king, "excepting 
only from the benefits of such pardon Cornelius 
Harnett and Robert Howes." 29 



28. History of the United States (Ed. 1860), VIII., 345-352. 

29. Col. Rec., X., 591-92. 



72 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

To this proclamation the Council of Safety replied 
by unanimously re-electing Cornelius Harnett presi 
dent. 30 This occurred at its Wilmington session in 
June. In July it adjourned to meet at Halifax. On 
the 22nd of the month the Council received news of 
the action of the Continental Congress on July 4. 

Five days later it resolved that August 1, be the day 
for publicly and officially proclaiming the Declaration 
of Independence at Halifax. Thursday, August 1, 
1776, becomes, therefore, a marked day in the annals 
of the state. The sun rose clear on this first day of 
the new month, symbolic of the new state just rising 
out of a night of oppression and wrong. With the 
rising of the sun came the vanguard of the large 
crowd that was to assemble that day from the sur 
rounding country to hear the official announcement 
of North Carolina s newborn independence. By noon 
the village was alive with the eager throng. The cere 
mony was simple but none the less impressive. The 
provincial troops and militia companies, proudly 
bedecked in such uniforms as they could boast, were 
present in full battle array. With drums beating and 
flags unfurled to catch the first breath of freedom, this 
martial escort conducted the president of the Council 
to the front of the court-house. As the August sun 
reached its mid-course in the heavens, Cornelius 
Harnett, bare-headed, bearing in his hand the document 
which bore the words so full of meaning for all future 
generations, cheered by the enthusiastic throng, 
solemnly ascended the platform and faced the people. 
Even as he unrolled the scroll the enthusiasm of the 



30. The proceedings of the Council of Safety are printed in 
Col. Rec., X., 618-647; 682-707; 826-830; 873-881. 



CORNEUUS HARNETT 73 

crowd gave vent in one prolonged cheer, and then a 
solemn hush fell upon the audience. Every ear was 
strained to catch the words that fell from the lips of 
the popular speaker. As he closed with those solemn 
words pledging the lives, the fortunes and the sacred 
honor of the people to the declaration, the tumultuous 
shouts of joy, the waving of flags, and the booming of 
cannon, proclaimed that North Carolina was prepared 
to uphold her part. As Harnett came down the plat 
form the soldiers dashed at him, seized him, and bore 
him aloft on their shoulders through the crowded 
streets, cheering him as their champion and swearing 
allegiance to the new nation. 31 

Soon after this the fifth and last provincial conven 
tion assembled at Halifax. 32 Harnett sat for Bruns 
wick county. This convention adopted the first con 
stitution of the state of North Carolina. Harnett was 
a member of the committee which drafted it and ex 
ercised a large influence in its preparation. His in 
fluence and efforts caused the insertion of that im 
perishable clause which forbids the establishment of 
a state church in North Carolina, and secures forever 
to every person in the state the right to worship God 
"according to the dictates of his own conscience." If 
Thomas Jefferson rightly considered the authorship of 
a similar clause in the Virginia constitution, one of 
the three really great events of his life, surely the 
authorship of this clause in the North Carolina con 
stitution was none the less one of the great events of 
Cornelius Harriett s useful career. But he did not 
blazon it to the world by having it recorded on his 
tomb! 



31. Jones : Defence of North Carolina, 268-69. 

32. The proceedings are printed in Col. Rec., X., 913-1003. 



74 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

This convention elected the first officers of the new 
state. Richard Caswell was elected governor. 
Harnett was elected president of the Council of 
State. 33 By the election of Caswell as governor the 
presidency of the convention became vacant, and 
Harnett was chosen to fill the vacancy. The journal 
of the last one of those remarkable conventions that 
separated North Carolina from the British Empire 
is signed by "Cornelius Harnett, President." 

Harnett was re-elected to the Council by the first 
Legislature which met under the constitution. He 
did not serve long, however, as he was soon after 
wards selected a delegate to the Continental Congress 
and resigned his seat in the Council. He took this 
action reluctantly. It meant loss of comfort and ease, 
sacrifice of both money and health, but he did not feel 
justified in declining, for purely personal reasons, 
the service the state desired of him. He, therefore, 
entered upon his duties in June, 1777, and served three 
years in Congress. A detailed account of his services 
there is impossible in this sketch. 34 They were faith 
ful and able. The field was narrow, however; the 
situation disagreeable; his health poor; and the ex 
pense of living great. He wrote to his friend Thomas 
Burke, that living in Philadelphia cost him 6,000 
more than his salary, but he adds: "Do not mention 
this complaint to any person. I am content to sit 
down with this loss and much more if my country 
requires it." He missed the comforts of home, 



33. State Rec., XL, 363; XXII., 906-909. 

34. For an account in detail see Connor : "Cornelius Harnett," 

179-192. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 75 

wearied of the quarrels and bickerings of Congress, 
suffered with the gout, until he was thoroughly worn 
out. 

In February, 1780, Harnett made his last journey 
from Philadelphia to Wilmington, "the most fatiguing 
and most disagreeable journey any old fellow ever 
took." He had not long to rest under the shade of his 
vine and fig tree as he had hoped to do. Only one 
year of life remained to him, a year of gloom, hard 
ship and suffering. The summer of 1780 was the 
gloomiest time of the war for the Americans. Charles 
ton fell, Colonel Bu fort s Virginia regiment was anni 
hilated at Waxhaws; Gates exchanged his northern 
laurels for southern willows at Camden; Ninety-Six 
was captured, and Cornwallis marched into North 
Carolina. Here came relief. On the top of King s 
Mountain came the first break in the clouds; soon 
after this Tarleton s renowned corps was cut to pieces 
at Cowpens. 

Scarcely had this good news revived the drooping 
spirits of the patriots when a great disaster befell the 
Cape Fear section. On January 29, 1781, Major 
James H. Craige, one of the most energetic officers of 
the British army, sailed into the Cape Fear river with 
a fleet of eighteen vessels and four hundred and fifty 
men. Wilmington was occupied without opposition. 
Major Craige had come with express orders to capture 
Cornelius Harnett, and one of his first expeditions 
from Wilmington was sent out for this purpose. 
Harnett was warned in time and attempted to escape ; 
but he had gone only about thirty miles when he was 
seized by a paroxysm of the gout and was compelled 
to take to his bed at the home of his friend, Colonel 
Spicer, in Onslow county. The enemy overtook him 



76 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

here, and regardless of his age and condition, flung 
him across a horse like a sack of flour, and carried him 
to Wilmington. 35 Here he was confined for three days 
in a block-house. His condition had now become so 
precarious that Craige was induced to release him on 
parole. 

He had not long to enjoy his freedom, and none 
realized it better than he. On April 28, he wrote with 
his own hands his will, bequeathing "to my beloved 
wife, Mary, all my estate, real, personal, and mixed, 
of what nature or kind whatsoever, to her, her heirs 
and assigns, forever." He then breathed his last. 

Harnett lived just outside of Wilmington. His 
house, surrounded by a grove of magnificent live-oaks, 
stood on an eminence on the east bank of the Cape 
Fear, commanding a fine view of the river. Here 
Harnett lived at ease, for he was a man of wealth, 
entertaining upon such a scale as to win a reputation 
for his hospitality, even in the hospitable Cape Fear 
country. 

"His stature," says Hooper, 36 "was about five feet 
nine inches. In his person he was rather slender than 
stout. His hair was of a light brown, and his eyes 
hazel. The contour of his face was not striking; nor 
were his features, which were small, remarkable for 
symmetry; but his countenance was pleasing, and his 



35. Catherine DeRosset Meares : Annals of the DeRosset 

Family, 50. 

36. Archibald Maclaine Hooper, grandson of Archibald Mac- 

claine, and son of George Hooper (brother of William 
Hooper), intimate friends of Harnett s. Hooper s ob 
servations may undoubtedly be regarded as presenting 
the views of those men and Harnett s other contempo 
raries whom Hooper knew. 



CORNELIUS HARNETT 

figure, though not commanding, was neither inelegant 
nor ungraceful. 

"In his private transactions he was guided by a 
spirit of probity, honor and liberality ; and in his 
political career he was animated by an ardent and 
enlightened and disinterested zeal for liberty, in 
whose cause he exposed his life and endangered his 
fortune. He had no tinge of the visionary or of the 
fanatic in the complexion of his politics. He read 
the volume of human nature and understood it/ He 
studied closely that complicated machine, man, and 
he managed it to the good of his country. That he 
sometimes adopted artifice, when it seemed necessary 
for the attainment of his purpose, may be admitted 
with little imputation on his morals and without dis 
paragement to his understanding. His general course 
of action in public life was marked by boldness and 
decision. 

"He practiced all the duties of a kind and charit 
able and elegant hospitality; and yet with all this 
liberality he was an exact and minute economist. 

"Easy in manner, affable, courteous, with a fine 
taste for letters and a genius for music, he was always 
an interesting, sometimes a fascinating companion. 

"He had read extensively, for one engaged so much 
in the bustle of the world, and he had read with a 
critical eye and inquisitive mind. ... In conversation 
he was never voluble. The tongue, an unruly member 
in most men, was in him nicely regulated by a sound 
and discriminating judgment. He paid, nevertheless, 
his full quota into the common stock, for what was 
wanting in continuity or fullness of expression, was 
supplied by a glance of his eye, the movement of his 
hand and the impressiveness of his pause. Occasion- 



78 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

ally, too, he imparted animation to his discourse by a 
characteristic smile of such peculiar sweetness and 
benignity, as enlivened every mind and cheered every 
bosom, within the sphere of its radiance. 

