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Map of North Carolina

Established in 1663, the proprietary colony of Carolina became the state of North Carolina during the American Revolution. In December of 1776, the North Carolina Provincial Congress ratified the state's first constitution, which established three branches of government: a bicameral General Assembly comprising a Senate and a House of Commons; a judiciary; and a weak executive. Representatives to the legislature were chosen by ballot annually, with each county electing one senator and two members to the House of Commons. Landholding, age, and residency restrictions limited the size of the electorate. The legislature appointed supreme court judges and annually elected the governor and representatives to the United States Congress.

Following the Revolution, Federalists and Anti-Federalists fought for control over the state government. This "critical period" laid the foundation for the clash over ratification of the United States Constitution. North Carolina's delegation to the 1787 Constitutional Convention favored strengthening the central government, but not at the expense of individual liberties or their state's sovereignty. Anti-Federalist representatives to the state's 1788 constitutional convention blocked ratification of the Constitution, but Federalists eventually forced the convening of a second convention. On November 21, 1789, North Carolina became the twelfth state to ratify the Constitution. Anti-Federalists chipped away at Federalist dominance during the next decade and, by 1792, secured a majority in the legislature. The efforts of Federalists such as James Iredell and influential easterners allowed the party to continue to elect candidates to the United States Congress and the governorship, but by 1799, distrust of the central government and growing resentment over the Federalist Party's alliance with the state's eastern elite led to the party's demise.

Swept into power by their platform of state hegemony, strict constitutional construction, tax restraint, and the promotion of smallholder interests, Republicans controlled the state's political future. Republicans confronted a series of problems that included currency inflation, unstable banking, Amerindian resistance to western expansion, inadequate internal improvements, educational deficiencies, economic stagnation, and an undemocratic political system. Despite the progressive efforts of Orange County’s Senator Archibald Murphey, resistance from the state's conservatives and easterners derailed proposed reforms. Despite state Republican support for Jefferson's acquisition of Louisiana Territory and for "Mr. Madison's War," North Carolina increasingly found itself isolated from the rest of the nation, earning the moniker the "Rip Van Winkle State."

The 1820s proved to be a transformative period as divisions emerged within the Republican ranks and a wave of democratization swept the state in the wake of Andrew Jackson's rise to prominence. The Missouri Compromise further fractured the Republican Party, and the 1824 presidential election cemented the state's political realignment. Republican leaders nominated William H. Crawford, alienating many Republicans. That decision led to the formation of a splinter party whose "People's Ticket" nominated Jackson for president and John C. Calhoun for vice president. Jackson won the popular vote in North Carolina, but the state's electoral votes went to Crawford. The 1824 election loosened the political grip of the eastern elite, and the continued political democratization propelled Jackson to victory in the 1828 election.


  • Broussard, James H. "The North Carolina Federalists, 1800–1816." North Carolina Historical Review, 55 (1978): 18–41.
  • Butler, Lindley S. and Alan D. Watson, eds. The North Carolina Experience: An Interpretive and Documentary History. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
  • Cavanagh, John C. Decision at Fayetteville: The North Carolina Ratification Convention and the General Assembly of 1789. Raleigh, NC: Division of Archives and History, 1989.
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  • Jeffrey, Thomas E. State Parties and National Politics: North Carolina, 1815–1861. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
  • Lefler, Hugh Talmage and Albert Ray Newsome. North Carolina: A History of a Southern State, 3rd ed. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1973.
  • Powell, William S. North Carolina: Through Four Centuries. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
  • Risjord, Norman K. Chesapeake Politics, 1781–1800. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.
  • Trenholme, Louise Irby. The Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina. New York: Columbia University Press, 1932.
  • Wheeler, John Hill. Historical Sketches of North Carolina: from 1584 to 1851, compiled from original records, official documents and traditional statements ; with biographical sketches of her distinguished statemen, jurists, lawyers, soldiers, divines, etc. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Grambo and Co., 1851.
  • North Carolina History Project
  • 1776 North Carolina ConstitutionThe Avalon Project at Yale Law School