Wednesday, February 25, 2009

'Liberty and Freedom' in North Carolina

Serious students of North Carolina history will want to take a look at "Liberty and Freedom: North Carolina's Tour of the Bill of Rights,"
just published by the N.C. Office of Archives and History. It's a paperbound book of essays on the meaning of the Bill of Rights and particularly the First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, assembly and the press. It's of special interest because North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution the first time around because it did not include a Bill of Rights. George Washington sent each state a copy of the Bill of Rights, and state researchers proved that the recovered copy was indeed the one the first president had sent the state in 1789.
It's a timely book summarizing the talks that folks heard in 2007 when North Carolina's original copy of the Bill of Rights -- recently recovered in a fascinating mystery story -- went on tour in seven cities around the state. The speakers included former NAACP Legal Defense Fund head and N.C. Central Chancellor Julius Chambers, former N.C. Supreme Court Justice and Campbell Law School Dean Willis Whichard, and noted historians Alan Watson and William Price, among others.
For my money, the account by state lawyers Dale Talbert and Karen Blum, in a chapter about "The Odyssey of North Carolina's Original Copy of the Bill of Rights and the State's Case for its Ownership," is a fascinating detective story of how the document came to disappear from the state Capitol at the close of the Civil War and how it came back to Raleigh. That happened following a sting operation launched when those who possessed the document attempted to cash in on it in Pennsylvania.
The book, which goes for $24, can be ordered from the N.C. Office of Archives and History's Historical Publications Section. Call (919) 733-7442 for more information or go online at www.ncpublications.com.

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