"Although affable in address, he was reserved in 
opinion. He could be wary and circumspect, or 
decided and daring as exigency dictated or emergency 
required. At one moment abandoned to the gratifi 
cations of sense, in the next he could recover his self- 
possession and resume his dignity. Addicted to 
pleasure, he was always ready to devote himself to 
business, and always prompt in execution. An in 
flexible republican, he was beloved and honored by 
the adherents of monarchy amid the fury of a civil war. 
. . . Such was Cornelius Harnett. Once the favorite 
of the Cape Fear and the idol of the town of Wilming 
ton, his applauses filled the ears as his character filled 
the eyes of the public/ 



IV 
RICHARD CASWELL 



In North Carolina the decade from 1744 to 1754 was 
a period of extraordinary growth and expansion. A 
tide of immigration set in which brought into the 
colony thousands of sturdy settlers who pushed the 
frontiers of the province westward from the Cape 
Fear to the foothills of the Blue Ridge. It was during 
this period that the Highlanders secured their foot 
hold on the waters of the upper Cape Fear, and the 
Scotch-Irish and Germans settled by the thousands 
among the hills and valleys of the Piedmont section. 
This in-pouring of settlers eager for fertile land made 
North Carolina at that time an attractive field for 
surveyors, and many of them came offering their 
services to the Crown and to Lord Granville in whose 
vast possessions thousands of these immigrants 
settled. 

Among those who came in 1746 seeking such em 
ployment was Richard Caswell, a native of Maryland, 
who brought a letter of introduction from the governor 
of that province to the governor of North Carolina. 
Though then but seventeen years old, Caswell had 
already become skilled in his profession, and his 
letters from the governor of Maryland induced 
Governor Johnston to offer him employment. His 
energy and skill commended him to the governor who, 
three years later, appointed him deputy-surveyor for 
the province. At that time this was one of the most 



1. A more elaborate sketch of Caswell by E. C. Brooks ap 
pears in Ashe (Ed.) : Biographical History of North 
Carolina, Vol. 3, pp. 65-80. 



80 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

important offices in the province for at every sitting 
of the Council thousands of acres were disposed of, 
and upon the skill, the activity, and the integrity of the 
surveyor depended not only the interests of the Crown 
but the security of thousands of pioneers who had 
braved all the hardships and dangers of the wilderness 
in their search for homes. The surveyor s life was 
full of hardships, dangers, and adventure. A cool 
head, steady nerves, keen eyes, and trained muscles 
were prime essentials for a successful surveyor on 
the frontier. He had to know how to repel the at 
tacks of wild beasts, to circumvent the cunning of 
the savage ; and he must be skilled in woodcraft. His 
work, too, brought him in close touch with the people, 
and he became familiar with their habits of thought. 
There could have been found no better school for the 
training of the man who was to become the civil and 
military leader of a pioneer people in a great revolu 
tion. It is interesting to note that at the same time 
that Richard Caswell was attending this school of 
experience in the wilderness of North Carolina, 
another young surveyor, a few years his junior, was 
surveying the vast estates of Lord Fairfax in the 
wilds of western Virginia. The same training that 
fitted George Washington for his career as com- 
mander-in-chief of the armies and the first chief 
executive of the United States, fitted Richard Caswell 
for similar duties in his more contracted field. 

Of North Carolinians, Richard Caswell was perhaps 
the most versatile man of his day. He was a surveyor, 
a lawyer, an orator, a statesman, and a soldier, and in 
each of these fields of activity won distinction among 
his contemporaries. In all those contests between the 
Assembly and the governor, which led up to the Revo- 



RICHARD CASWELL 81 

lution, Caswell stood in the forefront along with 
Harvey and Harnett in support of popular govern 
ment. It is not, however, Caswell s political career 
that I shall discuss today. I could not do so without 
repeating much that has already been said. It is to 
Caswell the soldier that I shall invite your attention. 
I do not subscribe to the dictum of some of our modern 
teachers and universal-peace-advocates that we should 
omit the wars of mankind from our histories and 
anathematize the soldiers of the world. For one, 
though I should like to live to see the day of universal 
peace, I shall not join with some of its enthusiasts 
in declaring that all war is "only murder" and in 
denouncing the Washingtons of history as "man- 
killers." The man who is forced to wage war in a 
righteous cause deserves well of his country: the 
soldier who goes forth to battle at his country s com 
mand deserves to be held in high honor by all who 
admire courage and self-sacrifice and patriotism. Nor 
would we get a true perspective of history were we 
to omit the wars and battles of the past. A dis 
tinguished soldier and historian once pointed out that 
there were fifteen great battles the results of which 
changed the whole course of human history. The 
most convincing evidence of the greatness of our 
revolutionary ancestors is that they were willing to 
contend in battle in defense of those principles of 
political liberty for which they contended in the 
forum. I feel, therefore, that I need not apologize 
today for inviting your attention to the career of one 
of those revolutionary soldiers whose skill and cour 
age in battle secured for us those liberties which 
Harvey and Harnett claimed for us in the halls of 
legislation. 



82 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

Caswell s first real military service was in the cam 
paign against the Regulators in 1771. 2 At that time 
he was colonel of the militia of Dobbs (now L,enoir 
and Greene) county; and when Tryon organized his 
army to march against the Regulators, Caswell led his 
militiamen to join him. The army moved out of New 
Bern April 23, and after a long march during which 
it was joined by troops from several of the interior 
counties, pitched their tents, May 14th, at Great 
Alamance Camp. The next morning, at break of day, 
the troops, leaving their tents standing, moved for 
ward to a position within half a mile of the army 
of the Regulators, and were formed into a line of 
battle. The right wing of Tryon s army was composed 
of the troops from Craven, Beaufort, New Hanover 
and Dobbs counties, and was under the command of 
Colonel Caswell. It is not necessary to go into the 
details of the battle. The outcome was the same that 
always results from a clash between a disorganized 
mob and a well-appointed army. The militia, well- 
equipped and organized, all circumstances considered, 
were commanded by an experienced officer, and the 
Regulators were driven pell-mell from the field. 

The important feature of the contest from our point 
of view is that it gave to Caswell his first real military 
experience. For some time he had been colonel of 
the militia of Dobbs county, but beyond the drilling 
of a few ill-organized farmers, he had seen nothing 
that could be called a military organization. Tryon s 
army, though numbering but little more than 1000 
men, was the largest body of troops that had ever been 



2. Col. Rec., VIII., 574-600, 660-718; State Rec., XIX., 838, 
841. For a good account of this campaign see Hay- 
wood : Governor Tryon of North Carolina, 104 et seq. 



RICHARD CAS WELL 83 

assembled in the colony. Tryon himself was a soldier 
not without military knowledge and skill. For the 
first time, therefore, except for the companies of 
rangers which guarded the frontier from the Indians, 
the militia officers of the colony saw a considerable 
body of men under arms brought together, organized 
and equipped for war ; saw them go through their 
military maneuvers, marching and counter-marching; 
saw them enter upon an extended campaign, drawn 
up in battle-lines and, finally, actually engage in a 
sanguinary battle under the command of a skillful 
leader. It was fine training for Richard Caswell and 
served to prepare him for his subsequent military 
career in the same way that the campaigns of the 
French and Indian War served to prepare a greater 
American soldier for his greater career. At Alamance, 
Caswell and the other future revolutionary soldiers of 
North Carolina, under the leadership of William 
Tryon, learned lessons in war which they were soon 
to put into use in a way that Tryon liked little enough. 

Caswell was one of the first of the Whig leaders 
to foresee that the contest between England and her 
colonies would probably result in war; and he was 
urgent in his appeals to the Provincial Congress to 
organize, equip and drill troops for the emergency. 
One of the most interesting documents of that period 
now extant is a letter which he wrote to his son from 
Philadelphia whither he had gone to take his seat in 
the second Continental Congress. In this letter he 
describes in detail the incidents of his journey, in com 
pany with Joseph Hewes, from Halifax, which he left 
April 30, to Philadelphia, where he arrived May 9th; 
and the incidents upon which he dwells reveal the 
trend of his thought. At Petersburg, Virginia, he 



84 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

and Hewes received their first news of the battle of 
Lexington, and from then on at every stage of their 
journey they met companies of hurrying and excited 
soldiers. At Hanover Court House he and Hewes 
met a body of 1,500 Virginians, under the command 
of Patrick Henry, on their way to Williamsburg to 
force Governor Dunmore to restore some powder and 
arms that he had captured. After that, as Caswell 
wrote, they "were constantly meeting armed men who 
had been to escort the delegates of Virginia on their 
way" to Philadelphia. When they reached the 
Potomac river, over which the Virginia delegates had 
just passed, they found the militia of three counties, 
in their uniforms of hunting shirts, drawn up under 
arms. As soon as the Virginia soldiers learned of the 
arrival of the Carolinians, they marched out to receive 
them, and to escort them to the water s edge, as Cas 
well wrote, "with all the military honors due to gen 
eral officers." At Port Tobacco in Maryland, they 
met one of the Maryland independent companies who, 
declared Caswell, "made a most glorious appearance. 
Their company consisted of 68 men beside officers 
all genteelly dressed in scarlet and well equipped with 
arms and war-like implements, with drum and fife." 
Here they also overtook the Virginia delegates. "The 
next morning," writes Caswell, "we all set out together 
and were attended by the Independents to the verge of 
their county, where they delivered us to another com 
pany of Independents, in Prince George county, they 
in like manner to a second, and that to a third, which 
brought us through their county. We lodged that 
night at Marlborough ; and the next day, though we 
met with a most terrible gust, lightning, thunder, 
wind, hail and rain, arrived at Baltimore, at the 



RICHARD CASWELL 85 

entrance of which town we were received by four 
Independent Companies who conducted us with their 
colors flying, drums beating and fifes playing, to our 
lodging at the Fountain Tavern. The next day we 
were prevailed on to stay at Baltimore where Colonel 
Washington accompanied by the rest of the delegates 
received the troops. They have four companies of 68 
men each, who go through their exercises extremely 
clever." At Philadelphia, Caswell found that "a 
greater martial spirit prevails if possible than I have 
been describing in Virginia and Maryland. They had 
28 companies complete which make near 2000 men 
who march out to the command and go through their 
exercises twice a day regularly. Scarce anything but 
warlike music is to be heard in the streets." 

