The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence
by
F.W. Thorlton




May 20, 1775

1. Resolved . . . That whosoever directly or indirectly abets, or in any way, form, or manner countenances the invasion of our rights, as attempted by the Parliament of Great Britain, is an enemy to his country, to America, and the rights of man.

2. Resolved . . . That we the citizens of Mecklenburg County, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us with the mother country, and absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown, abjuring all political connection with a nation that has wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties and inhumanly shed innocent blood of Americans in Lexington.

3. Resolved . . . That we do hereby Declare ourselves free and independent people; that we are, and of a right ought to be, a sovereign and self-governing people under the power of God and the*General Congress; to the maintenance which independence we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual co-operation, our lives, our fortunes and our scared honor. *(Reference here was to the Provincial Congress of North Carolina.)

4. Resolved . . . That we hereby ordain and adopt as rules of conduct all each of our former laws, and that the crown of Great Britain cannot be considered hereafter as holding any rights, privileges, or immunities among us.

5. Resolved . . . That all officers, both civil and military, in the country, be entitled to exercise the same powers and authorities as heretofore; that every member of this delegation shall henceforth be civil officer and exercise the powers of a justice of the peace, issue process, hear and determine controversies according to law, preserve peace, union and harmony in the country, and use every exertion to spread the love of liberty and of country until a more general and better organized system of government be established.

6 Resolved . . . That a copy of these resolutions be transmitted by express to the President of the Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia to be laid before that body.

Signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence;

Gen. Thomas Polk ------------------------------ Col.Abraham Alexander
Dr. Ephraim Brevard ---------------------------Col. Adam Alexander
Gen. Robert Irwin -------------------------------John McKnitt Alexander
Rev. Hezekiah Balch ----------------------------Hezekiah Alexander
Capt. Zaccheus Wilson --------------------------Neil Morrison
Richard Barry------------------------------------ John Flennikin
William Graham ---------------------------------Matthew McClure
John Queary-------------------------------------- Ezra Alexander
Waightstill Avery --------------------------------Col. William Kennon
Col. James Harris --------------------------------Henry Downs
John Foard ----------------------------------------Charles Alexander
Maj. John Davidson ------------------------------John Phifer
Benjamin Patton ----------------------------------David Reese

Richard Harris
--------------------------------Spectators
Gen. Joseph Graham -----------------------------Gen. George Graham
Rev. Francis Cummings -------------------------Col Ezekiel Polk
Robert Harris Sr. ------------------------David Rose (Grandfather of Pres. Polk)

........................ Representatives Caswell, Hooper and Hewes sent a joint letter, in which they complimented the people of Mecklenburg for their zeal in the common cause but cautioned them to strict observance of good order for the time would soon come when all the colonies would follow their example.

