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North Carolina Constitution, Statutes & Ordinances Research

This guide provides an overview of sources and research strategies for North Carolina statutory law, including the state's constitution, statutes, session laws, and county/municipal ordinances.

Introduction to the North Carolina Constitution

History of the North Carolina Constitution

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.

The North Carolina Constitution of 1776 

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 North Carolina Constitution of 1868

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 

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. 

Current Version

Locating the North Carolina Constitution

North Carolina's Statutory Code 

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: 

  • General Statutes of North Carolina Annotated: Published by Lexis, this is the official publication source for North Carolina's statutory code. The North Carolina Constitution is found in Volume 19. Using the annotated code to review the North Carolina Constitution can be especially useful for researchers, as it provides additional annotations to other primary and secondary legal sources that explain and interpret the North Carolina Constitution.
    • UNC Law faculty and students can access these materials via Lexis Advance, and the law library also carries print copies for use by all patrons (KFN7430 1943 .A24). 
  • North Carolina General Statutes Annotated: Published by West, this is another annotated version of North Carolina's statutory code. Note that this is not considered the official publication by the North Carolina General Assembly, but it too provides access to the North Carolina Constitution and helpful annotations for further research. The North Carolina Constitution is found in Volume 19.
    • UNC Law faculty and students can access these materials via Westlaw Edge, and the law library also carries print copies for use by all patrons (KFN7430 1943 .A241). 

Free Online Sources
  • North Carolina General AssemblyThe NCGA provides the text of the current version of the North Carolina Constitution. While this is not an official version of the state's constitution, it does provide a table of contents to allow for review of specific articles in either PDF or HTML format. 

Historical Resources

North Carolina Constitution - Historical Resources

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. 

Historical Versions of the North Carolina Constitution & Amendments: 
North Carolina Constitutional Convention Materials: 
  • North Carolina Fifth Provincial Congress of 1776: Meeting from November 12 - December 23, 1776, North Carolina's Fifth Provincial Congress drafted and approved North Carolina's first state constitution. The meeting minutes from this period are available through UNC's Documenting the American South project in HTML format. In addition, there are a variety of other materials related to North Carolina's fight for independence and the functioning of North Carolina's government in 1776 available here
  • Constitutional Convention of 1835: Meeting from June 4 - July 11, 1835, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention of 1835 sought to shift the North Carolina Constitution from a document meant to aid North Carolinians in their move from colonists to citizens of an independent nation to a document meant to spur the growth of the state in the 19th century. The journal from this convention is available through UNC's Documenting the American South project in HTML format. 
  • Constitutional Convention of 1868: Meeting from January 14 - March 17, 1868, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention of 1868 met at the direction of the U.S. Congress under the Reconstruction Acts passed in 1867. The journal from this convention is available through UNC's Documenting the American South project in HTML format. 
  • Constitutional Convention of 1875: Digitized scans of the journal and the resulting amendments from the Convention of 1875 are available through the North Carolina State Library's Digital Collections.  
  • Report of the North Carolina State Constitution Study Commission: Completed in 1968, this report set forth a series of recommended changes and amendments to the North Carolina Constitution. The North Carolina Constitution of 1971 is based on the recommendations made in this report. 

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources on the North Carolina Constitution

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. 

Journal Articles

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:

Websites

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. 

Books