All these preparations the clash of arms, the 
glitter of bayonets, the roll of drums, the tramp of 
soldiers, the military honors with which he had been 
everywhere greeted aroused Caswell s military ardor 
and fired his ambition. He made no secret of his joy 
at the prospects of war and military renown, and 
urged his son to show his letter to his friends in North 
Carolina and stir them to action. "Show them 
this letter," he wrote, "and tell them it will be a re 
flection on their country to be behind their neighbors, 
that it is indispensably necessary for them to arm and 
form into a company or companies of independents. 
When their companies are full 68 private men each 
to elect officers, viz, a captain, two lieutenants, an 
ensign and subalterns and to meet as often as possible 
and go through the exercises. Receive no man but 
such as can be depended on, at the same time reject 
none who will not discredit the company. If I live to 
return I shall most cheerfully join any of my country- 



86 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

men, even as a rank and file man, and . . . that or any 
other difficulties, I shall not shun whilst I have any 
blood in my veins, but freely offer it in support of the 
liberties of my country. . . . You my dear boy must 
become a soldier and risk your life in support of those 
invaluable blessings which once lost, posterity will 
never be able to regain. Some men, I fear, will start 
objections to the enrolling of companies and exercising 
the men and will say it will be acting against the 
government. That may be answered that it is not so, 
that we are only qualifying ourselves and preparing to 
defend our country and support our liberties." 3 

The two most important matters that came before 
the Provincial Congress of August, 1775, were the 
formation of a temporary government and the organi 
zation of an army. 4 The first of these problems, as 
I pointed out in my account of the career of Cornelius 
Harnett, was met by creating the Provincial Council 
and the system of committees of safety. After this 
the Congress took up the military situation. "Our 
principal debates," wrote Samuel Johnston, president 
of Congress, "will be about raising troops." As a 
preliminary to this step, the Congress first issued 
what we may not inaptly call a declaration of war. 
They declared that whereas "hostilities being actually 
commenced in Massachusetts Bay by the British 
troops under the command of General Gage; . . . and 
whereas his Excellency Governor Martin hath taken 
a very ?ctive and instrumental share in opposition to 
the means which have been adopted by this and the 
other United Colonies for the common safety, . . . 



3. Col. Rec., IX., 1247-1250. 

4. Col. Rec., X., 164-220. 



RICHARD CASWELL 87 

Therefore [be it resolved that] this colony be im 
mediately put into a state of defence." 3 Accordingly 
it was ordered that two regiments, of 500 men 
each, be raised for the continental army which the 
Continental Congress had determined to raise and 
over which Washington had been placed in command. 
Colonel James Moore, of New Hanover, and Colonel 
Robert Howe, of Brunswick, were put in command 
of these troops. 6 The province was then divided into 
six military districts, and in each of these a regiment 
of 500 men was to be raised. When called into active 
service these troops were to be under the same dis 
cipline and regulations as the continental troops. 7 
They differed from the militia in that, until inde 
pendence should be declared, the militia were subject 
to the orders of the royal governor ; these independent 
troops were subject to the orders only of the revolu 
tionary government. Thus 4000 troops were ordered 
to be raised by Congress for resistance to the Crown. 
In addition to these, authority was given for the en 
listment of companies of minute men, and provision 
was made for a more effective organization of the 
militia. It was also ordered "that a bounty of twenty- 
five shillings be allowed for each private man and non 
commissioned officer to buy a hunting-shirt, leggings, 
or splater-dashes and black garters, which shall be 
the uniform." 

In all these military arrangements, Caswell had 
taken a prominent part; and when Congress came to 
select officers to command these troops, his services 



5. Col. Rec., X., 185-186. 

6. Col. Rec., X., 186-187. 

7. Col. Rec., X., 196-200. 



88 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

were duly acknowledged by his being elected colonel 
of the New Bern district. 8 Preferring a military 
career to political service, he resigned his seat in the 
Continental Congress, and took prompt and energetic 
measures to raise, arm, equip and drill his regiment. 
The time in which he had to work was short, for 
Governor Martin was also actively at work organizing 
the Royalists for the subjugation of the colony. 
Within less than six months after his appointment to 
his command, Caswell came into collision with 
Martin s Royalists at Moore s Creek Bridge and 
fought there a battle on which hung the fate of all 
the southern colonies. 

Governor Martin, as we have seen, had fled from 
the governor s palace at New Bern and taken refuge 
in Fort Johnston near the mouth of Cape Fear river. 
From Fort Johnston he was driven to seek refuge on 
board the king s sloop-of-war Cruiser, stationed in the 
Cape Fear. Almost at the very moment of his flight, 
Lord Dartmouth, secretary of state for the colonies* 
was writing to him: "I hope his Majesty s govern 
ment in North Carolina may be preserved, and his 
governor and other officers not reduced to the dis 
graceful necessity of seeking protection on board the 
king s ships." 9 Smarting keenly under the disgrace of 
his flight to the Cruiser, Martin determined to leave 
no stone unturned by which he might restore himself 
to the good graces of the king. He busied himself 
with perfecting a well-conceived plan for the reduc 
tion of the four southern colonies Virginia, North 



8. Col. Rec., X., 205. 

9. Col. Rec., X., 90. 



RICHARD CASWELL 89 

Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Briefly his 
plan was as follows : 

He proposed to raise an army of 10,000 Tories, 
Regulators and Scotch Highlanders in the interior of 
North Carolina and to assemble them at Wilmington 
about the middle of February, 1776. There they were 
to be joined by seven regiments of British regulars 
from Ireland under the command of Lord Cornwallis, 
supported by a fleet of seventy-two vessels under Sir 
Peter Parker. Sir Henry Clinton, with an additional 
force of 2,000 regulars from the British army at 
Boston, was to sail for the Cape Fear and take com 
mand of the campaign. Martin represented to the 
king that the great majority of the people of North 
Carolina were Loyalists at heart, and when this force 
should assemble in the Cape Fear, they would rise in 
their might, overthrow the rebel government, restore 
the royal authority in North Carolina, and then with 
this province as a base of operation proceed to the 
conquest of the other southern colonies. The plan 
was received with favor by the king, who ordered it 
to be carried into execution. 10 Had it succeeded, there 
can be little doubt that Virginia, North Carolina, 
South Carolina, and Georgia would have been 
crushed, and the Revolution ended before it had well 
begun. That it did not succeed was due to the skill 
and energy of Richard Caswell and his regiment of 
independent companies. 

The middle of February was the time set for the 
conjunction of the forces at Wilmington. Accord - 



10. Col. Rec., X., 45-47, 89-91, 230-237, 247-248, 264-278, 299- 
300, 306-308, 313-314, 325-328, 364, 396-397. 406-409, 412- 
413, 420-421, 428-431, 441-445, 452-454, 465-468. 



90 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

ingly Governor Martin ordered the Loyalists to press 
down on Brunswick by February 15th. He was in 
formed that the Regulators and Highlanders were 
fast collecting and that they would place him in pos 
session of the rebellious town of Wilmington by 
February 25th. General Donald McDonald, a dis 
tinguished veteran of Culloden, had been sent from 
Boston to take command of the Highlanders, and on 
February 18th with an army of 1600 men, he set out 
from Cross Creek and took the road on the west bank 
of the Cape Fear for Wilmington and Brunswick. 

In the meantime the Whig leaders had been making 
active preparations to meet the danger. Colonel 
James Moore, with the first regiment of continentals, 
had taken a strong position on Rockfish creek, a small 
stream a few miles south of Cross Creek, and there 
awaited the approach of the Highlanders. McDonald s 
object was to reach Brunswick and he wished, if pos 
sible, to avoid a battle. Accordingly, finding Moore s 
position too strong to be taken without a bloody con 
test, he fell back to Cross Creek, crossed to the east 
bank of Cape Fear river, and took the Negro Head 
Point to Wilmington with the Cape Fear between 
him and Colonel Moore. This road crossed Moore s 
creek on a bridge about sixteen miles north of Wil 
mington. 

In the meantime several Whig forces were hurrying 
to the scene of action. Colonel Alexander Martin 
was approaching with a small force from Guilford 
county; Colonel James Thackston with another force 
was hurrying up from the southwest; Colonels 
Alexander Lillington and John Ashe, with 250 men, 
were coming from Wilmington; and Colonel Richard 
Caswell was making a forced march through the 



RICHARD CASWELL 91 

country with 800 militia and independents from the 
New Bern district. In the afternoon of February 26, 
Caswell took a position at the west end of Moore s 
Creek Bridge, on the same side of the stream toward 
which McDonald was approaching, while Ashe and 
Lillington, with 250 troops, held the east end. The 
three, when united, had together about 1100 men; 
McDonald was approaching with 1600 well-trained 
Highlanders. 

During the night the Highlanders reached within 
striking distance of Caswell s camp. McDonald was 
pleased to find that Caswell had made his camp with 
Moore s creek in his rear and between his force and 
that of Lillington and Ashe and he anticipated an 
easy victory. He accordingly formed his line of battle 
and awaited the dawn of day with confidence. But 
Caswell was not so simple minded as the Highland 
chief imagined. Having deceived McDonald into 
believing that he intended to receive the attack with 
the creek in his rear, during the night Caswell left his 
camp fires burning, as Washington afterwards did at 
Trenton (a fact which Caswell s friends commented 
on at the time), 11 crossed the bridge under cover of 
darkness, and took up a new position in conjunction 
With the forces of Lillington and Ashe. When the 
Highlanders advanced to the attack at daybreak, they 
were surprised to find Caswell s camp deserted, and 



11. Thomas Burke, delegate to the Continental Congress, writ 
ing Jan. 27, 1777, to Caswell, of Washington s victory 
at Trenton, says : "Washington practiced the same ex 
pedient to deceive the enemy, which you, Sir, did at 
Moore s Creek Bridge and while his fires were burning 
he decamped, passed the enemy, and surprised three 
battalions of Hessians which were in the rear." State 
Rec., XL, 368. 