The Scotch-Irish of Mecklenburg were from that day, May 20, 1775, and by their own hand, no longer subject to the British rule. It would be over a year before the leaders in Philadelphia followed. The Declaration was entrusted to the hands of the secretary of the committee, Mr. John Mcknitt Alexander, and he would subsequently make five copies. On April 6, 1800 in a fire at his home, all written records of the Mecklenburg Meetings, including the original declaration were destroyed. On September 3, 1800, Mr. Alexander transcribed two additional copies from memory, one of which came into the possession of his friend General William R. Davie. This copy known to historians as the "Davie Copy" contained many verbal errors, and was mistakenly written by the old man in the past tense form, rather than the present, and omitted the sixth resolution. Mr. Alexander admitted to laps of memory, when writing the Davie copy. In a statement made later he said: "The foregoing statement, though fundamentally correct, may not literally correspond with the original record of the transactions of said delegation."
The events surrounding the Declaration and the 31st Resolves laid dormant for more than 40 years, until in 1818 when a sudden swell of national patriotism, among the members of Congress, sprung up. Amid claims and counterclaims, as to their place in history and the struggle for independence, each representative sought for himself and his state, a respectable position in the "pecking order."
With the publication of William Wirt's "Life of Patrick Henry" in 1817, and his claim that; "Mr. Henry certainly gave the first impulse to the ball of the Revolution," resentment grew between Virginia and Massachusetts and over claims of each other's roll in the struggle for independence. Throughout the nation many of its foremost members help feed resulting turmoil. In New England, it was John Adams with his statements that James Otis' 1761 Massachuetts speech was the first inspiration for the American Revolution. Other claims quickly followed from all over the young republic. Amid all this furor, Senator Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina became aware the existence of the Mecklenburg documents. Macon, an 18-year-old student at Princeton at the time of the Revolution and was unaware of the "goings on" in Mecklenburg in May of 1775. He learned of the existence of these documents, and that Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander was in possession of his father's notes, and the re-scribed declaration. After obtaining the papers from Dr. Alexander in a zealous desire for state recognition, he sent the infamous "Davie Copy, to the Raleigh Register. On Friday, April 30, 1819 the Raleigh Register published the "Davie Copy" and in so doing created a controversy that to this day has not been completely settled. Disclaimers of the Declaration use the Davie copy, which was admittedly flawed, to prove their allegations that the "Mecklenburg Declaration," was fraudulent.
The "Mecklenburg Controversy," that resulted, and the dispute it fired, was not that there was no convention in May of 1775. There is no doubt as to whether the meeting took place, but rather, whether the resulting document was the Mecklenburg Declaration, or the 31st Resolves, or both. Gainsayers of the Declaration say that it was the May 31st Resolves and not a Declaration that was signed by the representatives. The resulting controversy revolves around a charge of plagiarism, and who was the plagiarist, if in fact one existed. John Adams read the Declaration in the Essex Register, in June of 1819, and forwarded a copy to Thomas Jefferson with a note saying that he believed it to be genuine: 'The genuine sense of America at that moment was never expressed so well before, or since." This note in itself was enough to fire resentment, "never expressed so well before or since." And Thomas Jefferson replied in part;

"But what attracted my peculiar notice, is the paper from Mecklenburg County of North Carolina, published in the Essex Register, which you were so kind to enclose in your last, of June the 22nd. And you seem to think it genuine I believe it spurious. I deem it to be a very unjustifiable quiz, like that of a volcano, so minutely related to us as having broken out in North Carolina, half dozen years ago, in that part of the country, and perhaps in that very county of Mecklenburg, for I do not remember its precise locality . . . Nor do I affirm, positively that this paper is a fabrication: because the proof of a negative can only be presumptive. But I shall believe is such until positive and solemn proof of its authenticity shall be produced. And the name of McKnitt be real, and not a part of the fabrication, it needs a vindication by the production of such proof. For the present I must be an unbeliever in the apocryphal gospel."

The lines were drawn and remain today. Partisans of Jefferson, indignant to the groundless claims by some that Jefferson had plagiarized the May 20, Declaration, insisted that the Mecklenburg document was forged, fraudulent, and an insult to intelligence. They asserted that John McKnitt Alexander had invented the document in September of 1800, that it was he who had borrowed from the National document. One of the phrases in contest, was introduced in Congress on June 7, 1776, by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, and not written as many believe by Thomas Jefferson, and was adopted by the Congress on July 2, 1776:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. And the Mecklenburg Declaration read; Resolved, That we do hereby Declare ourselves free and independent people; that we are, and of a right ought to be, a sovereign and self-governing people under the power of God and the General Congress; to the maintenance of which independence we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual co-operation, our lives, our fortunes and our scared honor. And Resolve #2: Resolved, That we the citizens of Mecklenburg County, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us with the mother country, and absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown, abjuring all political connection with a nation that has wantonly trampled on our rights, liberties, and inhumanly shed innocent blood of Americans in Lexington.

