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.
  • Gilpatrick, Delbert H. Jeffersonian Democracy in North Carolina, 1789–1816. New York: Octagon Books, 1967.
  • 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


The Anti-Federalists were never a political party as is thought of in modern times. It was a coalesced group of voting interests that were united in their opposition to the Constitution.

"The Antifederal objections to the Constitution fall into four categories. First, some attacked it for violations of the Whig theory. Such criticisms came particularly from merchants, lawyers and large landowners who believed in Whig ideology themselves, and represented a sort of right wing, non-agrarian Antifederalism. Second, almost all of the new plan's opponents accused it of excessive centralization: these were the localists. Third, some critics attacked the Constitution as leading toward monarchy or aristocracy rather than democracy: these comprised the left wing. Finally, the agrarians feared that the commerical, creditor, or large propertied interests would benefit at the expense of the farmers." (Jackson T. Main, History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher. p. 153.)

"Strictly speaking, Antifederalism ended with the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, without ever producing a party in any modern sense. During the next few years the term continued as a word of opprobrium, employed by the Federalists to demean whoever opposed the men or policies of the new government. In some states, opposition nearly ceased. In others, however, former Antifederalists remained strong and even gained ground, especially where they had developed a local political organization: they composed a majority or a strong minority in such states as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, and appeared elsewhere for the first time, as in New Jersey. Although they still lacked an inter-state organization and suffered a serious loss of strength during the election of 1788-1789, bitterly fought in certain areas. Presently, in Congress, they supported amendments and opposed various policies of the Federalists. The close relationship between the Anti-Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans may be traced through a continuity both of men and ideas. At least seven-eighths of those known to have opposed the Constitution in 1787-1788 became Republicans." (Main, p. 166)

"Despite the intensity of Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution, no Anti-Constitution party emerged after ratification. With the demise of the second-convention movement, Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists only diminshed the likelihood of a distinctive Anti-Federalist party's emerging. Instead, Anti-Federalists set about becoming a loyal opposition. A number of other factors facilitated this transformation. The rapid adoption of the Bill of Rights, even if it failed to satisfy many Anti-Federalists, deprived them of an important rallying point. Reverence for the principles of constitutionalism and a belief that, when properly amended, the new frame of government would effectively protect liberty further weakened the chances of an Anti-Federal's party forming. The respect accorded George Washington, the new president, also worked against continued opposition. When coupled with renewed econimic prosperity, all of those factors helped promote the formal demise of Anti-Federalism. Yet, though Anti-Federalism did not generate an Anti-Constitution party, the term 'Anti-Federalist,' the various texts produced by the Anti-Federalists during ratification, and the alternative constitutional discourses that shaped Anti-Federalism did not simply disappear. The emergence of a court faction among Federalists caused many former supporters of the Constitution to rehtink the original Anti-Federalist critique. The efforts of former Federalists, most notable James Madison, and former Anti-Federalists, such as William Findley, were crucial to the creation of a Democratic-Republican opposition. That loyal opposition drew important ideas and rhetorical themes from Anti-Federalism and adapted them to the exigencies of political conflict in the 1790s." (p. 170-171)

Additional Sources:

  • History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher.
  • The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. Saul Cornell. Chapel Hill, 1999, University of North Carolina Press.