92 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

believing their enemy had fled they rushed forward 
without order. They were met by a well-directed fire 
from the Americans which, after a few minutes, drove 
them back with a heavy loss. The victory could not 
have been more complete. More than seventy of the 
Highlanders were killed, and so vigorously did Cas- 
well press his advantage that more than half of their 
number were made prisoners of war, including their 
commanding general. Caswell s loss was one killed 
and one wounded. The Highlanders never recovered 
from this blow and remained neutral during the re 
mainder of the war. 12 

Thus Governor Martin measured the military 
strength of the province and was disastrously beaten. 
Clinton and Cornwallrs came with their powerful 
armaments, but finding nobody to welcome them at 
Cape Fear, save a beaten and dispirited governor, they 
sailed away to beat in vain against the log walls of 
Fort Moultrie. Very different would have been the 
history of North Carolina, and in all probability the 
history of the United States, if the battle of Moore s 
creek had resulted differently. If the Highlanders 
had defeated Caswell, Clinton and Cornwallis would 
have been received at Wilmington by an army of ten 
thousand Loyalists and North Carolina would surely 
have been subjugated, while South Carolina and 
Georgia would have been overrun in the summer of 
1776 instead of in the summer of 1779. Of the effects 
of this victory, Bancroft writes: 



12. Col. Rec., X., 482, 483-484, 485, 486-493 ; State Rec., XL, 
383. For an excellent account of the battle of Moore s 
Creek see Noble, M. C. S. : Battle of Moore s Creek 
Bridge, North Carolina Booklet, Vol. Ill, No. 11, re 
printed in Peele, W. J. (Ed.) : Literary and Historical 
Activities in North Carolina, 1900-1905, pp. 215-238. 



RICHARD CAS WELL 93 

"In less than a fortnight, more than nine thousand 
four hundred men of North Carolina rose against the 
enemy; and the coming of Clinton inspired no terror. 
. . . Almost every man was ready to turn out at an 
hour s warning. . . . Virginia offered assistance, and 
South Carolina would gladly have contributed relief ; 
but North Carolina had men enough of her own to 
crush insurrection and guard against invasion; and 
as they marched in triumph through their piney 
forests, they were persuaded that in their own woods 
they could win an easy victory over British regulars. 
The terrors of a fate like that of Norfolk could not 
dismay the patriots of Wilmington; the people spoke 
more and more of independence; and the Provincial 
Congress, at its impending session was expected to 
give an authoritative form to the prevailing desire." 1 

When this Congress met at Halifax in April, 1776, 
it unanimously adopted the following resolution : 

"Resolved, That the thanks of this Congress be 
given to Colonel Richard Caswell, and the brave 
officers and soldiers under his command, for the very 
essential service by them rendered this country at the 
battle of Moore s Creek." 14 

The tide of war now turned away from North Caro 
lina and during the next four years the state was free 
both from invasion from without and from insurrec 
tion from within. Her troops however marched 
northward and joined the Continental Army under 
Washington. In the meantime Caswell had been 
elected governor, and during these years bent all of 



13. History of the United States (Ed. of 1860), VIII., 289- 

290. 

14. Col. Rec., X., 513, 515-516. 



94 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

his energy to keep the state s regiments up to their full 
quotas and to keep them properly armed and equipped. 
Under the stimulus of his activity iron works sprung 
up in the state, gun factories were established, powder 
mills were set up, privateers patrolled the coast and 
brought in supplies from the West Indies, and large 
quantities of arms, ammunition, clothes, and food 
were sent to supply Washington s suffering veterans. 
At all times he was solicitous for the conduct and wel 
fare of the North Carolina troops. To his son, serv 
ing under Washington in the battles around Philadel 
phia, he wrote: "Do tell me of the conduct and be 
havior of the North Carolina men how some of them 
have fallen, whether bravely or otherwise. Though 
the latter, I flatter myself, you will have no account 
to give, yet if you have, I wish to know it." 15 

In the autumn of 1778 the South again became the 
scene of war. Having failed in their campaign against 
New England and the Middle Atlantic colonies, the 
king and ministry determined to make another attempt 
on the Carolinas and Georgia. "If the rebellion could 
not be broken at the center, it was hoped that it might 
at least be frayed away at the edges; and should 
fortune so far smile upon the royal armies as to give 
them Virginia also, perhaps the campaigns against 
the wearied North might be renewed at some later 
time and under better auspices." 16 This plan came 
dangerously near to being successful. Savannah, 
Augusta, Charleston, Ninety-Six and other strategic 
points one after another fell into the hands of the 
British, and South Carolina and Georgia were reduced 



15. State Rec., XV., 707. 

16. Fiske: The American Revolution, II., 163-164. 



RICHARD CAS WELL 95 

once more to royal rule. It was not until Cornwallis 
turned his arms against North Carolina that his 
victorious career was checked. 

As soon as it was learned that an invasion of 
Georgia and South Carolina was intended, those two 
colonies turned to North Carolina for assistance. At 
their request the Continental Congress, September 25, 
1778, passed a resolution urging Virginia to send 1000 
troops, and North Carolina to send 3,000, "without 
loss of time," to the aid of South Carolina and 
Georgia; and at the special request of the former 
state, adopted the following resolution: 

Resolved, That in case Governor Caswell shall find 
it consistent with the duties of his station, and shall 
be inclined to march to the aid of South Carolina and 
Georgia, at the head of the North Carolina troops, he 
shall, while on this expedition, have the rank and pay 
of major-general in the army of the United States of 
America." 17 

The troops were sent, but fortunately for the state 
Caswell could not go with them. He accordingly 
appointed General John Ashe to the command; and 
Ashe and his entire army, through the folly of the 
commander-in-chief, General Benjamin Lincoln, were 
captured at the fall of Charleston. 

After the fall of Charleston there was not the 
vestige of an American army in the South. Georgia 
and South Carolina lay crushed under the heels of the 
British army, and the hope of the American cause lay 
in North Carolina. Toward this state, therefore, 
Lord Cornwallis now turned his victorious arms. 



17. Ford, W. C. (Ed.) : Journals of the Continental Congress, 
XII., 950; State Rec., XXII., 983, 984, 986. 



96 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

Caswell s third successive term as governor expired 
in April, 1780, and he could not succeed himself. 
Accordingly, in view of the crisis which the state was 
facing, he was commissioned major-general and given 
command of all the North Carolina militia. 18 He set 
himself energetically to arouse the state to a sense of 
her danger and responsibility, and to collect the militia 
to repel the threatened invasion. How well he suc 
ceeded, Governor Josiah Martin describes more 
effectively than I can. Writing to the secretary of 
state, August 18, 1780, immediately after the battle of 
Camden, he says : 

"The state of our affairs in this country, in the hour 
of this memorable action, was so delicate and full of 
embarrassment and difficulty as can be imagined. 
From the time the rebel army assembled at Hills- 
borough, early in June, every devise had been prac 
ticed upon the adherents of the usurpation in this 
province to prepare them for a new revolt ; and it ap 
pears that they were found very generally prone to 
the enemy s purpose as they could wish for. By the 
latter end of July, or sooner, they were joining the 
rebel armies, or arming against us more or less in all 
quarters of it. ... The main body of the enemy s army 
marched by the North Carolina militia under Caswell, 
crossed the Pedee about the 1st or 2nd inst., by their 
approach spreading such terror and dismay among the 
well affected as intimidated all the ordinary as well as 
extraordinary spies employed by Lord Rawdon to a 
degree so great that every channel of intelligence 
failed him, a circumstance I could have scarcely be 
lieved if I had not been witness to the fact." 19 



18. State Rec., XVIL, 678, 681 ; XXIV., 341. 

19. State Rec., XV., 49-56. 



RICHARD CASWELL 97 

It is perhaps idle to speculate as to what would have 
been the result of this campaign if Caswell had been 
left in command. As it was, the Continental Congress 
sent General Horatio Gates to Hillsboro, and being an 
officer in the Continental Army he superseded Caswell. 
It was an unlucky choice. Gates, hailed throughout 
the country as the "hero of Saratoga," was puffed up 
with an enlarged sense of his own importance, and 
would listen to advice from nobody. He chose first 
one route of advance, then another ; one day he pressed 
forward rashly, another he hesitated; he vacillated 
between this plan and that, until the whole army, 
which had set forward in confidence, was filled with a 
spirit of unrest and uncertainty. He ignored the use 
of cavalry and as a consequence was in total ignorance 
of Lord Cornwallis movements. Suddenly, about 
two o clock in the night of August 15th, his army, 
while leisurely on the march, came unexpectedly into 
collision with the British army which had set out to 
surprise Gates. Both armies then lay on their arms 
awaiting the break of day. Gates formed his line of 
battle, with the Maryland and Delaware continentals 
on his right, the North Carolina militia under Caswell 
in the center, and the Virginia militia on the left. The 
battle opened with an assault on the Virginia troops 
by Cornwallis right, composed of disciplined British 
regulars. They drove the Virginians in confusion 
from the field and then turned on Caswell s flank 
while at the same time he was assaulted by another 
brigade in the front. His inexperienced troops, unable 
to withstand this double attack, soon gave way in re 
treat, which quickly became a rout. Caswell 
struggled manfully to rally his broken lines, but in 
vain. The Maryland troops, and Dixon s regiment of 



98 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

North Carolina militia, made a determined stand, 
fought like veterans, and retreated from the field in 
good order. As for the rest of the army, it fled in the 
wildest confusion, bringing to a shameful close the 
worst defeat ever suffered by an American army. 
Gates and Caswell hurried to Hillsboro to collect the 
fragments and save what they could from the wreck. 

