The first permanent English settlers in North Carolina were immigrants from the tidewater area of southeastern Virginia. The first of these "overflow" settlers moved into the Albemarle area of northeast North Carolina around 1650.
In 1663, Charles II granted a charter to eight English gentlemen who had helped him regain the throne of England. The charter document contains the following description of the territory which the eight Lords Proprietors were granted title to:
The territory was called Carolina in honor of Charles the First. In 1665, a second charter was granted to clarify territorial questions not answered in the first charter. This charter extended the boundary lines of Carolina to include:
Between 1663 and 1729, North Carolina was under the control of the Lords Proprietors and their descendants, who commissioned colonial officials and authorized the governor and his council to grant lands in the name of the Lords Proprietors. In 1669, John Locke wrote the Fundamental Constitutions as a model for the government of Carolina. Albemarle County was divided into local governmental units called precincts. Initially there were three precincts--Berkley, Carteret, and Shaftesbury--but as the colony expanded to the south and west new precincts were created. By 1729, there were a total of eleven precincts: six in Albemarle County and five in Bath County, which had been created in 1696.
Although the Albemarle Region was the first permanent settlement in the Carolina area, another region was developed around present-day Charleston, South Carolina. Because of the natural harbor and easier access to trade with the West Indies, more attention was given to developing the Charleston area than her northern counterparts. For a twenty-year period, 1692-1712, the colonies of North and South Carolina existed as one unit of government. Although North Carolina still had her own assembly and council, the governor of Carolina resided in Charleston and a deputy governor appointed for North Carolina.
In 1729, seven of the Lords Proprietors sold their interests in North Carolina to the Crown and North Carolina became a royal colony. The eighth proprietor, Lord Granville, retained economic interest and continued granting land in the northern half of North Carolina. All political functions were under the supervision of the Crown until 1775.
Colonial government in North Carolina was essentially the same during both the proprietary and royal periods. The only major difference was who appointed colonial officials. There were two primary units of government: one consisted of the governor and his council and the other consisted of a colonial assembly of persons elected by the qualified voters of the county. There were also colonial courts; however, unlike today's courts, they were rarely involved in formulating policy. All colonial officials were appointed by either the Lords Proprietors prior to 1729 or the Crown afterwards. Members of the colonial assembly were elected from the various precincts (counties) and from certain towns which had been granted representation. The term "precinct" as a geographical unit ceased to exist after 1735. These areas became known as "counties," and about the same time "Albemarle County" and "Bath County" ceased to exist as governmental units.
The governor was an appointed official, as were the colonial secretary, attorney general, surveyor general, and the receiver general. All officials served at the pleasure of the Lords Proprietors or the Crown. During the proprietary period, the council was comprised of appointed persons who were to look after the proprietors' interests in the new world. The council served as an advisory group to the governor during the proprietary and royal periods, as well as serving as the upper house of the legislature when the assembly was in session. When vacancies occurred in colonial offices or on the council, the governor was authorized to carry out all mandates of the proprietors, and could make a temporary appointment until the vacancy was filled by proprietary or royal commission. One member of the council was chosen as president of the group, and many council members were also colonial officials. If a governor or deputy governor was unable to carry on as chief executive because of illness, death, resignation, or absence from the colony, the president of the council became the chief executive and exercised all powers of the governor until the governor returned or a new governor was commissioned.
The colonial assembly was made up of men elected from each precinct and town where representation had been granted. Not all counties were entitled to the same number of representatives. Many of the older counties had five representatives each while those newer ones formed after 1696 were each allowed only two. Each town granted representation was allowed one representative. The presiding officer of the colonial assembly was called the speaker and was elected from the entire membership of the house. When a vacancy occurred, a new election was ordered by the speaker to fill it. On the final day of each session, the bills passed by the legislature were signed by both the speaker and the president of the council. The colonial assembly could not meet arbitrarily, but rather convened only when called into session by the governor.
