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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Declaration of Rights

by John V. Orth, 2006

See also: State Constitution; Black and Tan Constitution; Convention of 1835 (from Encyclopedia of North Carolina); 1835 Constitutional Convention (from Tar Heel Junior Historian); Convention of 1868; Convention of 1875; Governor

The first North Carolina Declaration of Rights, modeled in part on comparable declarations in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, was adopted on behalf of the state by the Fifth Provincial Congress on 17 Dec. 1776. The declaration was adopted one day prior to the adoption of the new state's constitution and was specifically incorporated into that document to emphasize the strong commitment of North Carolinians to individual freedoms. The Declaration of Rights proclaimed popular sovereignty and separation of powers as well as basic civil rights, such as freedom of religion and guarantees of a fair trial, many of which were later restated in the federal Bill of Rights. The original Declaration of Rights, largely unchanged-plus a few provisions made necessary by defeat in the Civil War, such as the abolition of slavery and the prohibition of secession-became Article I of the 1868 North Carolina Constitution. With only minor changes, the Declaration of Rights remains the primary article of the state's 1971 constitution.

Educator Resources:

Grade 8: Bill of Rights. North Carolina Civic Education Consortium.


John V. Orth, The North Carolina State Constitution: A Reference Guide (1993).

Additional Resources:

North Carolina Constitution, NC Historical Marker E-98:

North Carolina Constitution and Declaration of Rights, LearnNC:

North Carolina's State Constitution: The Declaration of Rights. NC Civic Education Consortium, Lesson Plan:

North Carolina Declaration of Rights, Library of Congress: #

North Carolina State Constitution, NC General Assembly:

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It is not possible that 'both' slavery and state's rights are factually correct answers to a question of on what 'behalf' the U.S. Civil War was fought.

The presumption in the answer that 'fought on behalf of' must mean generally 'cause of war' is probably correct.

The conflation of 'slavery' and 'state's rights' as two equal items is revisionist and not supported by an fact pattern.

The common-sense question that arises from the answer given on Aug. 22, 2017 is: 'States right to do what?'

Certainly, no combatant party in the US Civil War fought for an abstraction called 'state's rights.'

An examination of the ordinances of secession, the commentary, letters, documents and diaries of the leader of the seceded states all indicate that the prevailing 'state's right' on which the seceding states (popularly called 'the South') was the 'right' to secede from the Union.

Then, why secede?

The states seceded because they believed:
1. The People of the United States, through their Congress, could not regulate the institution of slavery -- even though this belief conflicts with a mountain of fact, including the restrictions on slavery in the Northwest Ordinances, slavery prohibition articles in the statehood laws of new states north of the Ohio and west of the Mississippi rivers, and there being no citation or theory of the Constitution of the United States that prevented Congress from regulating slavery as an institution in interstate commerce.
2. States of the Union did not have the right (an anti-states' right argument!!!) to prohibit slavery -- this despite the seceding states' pretextual claim to support states' rights over the constitutionally enumerated powers of the Government of the United States.

Thus, what facts we have show that the seceding states seceded actually for a single reason -- to preserve slavery.

They employed BOTH state's rights (exclusive right to regulate slavery) and anti-state's rights (no state may outlaw slavery) in their general, overall, unitary and sole motivation to fight the Government of the United States by force of arms -- the defense of slavery.

Slavery was the cause of the U.S. Civil War. It was the sole cause. Other causes attributed are secondary and all connected to the economic and social interest of slavery.

The "NC Government & Heritage Library" would do well to recognize the weight of evidence and end the "slavery and state's rights" canard.

Historians generally acknowledge that the seceding states (popularly called 'The South') fought the U.S. Civil War for the preservation of slavery. The governments of those seceding states also invoked 'states' rights' arguments, but always and exclusively in their efforts to preserve slavery.


Was the Civil War fought on behalf of the South because of slavery and/or states rights?


Dear Elinor,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia  and for sharing your question.

I think that historians generally acknowledge that both of those are true.  

You may be interested in this article in the New York Times written a few years ago during the commemoration of the Civil War at 150 -- It discusses popular and historical misunderstandings of the causes and outcomes of the war as well as recent research, review and re-interpretation by historians.  You might find it helpful.

Additionally, here are resources in NCpedia about the Civil War:

Please let us know if you have additional questions.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


this was a great lesson for my students thank u nc pedia

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