After this defeat the tide of public sentiment in 
North Carolina for a time turned strongly against Cas 
well and he was superseded in command of the militia 
by General William Smallwood, an experienced Mary 
land officer. This appointment was received with 
great indignation by the North Carolina officers. 20 
The new year, 1781, opened under a dark cloud for the 
American cause. The British held Wilmington, Char 
lotte, Hillsboro, and it appeared that there was nothing 
to prevent their moving at will wheresoever they de 
sired. Caswell had been elected to the Senate from 
Dobbs county, and now again, in this hour of gloom, 
the state turned to him for counsel and guidance. He 
was requested to recommend proper measures for the 
defense of the state. The measure he suggested was 
that the Legislature should appoint "a council extra 
ordinary, to consist of three men in whom the Legisla 
ture can place the highest confidence, to advise his 
Excellency in the exigencies of the state, and that the 
governor, with the advice of any two of them, be in 
vested with full power to take such measures as shall 
be deemed necessary for the defense and preservation 
of the state in all cases whatsoever." 21 This sugges- 



20. State Rec., XIV., 400, 401, 402, 419, 425-426, 435, 771, 772, 

785, 787; XV., 131. 

21. State Rec., XVII., 658, 676, 745, 746, 756, 757, 774; XXIV., 

378-379. 



RICHARD CAS WELL, 99 

tion was adopted by the Legislature which chose Cas- 
well, Alexander Martin, and Allen Jones as members 
of the Council. At the same time the Legislature 
adopted a resolution declaring that the appointment of 
General Smallwood to the command of the North 
Carolina militia, was not intended as any reflection on 
General Caswell but that "as there were sundry and 
sufficient reasons why Major-General Caswell could 
not immediately take the field, that Brigadier-General 
Smallwood, being the oldest brigadier in the Southern 
Department, should take the command of the militia 
in his absence." 22 Desirous, therefore, of utilizing his 
services for the state and of restoring him to his rank 
and command, the two houses of the Legislature 
adopted the following resolution: 

"Whereas, it is essential to the public service and a 
measure that will tend to draw a large force into the 
field, that an officer of ability, integrity, and experi 
ence, should take the command of the militia. 

"Resolved unanimously, That Richard Caswell, Esq., 
be appointed a major-general in the Continental Army, 
in a separate department, and that he be requested to 
take command and call on the several continental 
officers in this state not on duty, requiring them to 
assist in the immediate defense of the same, and to 
appoint them to such commands as he shall find nec 
essary, which may tend to promote order and discipline 
in the militia, give satisfaction to the regular and not 
disgust the militia officers." 

Thus Caswell was given entire control over the 
military affairs of the state. He did not, however, 
again take the field. Elected chairman of the Council 

22. State Rec., XVII., 670-671. 



100 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

Extraordinary, his time and energies were consumed 
in administrative affairs. It was largely through his 
efforts in raising and equipping troops, collecting and 
forwarding ammunition and supplies, that General 
Greene was enabled to turn on Cornwallis at Guilford 
Court House and check his victorious advance. In 
this work Caswell continued active until the last 
British soldier had left the state forever. 

Of Caswell s civil and political services I have not 
had time to speak. He served the state in almost 
every capacity possible. In closing this account of his 
career, I cannot do better than quote the following 
somewhat exaggerated summary of his biographer : 

"Richard Caswell, surveyor, lawyer, legislator, 
speaker of the Assembly, colonel, treasurer, delegate 
to the Continental Congress, president of the Provin 
cial Congress, brigadier-general, major-general, chair 
man of the Council Extraordinary, speaker of the 
Senate, comptroller-general and governor, was more 
variously honored by the people of North Carolina 
than any other citizen before or since his day. He 
was distinguished as a lawyer, and as a legislator none 
has excelled him in statecraft, judging from his popu 
larity and continued power. As a war governor he 
had a popularity, a power and efficiency that made him 
at least the equal of Vance, who stands unsurpassed 
in modern history. As a military officer, in organizing 
and equipping troops for service, North Carolina has 
never produced a man who had such control among 
so many difficulties. Nathaniel Macon, who received 
his first training in statecraft under Richard Caswell, 
says of him : Governor Caswell of Lenoir was one of 



RICHARD CASWELL 101 

the most powerful men that ever lived in this or any 
other country. As a statesman, his patriotism was 
unquestioned, his discernment was quick, his judg 
ment sound; as a soldier, his courage was undaunted, 
his vigilance untiring, his success triumphant." 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 



On the east coast of Scotland, twelve miles from the 
confluence of the Firth of Tay with the German 
Ocean, lies the ancient town of Dundee, in population 
third, in commercial importance second among the 
cities of Scotland. The general appearance of Dundee, 
we are told, is picturesque and pleasing, and its sur 
rounding scenery beautiful and inspiring. Thrift, 
intelligence, and independence are characteristics of 
its inhabitants. It is noted for its varied industrial 
enterprises, and from time immemorial has been 
famous among the cities of Britain for its extensive 
linen manufactures. A long line of men eminent in 
war, in statecraft, in law,and in letters adorns its annals. 
Its history carries us back to the time of the Crusades. 
In the twelfth century it received a charter as a royal 
borough from the hand of King William the Lion. 
Within its walls William Wallace was educated, and 
there he struck his first blow against the domination of 
England. In the great Reformation of the sixteenth 
century its inhabitants took such an active and leading 
part as to earn for their town the appellation of "the 
Scottish Geneva/ During the civil wars of the fol 
lowing century they twice gave over their property to 
pillage and themselves to massacre rather than submit 
to the tyranny of the House of Stuart. But in every 
crisis the indomitable spirit of Dundee rose superior 
to disaster and her people adhered to their convictions 
with a loyalty that never faltered and a faith that 
never failed. 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 103 

In this fine old city, among its true and loyal people, 
the ancestors of Samuel Johnston lived, and here, in 
1733, he himself was born. The spirit of Dundee, its 
loyalty to principle, its unconquerable courage, its 
inflexible adherence to duty, entered into his soul at 
his very birth, and developed and strengthened as he 
grew in years and in powers of body and mind. 
Throughout his life he displayed in public and in 
private affairs many of those qualities of mind and 
character which have given the Scotch, though small 
in number, such a large place in the world s history. 
Says Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge, "six centuries of bitter 
struggle for life and independence, waged continuously 
against nature and man, not only made the Scotch 
formidable in battle, renowned in every camp in 
Europe, but developed qualities of mind and character 
which became inseparable from the race. . . . Under 
the stress of all these centuries of trial they learned 
to be patient and persistent, with a fixity of purpose 
which never weakened, a tenacity which never slack 
ened, and a determination which never wavered. The 
Scotch intellect, passing through the same severe 
ordeals, as it was quickened, tempered, and sharpened, 
so it acquired a certain relentlessness in reasoning 
which it never lost. It emerged at last complete, 
vigorous, acute, and penetrating. With all these strong 
qualities of mind and character was joined an intensity 
of conviction which burned beneath the cool and 
calculating manner of which the stern and unmoved 
exterior gave no sign, like the fire of a furnace, rarely 
flaming, but giving forth a fierce and lasting heat." 1 



1. Address in the United States Senate, March 12, 1910, upon 
the presentation to the United States by the State of 
South Carolina, of a statue of John C. Calhoun. 



104 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

Had the author of these fine lines had the character 
of Samuel Johnston in his mind s eye, as he did have 
that of another eminent Scotch-descended Carolinian, 
his description could not have been more accurate. 

In the great crises of our history in which he figured 
so largely, immediately following the American Revo 
lution, Samuel Johnston with keen penetrating vision 
saw more clearly than any of his colleagues the true 
nature of the problem confronting them. This prob 
lem was, on the one hand, to preserve in America the 
fundamental principles of English liberty against the 
encroachments of the British Parliament, and on the 
other, to secure the guarantees of law and order 
against the well-meant but ill-considered schemes of 
honest but ignorant reformers. For a full quarter of 
a century he pursued both of these ends, patiently and 
persistently, "with a fixity of purpose which never 
weakened, a tenacity which never slackened, and a 
determination which never wavered." Neither the 
wrath of a royal governor, threatening withdrawal of 
royal favor and deprivation of office, nor the fierce 
and unjust denunciations of party leaders, menacing 
him with loss of popular support and defeat at the 
polls, could swerve him one inch from the path of his 
public duty as he understood it. Beneath his cool and 
calculating manner burned "an intensity of conviction" 
which gave him in the fullest degree that rarest of all 
virtues in men who serve the public I mean courage, 
courage to fight the battles of the people, if need be, 
against the people themselves. Of course Johnston 
never questioned the right of the people to decide 
public questions as they chose, but he frequently 
doubted the wisdom of their decisions; and when a 
doubt arose in his mind he spoke his sentiments with- 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 105 

out fear or favor and no appeal or threat could move 
him. He was ready on all occasions to maintain his 
positions with a "relentlessness in reasoning" that 
carried conviction and out of defeat invariably wrung 
ultimate victory. More than once in his public career 
the people, when confronted by his immovable will, 
in fits of party passion discarded his leadership for 
that of more compliant leaders; but only in their 
calmer moments to turn to him again to point the way 
out of the mazes into which their folly had entangled 
them. 

A Scotchman by birth, Samuel Johnston was fortu 
nate in his ancestral inheritance; an American by 
adoption, he was equally fortunate in his rearing and 
education. In early infancy 2 his lot was cast in North 



2. In his third year. His parents, Samuel and Helen (Scry- 
moure) Johnston came to North Carolina some time 
prior to May 25, 1735. Colonial Records of North 
Carolina, IV., 9. They probably accompanied Samuel s 
brother, Gabriel, who became governor of the colony, 
November 2, 1734. McRee incorrectly gives the name 
of Governor Samuel Johnston s father as John. Ire- 
dell, I., 36. Letters of his at "Hayes" show that his 
name was Samuel. See also Grimes : Abstracts of 
North Carolina Wills, 187, 188; and Col. Rec., IV., 
1080, 1110. He resided in Onslow county, but owned 
large tracts of land not only in Onslow, but also in 
Craven, Bladen, New Hanover, and Chowan. Col. Rec., 
IV., 72, 219, 222, 329, 594, 601, 628, 650, 800, 805, 1249. 
He was a justice of the peace in New Hanover, Bla 
den, Craven, and Onslow. Col. Rec., IV., 218, 275, 
346, 347, 814, 1239. He served also as collector of the 
customs at the port of Brunswick. Col. Rec., IV., 395, 
725, 998, 1287; and as road commissioner for Onslow 
county, State Records, XXIIL, 221. His will dated No 
vember 13, 1756, was probated in January, 1757. Ab 
stracts, 188. His wife having died of childbirth in 1751 
(letter to his son), his family at the time of his death 
consisted of two sons, Samuel and John, and five 
daughters, Jane, Penelope, Isabelle, Ann, and Hannah. 
To his sons he devised 6,500 acres of land, and to his 
daughters land and slaves. Abstracts, 188. 



