CREATION OF AN AMERICAN STATE: POLITICS IN NORTH CAROLINA, 1765 - 1789
SMITH, PENELOPE SUE
Doctor of Philosophy
North Carolina had never been a docile colony. She was rough-hewn, populated by ambitious men whose interests often clashed with those sent to govern them. Yet she was a reluctant revolutionary and her citizens, so suspicious of authority, so covetous of personal independence, were slow to embrace the message of the Sons of Liberty. Between the French and Indian war and the American Revolution, between the end of salutary neglect and the beginning of independence, Carolinians witnessed a domestic revolution which altered internal politics for the decades following renunciation of British sovereignty. Before 1763 Carolina's colonial government was dominated by "gentlemen," by individuals who had become accustomed to deference from those whose birth or fortunes placed them lower on America's somewhat informal social scale. Yet in the wake of England's attempts to make her colonial policies more responsive to her own needs and as an unintended consequence of resistance to those attempts, Carolina's domestic politics drastically and permanently changed. Initially, the Albermarle hegemony was shared with men from the Cape Fear region. However, that ascendancy was destined to erode. Piedmonters were suspicious of the intentions of both easterners and gentlemen. As a result of legislative neglect, overt corruption, and reaction to the regulator controversy, they came to view Albermarlians as personifiers of both, as men who cared little for western needs. Consequently, a new political alliance, one composed of men from the central coastal plains and of their less cosmopolitan contemporaries in the west emerged simultaneously with Carolina resistance to what was perceived as British oppression. By late 1776 two dominant forces in North Carolina had been replaced: the colony had formally declared independence from Britain and informally withdrawn support from the Albermarle aristocracy. However, the local political coalition forged among those groups deteriorated as the impotence of the new government became obvious. The state was derelict in her obligations to the war effort. She was unable to field an effective militia. She could not control the deterioration of her economy, could not restrain her citizens from outrages against loyalists, nor could she moderate a growing quarrel between the bench and the state bar. Those men accustomed to prominance before 1776, men whose political sympathies were decidedly conservative, men who were uneasy with the prospect of democracy, men like Samuel Johnston, James Iredell, and Archibald Maclaine, began to realize that if they were to challenge those radicals in control of the state house they too would have to become organized. What had been a casual desire to cooperate before the Revolution became a conscious decision to form a political party thereafter. Factions which had once been despised as contrary to the common good became a political necessity. Thus, some Carolinians joined forces with other Americans who sought to amend the Articles of Confederation in the hope that national alterations in government would influence local changes. The ensuing struggle between Carolina's Federalists and Anti-Federalists dominated the years between 1787 and 1789. Ultimately, the forces supporting the Philadelphia constitution won, and that victory proved the last hurrah of the state conservatives. The political confrontations which ensued as a result of the ratification controversy, the open acknowledgement of competitive politics, ushered in a new, a modern, concept of political science in North Carolina.