Over the course of its history, the state of North Carolina adopted three different constitutions, each created in response to significant events in North Carolina history. In addition to the three versions, the North Carolina Constitution has also incorporated various amendments over time.
The following is a brief description of each of the three versions of the North Carolina Constitution, but researchers interested in a more thorough history will find Professor John Orth's NCPedia article instructive.
In 1776, North Carolina's Fifth Provincial Congress created a state constitution meant to support North Carolinians in their fight for American independence. Several other foundational documents are also associated with the North Carolina Constitution of 1776, including the Declaration of Rights of 1776 and the Ordinances of the Convention. The Declaration of Rights provided for the basic rights of North Carolinians, including popular sovereignty, separation of powers, and freedom of religion. The Ordinances of the Convention was used in conjunction with the state constitution to provide for the basic legal structure of North Carolina's government.
This version of the state constitution remained in place until 1835, when significant amendments were made at the Convention of 1835. Among the amendments made to the state constitution was an increase in the number of members elected to North Carolina's House and Senate, and a provision calling for the popular election of the governor for a two-year term. The Journal for the Convention of 1835 can be viewed at UNC's Documenting the American South project website.
The Constitution of 1868 resulted from a federal mandate requiring North Carolina and other former Confederate states to bring their laws into conformity with U.S. federal law. The 1868 version of the state constitution abolished slavery, provided for universal male suffrage, and made other significant changes to the structure of North Carolina's governmental branches. Amendments to the state constitution in the years to come would walk back some of these provisions, including the 1900 addition of a literacy test and a poll tax as requirements for voting.
The North Carolina Constitution of 1971 is the current version of the statute constitution. The updated state constitution was the result of a series of proposals made by the North Carolina State Constitution Study Commission, a group of state political leaders and attorneys assembled to study other state constitutions and current federal law in order to make recommendations for modernizing the North Carolina's constitution. The Commission's 1968 report is available for review via the Internet Archive. The final version of the state constitution sought to clarify the operations of state government and ensure that North Carolina's foundational legal document reflected the unique needs of modern society.
The North Carolina Constitution is contained within the General Statutes of North Carolina, and thus it can be located via any resource that provides access to North Carolina's statutory code. The following statutory code sources provide access to the North Carolina Constitution:
Historical versions of the North Carolina Constitution refer to those earlier versions from 1776 and 1868. Research into the history of the North Carolina Constitution can also include any proposed amendments and primary source records from the various constitutional conventions. The following resources provide access to all of these various materials.
The following is a list of recommended secondary sources that provide insight into the history, development, and interpretation of the North Carolina Constitution. Be sure to use these resources in conjunction with the primary source materials identified in other parts of this page on the North Carolina Constitution.
North Carolina Law Review, Volume 70, Number 6 (1992): Volume 70 of the North Carolina Law Review was the journal's symposium issue dedicated to the North Carolina Constitution and state constitutional law more generally. Several articles in this volume address the history and interpretation of the North Carolina Constitution. The full volume can be freely accessed via the Carolina Law Scholarship Repository. Specific articles of interest include:
Our Constitutions: An Historical Perspective by John L. Sanders (UNC School of Government, 1995): Authored by one of the members of the 1968 North Carolina State Constitution Study Commission, this article provides an overview of the history of the North Carolina Constitution and discusses the important changes made within each version.
State Constitution by John V. Orth (NCPedia, 1996): NCPedia is North Carolina's online encyclopedia and contains thousands of entries on topics related to the state of North Carolina. This article covers the various versions of the North Carolina Constitution, and it contains various hyperlinks to other related encyclopedia entries.