106 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

Carolina, the most democratic of the American 
colonies, and whatever tendency this fact may have 
given him toward democratic ideals was later 
strengthened by a New England education 3 and by his 
legal studies. At the age of twenty-one he became a 
resident of Edenton, then a small village of four or 
five hundred inhabitants, but the industrial, political, 
and social center for a large and fertile section of the 
province. Its leading inhabitants were men and 
women of wealth, education, and culture. Their 
social intercourse was easy, simple, and cordial. 
Cards, billiards, backgammon, dancing, tea-drinking, 
hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports, were their 
chief amusements. They read with appreciative in 
sight the best literature of the day, welcomed with 
eager delight the periodical appearance of the Specta 
tor and the Tatler, and followed with sympathetic in 
terest the fortunes of Sir Charles Grandison and 
Clarissa Harlowe. They kept in close touch with 
political events in England, studied critically the 
Parliamentary debates, and among themselves dis 
cussed great constitutional questions with an ability 
that would have done honor to the most learned 



3. Governor Josiah Martin, writing of Johnston, to Lord 
George Germain, May 17, 1777, says : "This Gentle 
man, my Lord, was educated in New England, where 
. . . it may be supposed he received that bent to De 
mocracy which he has manifested upon all occasions." 
Col. Rec., X., 401. Letters from his father, addressed 
to him while he was at school in New Haven, Conn., 
bear dates from 1750 to 1753. I have not yet been able 
to ascertain what school he attended. There are refer 
ences in these letters which seem to refer to Yale Col 
lege as the institution which he was attending, but the 
records of Yale University do not contain Governor 
Johnston s name among its students. In 1754 he went 
to Edenton to study law under Thomas Barker. 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 107 

lawyers of the highest courts of Great Britain.* With 
in the town and its immediate vicinity dwelt John 
Harvey, Joseph Hewes, Edward Buncombe, Stephen 
Cabarrus, and after 1768, James Iredell. Preceding 
Iredell by a little more than a decade came Samuel 
Johnston, possessed of an ample fortune, a vigorous 
and penetrating intellect, and a sound and varied learn 
ing which soon won for him a place of pre-eminence 
in the province. "He bore," says McRee, "the greatest 
weight of care and labor as the mountain its crown of 
granite. His powerful frame was a fit engine for the 
vigorous intellect that gave it animation. Strength 
was his characteristic. In his relations to the public, 
an inflexible sense of duty and justice dominated. 
There was a remarkable degree of self-reliance and 
majesty about the man. His erect carriage and his 
intolerance of indolence, meanness, vice, and wrong, 
gave to him an air of sternness. He commanded the 
respect and admiration, but not the love of the people." 5 
At Edenton, surrounded by a group of loyal friends, 
Johnston entered upon the practice of his profession 
and in 1759 began a public career which, for length 
of service, extremes of political fortune, and lasting 
contributions to the welfare of the state, still stands 
unsurpassed in our history. 

Johnston was twelve times elected to the General 
Assembly, serving from 1759 to 1775 inclusive. On 
April 25, 1768, he was appointed clerk of the court 
for the Edenton district. In 1770 he was appointed 
deputy naval officer of the province, but was removed 
by Governor Martin, November 16, 1775, on account 



4. See the picture of Edenton society drawn by James Iredell 

in his diary printed in McRee s Iredell. 

5. Life and Correspondence of James Iredell, I., 37-38. 



108 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

of his activity in the revolutionary movement. Decem 
ber 8, 1773, he was selected as one of the Committee 
of Continental Correspondence appointed by the Gen 
eral Assembly. He served in the first four provincial 
congresses, which met August 25, 1774, April 3, 1775, 
August 20, 1775, and April 4, 1776. Of the third and 
fourth he was elected president. The Congress, Sep 
tember 8, 1775, elected him treasurer for the northern 
district. September 9, 1775, he was elected as the 
member-at-large of the Provincial Council, the execu 
tive body of the revolutionary government. The 
Provincial Council, October 20, 1775, elected him 
paymaster of troops for the Edenton district. Decem 
ber 21, 1776, he was appointed by the Provincial Con 
gress a commissioner to codify the laws of the state. 
In 1779, 1783, 1784 he represented Chowan county in 
the state Senate. The General Assembly, July 12, 
1781, elected him a delegate to the Continental Con 
gress. In 1785 the states of New York and Massachu 
setts selected him as one of the commissioners to 
settle a boundary line dispute between them. He was 
three times elected governor of North Carolina, 
December 12, 1787, November 11, 1788, and Novem 
ber 14, 1789. He resigned the governorship in 
December 1789 to accept election to the United 
States Senate, being the first senator from North Caro 
lina. In 1788 and 1789 he was president of the two 
constitutional conventions, at Hillsboro and Fayette- 
ville, called to consider the ratification of the Federal 
Constitution. December 11, 1789 he was elected a 
trustee of the University of North Carolina. From 
1800 to 1803 he served as superior court judge. He 
died in 1816. 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 109 

Johnston s public career covered a period of forty- 
four years and embraced every branch of the public 
service. As legislator, as delegate to four provincial 
congresses, as president of two constitutional conven 
tions, as member of the Continental Congress, as 
judge, as governor, as United States senator, he 
rendered services to the state and the nation which 
rank him second to none among the statesmen of 
North Carolina. 

You are of course familiar with the principal events 
which led up to the outbreak of the Revolution. 
Johnston watched the course of these events with the 
keenest interest and the most profound insight. 
From the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 he main 
tained a firm and decided stand against every step 
taken by the British ministry to subject the colonies 
in their local affairs to the jurisdiction of Parliament. 
A special significance attaches to his services. His 
birth in Scotland, his residence in North Carolina, his 
education in Connecticut, his intimate correspondence 
with friends in England, all served to lift him above 
any narrow, contracted, local view of the contest and 
fitted him to be what he certainly was, the leader in 
North Carolina in the great continental movement 
which finally resulted in the American Union. Union 
was the great bugbear of the king and ministry, and 
for some years before the actual outbreak of the Revo 
lution the principal object of their policy was to pre 
vent the union of the colonies. They sought, there 
fore, as far as possible, to avoid all measures which, 
by giving them a common grievance, would also afford 
a basis upon which they could unite. In order to ac 
complish this purpose more effectively acts of Parlia 
ment, to a large extent, gave way in the government 



110 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

of the colonies to instructions from the king issued to 
the royal governors. These instructions the governors 
were required to consider as of higher authority than 
acts of the assemblies, and as binding on both the 
governors and the assemblies. A set was not framed 
to apply to all the colonies alike, but special instruc 
tions were sent to each colony as local circumstances 
dictated. Since these local circumstances differed 
widely in the several colonies, the king and his 
ministers thought the colonists would not be able to 
find in them any common grievance to serve as a basis 
for union. 

In North Carolina the battle was fought out on three 
very important local measures, on all three of which 
the king issued positive instructions directing the 
course which the Assembly should pursue. Thus a 
momentous issue was presented for the consideration 
of its members : Should they permit the Assembly to 
degenerate into a mere machine whose highest func 
tion was to register the will of the sovereign ; or should 
they maintain it as their charters intended it to be, 
a free, deliberative, law-making body, responsible for 
its acts only to the people ? Upon their answer to this 
question it is not too much to say hung the fate of the 
remotest posterity in this state. I record it as one of 
the proudest events in our history, beside which the 
glories of Moore s Creek, King s Mountain, Guilford 
Court House, and even Gettysburg itself pale into 
insignificance, that the Assembly of North Carolina 
had the insight to preceive their problem clearly, the 
courage to meet it boldly, and the statesmanship to 
solve it wisely. 

"Appointed by the people (they declared) to watch 
over their rights and privileges, and to guard them 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 111 

from every encroachment of a private and public 
nature, it becomes our duty and will be our constant 
endeavor to preserve them secure and inviolate to the 
present age, and to transmit them unimpaired to 
posterity. . . . The rules of right and wrong, the limits 
of the prerogative of the Crown and of the privileges 
of the people are, in the present refined age, well 
known and ascertained; to exceed either of them is 
highly unjustifiable." 6 

Hurling this declaration into the face of the royal 
governor the Assembly peremptorily refused obedi 
ence to the royal instructions. In this momentous 
affair Samuel Johnston stood fully abreast of the fore 
most in maintaining the dignity of the Assembly, the 
independence of the judiciary, and the right of the 
people to self-government. With unclouded vision 
he saw straight through the policy of the king and 
stood forth a more earnest advocate of union than 
ever. He urged the appointment of the committees 
of correspondence throughout the continent, served 
on the North Carolina committee, and favored the 
calling of a continental congress. When John Har 
vey, in the spring of 1774, suggested a provincial 
congress, Johnston gave the plan his powerful sup 
port, 7 and when the Congress met at New Bern, 
August 25, 1774, he was there as one of the members 
from Chowan. Upon the completion of its business 
this Congress authorized Johnston, in the event of 
Harvey s death, to summon another congress when 
ever he should deem it necessary. No more fit suc- 



6. For a more extended account of this great contest see 

Connor : Cornelius Harnett : An Essay in North Caro 
lina History, 68-78. 