There is no question of the honor of Richard Henry Lee, or Thomas Jefferson. And those who have read of the achievements of John McKnitt Alexander know that he was also an honorable man who maintained a place of respect in his community which he held his entire life. It would have been equally difficult to believe that he would have committed plagiarism, or any other dishonorable act, so I believe the answer lies elsewhere. The fact that Lee's Resolution reads like a condensation of the two Mecklenburg Resolves was at the heart of the controversy. The words in question: "Dissolve the political bands . . . " "are and of a right ought to be free and independent . . . " '"we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual co-operation, our lives, our fortunes, and our scared honor" Were not the only words in the beautifully written, National Declaration of Independence, they however, are perhaps some of the most beautiful, and here may lay the answer to the controversy that has lasted for the life of our nation. I think it not impossible that these most perfect words, by the fact that they were perfect, could have formed independently in the minds of these honorable men, for it was language common to the times. What other words expressed the emotions of these freedom loving men as well? And this would not have been the first time something like this happened. Take note of the similarities of the Reverend Samuel Huston's "Declaration of Rights" of the proposed constitution of the of State of Franklin, in Chapter Thirteen, with that of the later "National Bill of Rights." There was alive in the land in the years before the revolution a wave of resolution making in the colonies of New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, so to find that two groups of men came up with similar phrasing is not impossible to imagine. This controversy will most probably never be proven, or even settled to the satisfaction of all contenders, for now nothing can be proven definitely, in defense, or in repudiation, without the document in question, or some other documentary proof, none of which now exists. All that can be done now is examine the written arguments and evidence that exists, and using common sense, and a knowledge of the weaknesses, and prejudices of man make a judgment based on that knowledge. The people of that time were as divided as they were united, by political, religious, and monetary classes. The nature of the human character prevents him, for the most part from willingly sharing his moment of glory, or time of triumph. History is sometimes fickle, in as much as it will build to hero status one person, while another of equal ability is ignored. Perhaps the one person had a better "press agent of history" than the other. Or perhaps then, unlike now when we don't seem to have any heroes, the people of that time simply had too many.

..............So we have reached a stalemate of history, with regard to the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Regardless of whether you believe the "Mecklenburg Declaration" of May 20, 1775" ever existed, as I do, or disclaim it, the fact remains that in May of 1775, the Scotch Irish of Mecklenburg County met to oppose British authority. And in so doing, were the first to throw off the British yoke of oppression; this is an irrefutable fact. The arguments that grew over the existence, or nonexistence of a few words within six resolves, and whether or not they ever existed is unimportant, except to the vindication of the honor of those brave men and their rightful place in the history of this great country. But the loss of the words on some antiquarian paper does not detract from the actions they took. For they did meet . . . and they did resolve . . . and they did oppose with their lives, their fortunes and their scared honor, British tyranny. This can never be taken from them, through ridicule, or disassociation. But it must be remembered however, that the Mecklenburg Declaration, or Mecklenburg Resolves spoke only for the people of Mecklenburg. The founding fathers in Philadelphia were faced with a broader responsibility, that of all thirteen colonies. And even if the Mecklenburg Declaration was extant today it would in no way over shadow that magnificent paper written and adopted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. For what the men of Mecklenburg did, was not in the spirit of competition, but rather as an act unification. No matter which side you may take in this controversy, it adds or subtract nothing from the outcome of history. It does show however that the Scotch-Irish were in the forefront of the struggle for Independence. And they were forever united as a fighting force fully ready and eager to take on the "British Tyrant" by whose hands they had so long suffered. And now their chance had come at last, too forever break the chains or die in the attempt. They went forward with their powder and muskets, and a will forged in a fire of oppression, and with the words of fellow Scotch-Irishman, from Virginia, Patrick Henry, as their battle cry . . .

"Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death."

Excerpt From

"They Came From Ireland"
by
F.W. Thorlton
Copyright 1996 by F.W. Thorlton

 

.............................

...Hezekiah Alexander's Home in Charlotte North Carolina.............Founder's Cemetery with Charlotte Skyline in Background

E-Mail

Return To Our Home Page
Copyright © 1996 The Hartslog Society and F.W. Thorlton
Most recent update 05/01/2007

Content of This Page or Any linked Pages May Not Be Used Without Written Consent of the Copyright Holder

Any Unauthorized Use or Misuse are Subject to Prosecution Under the Copyright Laws of the United States of America