Being the only body authorized to grant a salary to the governor or to be responsible for spending tax monies, the legislature met on a regular basis until just before the Revolutionary War; however, there was a constant battle for authority between the governor and his council on the one hand and the general assembly on the other. Two of the most explosive issues were the power of the purse and the electing of the treasurer, both privileges of the assembly. Another issue of contention was who had the authority to create new counties. On more than one occasion, elected representatives from counties created by the governor and council, without consultation and proper legislative action by the lower house, were refused seats until the matter was resolved. These conflicts between the executive and legislative bodies were to have a profound effect on the organization of state government after independence.
North Carolina, on April 12, 1776, authorized her delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. This was the first official action by a colony calling for independence. The 83 delegates present in Halifax at the Fourth Provincial Congress unanimously adopted the Halifax Resolves. North Carolina had once before defied the Crown. In 1715 the Carolina assembly met at Little River and adopted an "Act Relating to the Biennial and Other Assemblys and Regulating Elections and Members." That document became known as the Biennial Act and stayed in effect until 1737.
The Halifax Resolves were important not only because they were the first official action calling for independence, but also because they were not unilateral recommendations. They were instead recommendations directed to all the colonies and their delegates assembled at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Virginia followed with her own recommendations soon after the adoption of the Halifax Resolution, and eventually on July 4, the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was signed. William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, and John Penn were the delegates from North Carolina who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Revolutionary War to Civil War
In early December, 1776, delegates to the Fifth Provincial Congress adopted the first constitution for North Carolina. On December 21, 1776, Richard Caswell became the first governor of North Carolina under the new constitution. In 1788, North Carolina rejected the United States Constitution because of the lack of necessary amendments to ensure freedom of the people; however, on November 21, 1789, the state adopted the constitution, becoming the twelfth state to enter the federal union.
A constitutional convention was held in 1835, and among several changes made in the constitution was the method of electing the governor. After this change, the governor was elected by the people for a term of two years, instead of being elected by the legislature for one year. Edward Bishop Dudley was the first governor elected by the people.
In 1868, a second constitution, which drastically altered North Carolina government, was adopted. For the first time, all major state officers were elected by the people. The governor and other executive officers were elected to four-year terms, while the justices of the supreme court and judges of the superior court were elected to eight-year terms. The members of the General Assembly continued to be elected for two-year terms. Between 1868 and 1970 numerous amendments were incorporated into the 1868 constitution, so that, in 1970, the people voted to adopt a completely new constitution. Since then,several amendments have been ratified, but one in particular is a break from the past. In 1977, the people voted to allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run for reelection successively for an additional term.
North Carolina has had two permanent capitals, New Bern and Raleigh, and there have been three capitol buildings. Tryon Palace in New Bern was constructed in the period 1767-1770, and the main building was destroyed by fire February 27, 1798. The first capitol in Raleigh was completed in 1794 and was destroyed by fire on June 21, 1831. The present capitol building was completed in 1840.
In 1790, North Carolina ceded her western lands which included Washington, Davidson, Hawkins, Greene, Sullivan, Sumner, and Tennessee counties, to the federal government. Between 1790 and 1796 the territory was known as Tennessee Territory, but in 1796 it became simply Tennessee, the sixteenth state in the Union.
During the years between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, North Carolina developed a system of state and local government to meet the needs of its people. During this same period, two North Carolina natives were elected to the presidency of the United States: Andrew Jackson, the seventh president (1829-1837), and James K. Polk, the eleventh president (1845-1849).
Although there was much division in the state concerning secession, North Carolina did secede on May 20, 1861. North Carolina was not considered a wealthy state, but during the Civil War North Carolina supplied more men and materials to the Confederate cause than any other state. The state also suffered the largest number of losses than any other Confederate state during the war. General Joseph Johnston surrendered the last major Confederate Army to General William Sherman near Durham on April 26, 1865.
North Carolina was readmitted to the Union in 1868. Serving as president during much of the difficult period of Reconstruction was Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president (1865-1869), another North Carolina native. The years of reconstruction and the decades following were characterized by courageous readjustments.