7. Col. Rec., X., 968. 



112 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

cessor to Harvey could have been found. Johnston s 
unimpeachable personal character commanded the 
respect of the Loyalists, 8 his known conservatism was 
a guarantee that the revolutionary program under his 
leadership would be conducted with proper regard for 
the rights of all and in an orderly manner, and his 
thorough sympathy with the spirit and purposes of the 
movement assured the loyal support of the entire 
Whig party. How thoroughly he sympathized with 
the whole program is set forth in the following letter 
written to an English friend who once resided in 
North Carolina: 

"You will not wonder (he writes) at my being 
more warmly affected with affairs of America than 
you seem to be. I came over so early and am now so 
riveted to it by my connections that I can not help 
feeling for it as if it were my natale solum. The 
ministry from the time of passing the Declaratory 
Act, on the repeal of the Stamp Act, seemed to have 
used every opportunity of teasing and fretting the 
people here as if on purpose to draw them into rebel 
lion or some violent opposition to Government. At a 
time when the inhabitants of Boston were every man 
quietly employed about their own private affairs, the 
wise members of your House of Commons on the 
authority of ministerial scribblers declare they are in 



8. Archibald Neilspn, a prominent Loyalist whom Governor 
Martin appointed Johnston s successor as deputy naval 
officer, wrote to James Iredell, July 8, 1775 : "For Mr. 
Johnston, I have the truest esteem and regard. In 
these times, in spite of my opinion of his judgment, in 
spite of myself I tremble for him. He is in an ar 
duous situation : the eyes of all more especially of the 
friends of order are anxiously fixed on him." Mc- 
Ree s Iredell, I., 260. 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 113 

a state of open rebellion. On the strength of this they 
pass a set of laws which from their severity and in 
justice can not be carried into execution but by a 
military force, which they have very wisely provided, 
being conscious that no people who had once tasted 
the sweets of freedom would ever submit to them 
except in the last extremity. They have now brought 
things to a crisis and God only knows where it will 
end. It is useless, in disputes between different 
countries, to talk about the right which one has to 
give laws to the other, as that generally attends the 
power, though where that power is wantonly or 
cruelly exercised, there are instances where the 
weaker State has resisted with success; for when 
once the sword is drawn all nice distinctions fall to 
the ground ; the difference between internal and ex 
ternal taxation will be little attended to, and it will 
hereafter be considered of no consequence whether 
the act be to regulate trade or raise a fund to support 
a majority in the House of Commons. By this 
desperate push the ministry will either confirm their 
power of making laws to bind the colonies in all cases 
whatsoever, or give up the right of making laws to 
bind them in any case." 9 

This is a very remarkable letter. Consider first of 
all its date. It was written at Edenton, September 23, 
1774. At that time the boldest radicals in America, 
even such men as Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts; 
Patrick Henry, of Virginia; Cornelius Harnett, of 
North Carolina, scarcely dared breathe the word in 
dependence. But here is Samuel Johnston, most con 
servative of revolutionists, boldly declaring that the 

9. To Alexander Elmsly, of London. Col. Rec., IX., 1071. 



114 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

contest between England and her colonies was a dis 
pute "between different countries," and threatening an 
appeal to arms to decide whether the British Parlia 
ment should make laws "to bind the colonies in all 
cases whatsoever," or be compelled to surrender "the 
right of making laws to bind them in any case." The 
man who ventured this declaration was no unknown 
individual, safe from ministerial wrath by reason of 
his obscurity, but was one of the foremost statesmen of 
an important colony, and his name was not unfamiliar 
to those who gathered in the council chamber of the 
king. 

At the beginning of the Revolution, in common with 
the other Whig leaders throughout the continent, 
Johnston disclaimed any purpose of declaring inde 
pendence of Great Britain. But once caught in the 
full sweep of the revolutionary movement the patriots 
were carried along from one position to another until, 
by the opening of the year 1776, they had reached a 
situation which admitted of no other alternative, and 
Samuel Johnston stood forth among the foremost 
advocates of it in North Carolina. As we have seen, 
North Carolina acted on this subject at Halifax, April 
12, 1776, and immediately afterwards appointed a 
committee "to prepare a temporary civil constitution." 
Among its members were Johnston, Harnett, Abner 
Nash, Thomas Burke, Thomas Person, and William 
Hooper. They were men of political sagacity and 
ability, but their ideas of the kind of constitution that 
ought to be adopted were woefully inharmonious. 
Heretofore in the measures of resistance to the British 
ministry remarkable unanimity had prevailed in the 
councils of the Whigs. But when they undertook to 
frame a constitution faction at once raised its head. 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 115 

Historians have designated these factions as "Con 
servatives" and Radicals," terms which carry their 
own meanings and need no further explanation. The 
leader of the Radicals was undoubtedly Willie Jones, 
while no one could have been found to question the 
supremacy of Samuel Johnston among the Conserva 
tives. Congress soon found that no agreement be 
tween the two could be reached while continued 
debate on the constitution would only consume time 
which ought to be given to more pressing matters. 
Consequently the committee was discharged and the 
adoption of a constitution was postponed till the next 
meeting of Congress in November. Thus the contest 
was removed from Congress to the people and became 
the leading issue of the election in October. 

Willie Jones and his faction determined that 
Samuel Johnston should not have a seat in the Novem 
ber Congress, and at once began against him a cam 
paign famous in our history for its violence. 
Democracy exulting in a freedom too newly acquired 
for it to have learned the virtue of self-restraint, struck 
blindly to right and left and laid low some of the 
sturdiest champions of constitutional liberty in the 
province. The contest raged fiercest in Chowan. "No 
means," says McRee, "were spared to poison the 
minds of the people ; to inflame their prejudices ; excite 
alarm ; and sow in them, by indefinite charges and 
whispers, the seeds of distrust. ... It were bootless 
now to inquire what base arts prevailed, or what 
calumnies were propagated. Mr. Johnston was 
defeated. The triumph was celebrated with riot and 
debauchery; and the orgies were concluded by burn 
ing Mr. Johnston in effigy." 10 

10. Iredell, I., 334. 



116 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

From that day to this much nonsense has been 
written and spoken about Johnston s hostility to 
democracy and his hankering after the fleshpots of 
monarchy, and the followers of Willie Jones from 
then till now have expected us to believe that the man 
who for ten years had been willing to sacrifice his 
fortune, his ease, his peace of mind, his friends and 
family, even life itself, to overthrow the rule of 
monarchy was ready, immediately upon the achieve 
ment of that end, to conspire with his fellow-workers 
against that liberty which they had suffered so much 
to preserve. That Johnston did not believe in the 
"infallibility of the popular voice;" that he thought it 
right in a democracy for minorities to have sufficient 
safeguards against the tyranny of majorities; that he 
considered intelligence and experience more likely to 
conduct a government successfully than ignorance and 
inexperience, is all true enough. But that he also 
ascribed fully to the sentiment that all governments 
derive "their just powers from the consent of the 
governed;" that he believed frequency of elections to 
be the surest safeguard of liberty ; that he thought 
representatives should be held directly responsible to 
their constituents and to nobody else, we have not only 
his most solemn declarations, but his whole public 
career to prove. 11 He advocated it is true a govern 
ment of energy and power, but a government deriving 
its energy and power wholly from the people. This is 
the very essence of true, genuine democracy. 

Johnston s eclipse was temporary. Accepting his 
defeat philosophically, he withdrew, after the framing 
of the constitution, from all participation in politics, 

11. See his letter to Iredell in McRee s Iredell, I., 277. 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 117 

and watched the course of events in silence. For 



assuming this attitude he has been severely censured, 
both by his contemporaries and by posterity, who have 
charged him with yielding to pique, and with being 
"supine" and indifferent to the welfare of the state 
because he could not conduct its affairs according to 
his own wishes. 12 But is it not pertinent to ask what 
other course he could have pursued? He was not an 
ordinary politician. He had no inordinate itching for 
public office. He was, indeed, ambitious to serve his 
country, but his country had pointedly and emphati 
cally repudiated his leadership. Was it not, then, the 
part of wisdom to bow to the decree? Did not patriot 
ism require him to refrain from futile opposition? 
The event clearly demonstrated that his course was 
both wise and patriotic, for the people soon came to 
their sober second thought and the reaction in John 
ston s favor set in earlier than he could possibly have 
anticipated. They sent him to the state Senate, the 
General Assembly elected him treasurer, the governor 
appointed him to the bench, the General Assembly 
chose him a delegate to the Continental Congress, and 
the Continental Congress elected him its presiding 
officer. 13 The reaction finally culminated in his elec 
tion as governor in 1781, and his re-election in 1788, 
and again in 1789. Among the many interesting prob 
lems of his administration were the settlement of 
Indian affairs, the adjustment of the war debt, the 
treatment of the Loyalists, the cession of the western 
territory to the Federal government, and the "State of 
Franklin ;" but today time does not permit that we con- 



12. See letters of Archibald Maclaine to George Hooper, 

State Records, XVI., 957, 963. 

13. He declined to serve. 



118 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

sider his policy toward them. The chief issue of his 
administration was the ratification of the Federal Con 
stitution to the consideration of which we must devote 
a few moments. 

The convention to consider the new constitution 
met at Hillsboro, July 21, 1788. 14 "Conservatives" 
and "Radicals" now rapidly crystallizing into political 
parties as Federalists and Anti-Federalists, arrayed 
themselves for the contest under their former leaders, 
Samuel Johnston and Willie Jones. The Anti- 
Federalists controlled the convention by a large 
majority, nevertheless out of respect for his office they 
unanimously elected Governor Johnston president. 
All the debates, however, were held in committee of 
the whole and this plan, by calling Governor Johnston 
out of the chair, placed him in the arena in the very 
midst of the contest. Though he was the accepted 
leader of the Federalists, the burden of the debate fell 
upon the younger men among whom James Iredell 
stood pre-eminent. Contesting pre-eminence with 
Iredell, but never endangering his position, were 
William R. Davie, Archibald Maclaine, and Richard 
Dobbs Spaight. Governor Johnston but rarely in 
dulged his great talent for debate, but when he did 
enter the lists he manifested such a candor and 
courtesy toward his opponents that he won their 
respect and confidence, and he spoke with such a 
"relentlessness in reasoning" that but few cared to 
engage him in discussion. Johnston could not have 
been anything else than a Federalist. Since the sign 
ing of the treaty of peace with England the country 



14. The Journal of this Convention is printed in State Rec., 
XXII., 1-35. 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 119 

had been drifting toward disunion and anarchy with 
a rapidity that alarmed conservative and thoughtful 
men. The issue presented in 1787 and 1788, there 
fore, was not the preservation of liberty but the pre 
vention of anarchy, and on this issue there could be 
but one decision for Samuel Johnston. The day for 
the speculative theories and well turned epigrams of 
the Declaration of Independence had passed ; the time 
for the practical provisions of the Federal Constitu 
tion had come. Consequently the debates at Hillsboro 
dealt less with theories of government than with the 
practical operations of the particular plan under con 
sideration. 

In this plan Willie Jones and his followers saw all 
sorts of political hobgoblins, and professed to discover 
therein a purpose to destroy the autonomy of the 
states and to establish a consolidated nation. They 
attacked the impeachment clause on the ground that 
it placed not only Federal senators and representatives, 
but also state officials and members of the state legisla 
tures completely at the mercy of the National Con 
gress. Johnston very effectively disposed of this 
ridiculous contention by pointing out that "only 
officers of the United States were impeachable," and 
contended that senators and representatives were not 
Federal officers but officers of the states. Continuing 
he said: 

"I never knew any instance of a man being im 
peached for a legislative act; nay, I never heard it 
suggested before. A representative is answerable to 
no power but his constituents. He is accountable to 
no being under heaven but the people who appoint him. 
. . . Removal from office is the punishment, to which 
is added future disqualification. How can a man be 



120 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

removed from office who has no office? An officer 
of this state it not liable to the United States. Con 
gress cannot disqualify an officer of this state. No 
body can disqualify but the body which creates. . . .1 
should laugh at any judgment they should give against 
any officer of our own." 15 

But, said the opponents of the Constitution, "Con 
gress is given power to control the time, place, and 
manner of electing senators and representatives. This 
clause does away with the right of the people to choose 
representatives every year;" under it Congress may 
pass an act "to continue the members for twenty 
years, or even for their natural lives;" and it plainly 
points "forward to the time when there will be no 
state legislatures, to the consolidation of all the states." 
To these arguments Johnston replied : 

"I conceive that Congress can have no other power 
than the states had .... The powers of Congress are 
all circumscribed, defined, and clearly laid down. So 
far they may go, but no farther. . . . They are bound to 
act by the Constitution. They dare not recede from 
it." 

All these arguments sound very learned and very 
eloquent, retorted the opponents of the Constitution, 
but the proposed Constitution does not contain a bill 
of rights to "keep the states from being swallowed up 
by a consolidated government." But Governor John 
ston, in an exceedingly clear-cut argument, pointed 
out not only the absurdity but even the danger of in 
cluding a bill of rights in the Constitution. Said he : 

"It appears to me, sir, that it would have been the 



15. Elliott s Debates. The extracts from Johnston s speeches 
on the Constitution, which follow, are all from the 
same source. 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 121 

highest absurdity to undertake to define what rights 
the people of the United States are entitled to; for 
that would be as much as to say they are entitled to 
nothing else. A bill of rights may be necessary in a 
monarchial government whose powers are undefined. 
Were we in the situation of a monarchial country? 
No, sir. Every right could not be enumerated, and the 
omitted rights would be sacrificed if security arose 
from an enumeration. The Congress cannot assume 
any other powers than those expressly given them 
without a palpable violation of the Constitution. . . .In 
a monarchy all power may be supposed to be vested 
in the monarch, except what may be reserved by a bill 
of rights. In England, in every instance where the 
rights of the people are not declared, the prerogative 
of the king is supposed to extend. But in this country 
we say that what rights we do not give away remain 
with us." 

Though Johnston desired to throw all necessary 
safeguards around the rights of the people, he did not 
desire a Union that would be a mere rope of sand. 
The Union must have authority to enforce its decrees 
and maintain its integrity, and if he foresaw the rise 
of the doctrines of nullification and secession, he fore 
saw them only to expose what he thought was their 
fallacy. 

"The Constitution (he declared) must be the 
supreme law of the land, otherwise it will be in the 
power of any state to counteract the other states, and 
withdraw itself from the Union. The laws made in 
pursuance thereof by Congress, ought to be the 
supreme law of the land, otherwise any one state 
might repeal the laws of the Union at large. . . . Every 



122 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

treaty should be the supreme law of the land ; without 
this, any one state might involve the whole union in 
war." 

Acts of Congress, however, must be in "pursuance" 
of the powers granted by the Constitution, for John 
ston had no sympathy with the notion that the courts 
must enforce acts of legislative bodies regardless of 
their constitutionality. As he said : 

"When Congress makes a law in virtue of their 
(sic) constitutional authority, it will be actual law. . . . 
Every law consistent with the Constitution will have 
been made in pursuance of the powers granted by it. 
Every usurpation, or law repugnant to it, cannot have 
been made in pursuance of its powers. The latter 
will be nugatory and void." 

Johnston, of course, did not think the Constitution 
perfect and he was as anxious as Willie Jones to have 
certain amendments made to it. But he took the posi 
tion that North Carolina, then fourth of the thirteen 
states in population, would have more weight in 
securing amendments in the Union than out of it. 
Indeed, he reasoned, as long as the state remains out 
of the Union there is no constitutional way in which 
she can propose amendments. Accordingly, as the 
leader of the Federalists, on July 30, he offered a reso 
lution : 

"That though certain amendments to the said Con 
stitution may be wished for, yet that those amendments 
should be proposed subsequent to the ratification on 
the part of this state, and not previous to it." 

Willie Jones promptly rallied his followers against 
this action and defeated Johnston s resolution by a vote 
of 184 to 84. Then after proposing a series of amend 
ments, including a bill of rights, the Convention, by 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 123 

the same vote of 184 to 84, refused to ratify the Con 
stitution and, August 2, adjourned sine die. 

Thus a second time, in a second great political crisis, 
Willie Jones triumphed over his rival ; but again, as in 
1776, his triumph was shortlived. With wise fore 
thought Iredell and Davie had caused the debates of 
the Convention to be reported and published, and 
through them appealed from the Convention to the 
people. How far these debates influenced public 
opinion it is of course impossible to say, but certain 
it is that no intelligent, impartial reader can rise from 
their perusal without being convinced that the 
Federalists had much the better of the argument. 
Public opinion so far shifted toward the Federalists 
position that when the second Convention met at 
Fayetteville, November 16, 1789, the Federalists had 
a larger majority than their opponents had had the year 
before. 16 Again Samuel Johnston was unanimously 
elected president. The debates of this Convention 
were not reported; indeed, the debates of the former 
Convention had rendered further discussion unnec 
essary. The people of the state had read those debates 
and had recorded their decision by sending to the Con 
vention a Federalist majority of more than one hun 
dred. Accordingly after a brief session of only six 
days the Convention, November 21, 1789, by a vote 
of 195 to 77, ratified the Constitution of the United 
States and North Carolina re-entered the Federal 
Union. 

The privilege of transmitting the resolution of rati 
fication to the President of the United States and of 
receiving from him an acknowledgment of his sincere 



16. The Journal is printed in State Rec., XXII., 36-53. 



124 REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS OF NORTH CAROLINA 

gratification at this important event, fell to the lot of 
Samuel Johnston. It was fitting, too, that he who, for 
more than twenty years, had stood among the states 
men of North Carolina as the very personification of 
the spirit of union and nationalism should be the first 
to represent the state in the Federal Senate. Of his 
services there I cannot speak today more than to say 
that he represented the interests of North Carolina 
with the same fidelity to convictions and courage in 
the discharge of his duties which had always charac 
terized his course in public life ; and that on the great 
national issues of the day he lifted himself far above 
the narrow provincialism which characterized the 
politics of North Carolina at that time and stood forth 
in the Federal Senate a truly national statesman. It 
had been well for North Carolina and her future posi 
tion in the Union had she adhered to the leadership of 
Johnston, Davie, Iredell, and the men who stood with 
them men too wise to trifle with their principles, too 
sincere to conceal their convictions, and too brave and 
high-minded to mislead the people even for so great a 
reward as popular favor. But in the loud and some 
what blatant politics of that day these men could play 
no part, and one by one they were gradually forced 
from public life to make way for other leaders who 
possessed neither their wisdom, their sincerity, nor 
their courage. In 1793 Samuel Johnston retired from 
the Senate, and, except for a brief term on the bench, 
spent the remaining twenty-three years of his life in 
the full enjoyment of his happy family circle. 

Samuel Johnston deserves a high rank among the 
constructive statesmen of North Carolina. On the 
mere score of office-holding he has been equalled by 
few and surpassed by none of the public men of this 



SAMUEL JOHNSTON 125 

Commonwealth. But in the fierce light of histor> 
what a paltry thing is the mere holding of public office ; 
and how quickly posterity forgets those who present 
no other claim to fame! Posterity remembers and 
honors him only who to other claims adds those of 
high character, lofty ideals, and unselfish service; 
whose only aims in public life are the maintenance of 
law, the establishment of justice, and the preservation 
of liberty; who pursues these ends with a fixity of 
purpose which never weakens, a tenacity which never 
slackens, and a determination which never wavers. 
Measuring Samuel Johnston by this standard, I am 
prepared to say that among the statesmen of North 
Carolina he stands without a superior. Indeed, taking 
him all in all, it seems to me that he approaches nearer 
than any other man in our history to Tennyson s fine 
ideal of the "Patriot Statesman." 

"O Patriot Statesman, be thou wise to know 
The limits of resistance, and the bounds 
Determining concession ; still be bold 
Not only to slight praise but suffer scorn ; 
And be thy heart a fortress to maintain 
The day against the moment, and the year 
Against the day ; thy voice, a music heard 
Thro all the yells and counter yells of feud 
And faction, and thy will, a power to make 
This ever-changing world of circumstance^ 
In changing, chime to never-changing Law." 













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