Thursday, July 2, 2009

Did Jefferson borrow from the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence?

The First Declaration of Independence

Few know that before the famous Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, another Declaration was signed in Mecklenburg, North Carolina. I first discovered this fact while researching my Harris ancestors. Richard Harris was a signer.


Either these resolutions are a plagiarism from Mr. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, or Mr. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence is a plagiarism from those resolutions.
——John Adams, August 21, 1819[6]

The 1819 article about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was republished in many newspapers across the United States.[7] People immediately noticed that, even though the Mecklenburg Declaration was supposedly written more than a year before the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, the two declarations had some very similar phrases, including "dissolve the political bands which have connected", "absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown", "are, and of right ought to be", and "pledge to each other, our mutual cooperation, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor".[8] This raised an obvious question: did Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the American Declaration of Independence, use the Mecklenburg Declaration as a source?

The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is allegedly the first declaration of independence made in the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution. It was supposedly signed on May 20, 1775, at Charlotte, North Carolina, by a committee of citizens of Mecklenburg County, who declared independence from Great Britain after hearing of the battle of Lexington. If the story is true, the Mecklenburg Declaration preceded the United States Declaration of Independence by more than a year. The authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration has been disputed since it was first published in 1819, forty-four years after it was reputedly written. There is no conclusive evidence to confirm the original document's existence, and no reference to it has been found in extant newspapers from 1775.

The flag of North Carolina bears the date of the Mecklenburg Declaration: May 20, 1775.

Many professional historians have maintained that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is an inaccurate rendering of an authentic document known as the Mecklenburg Resolves. The Mecklenburg Resolves were a set of radical resolutions passed on May 31, 1775, that fell short of an actual declaration of independence. Although published in newspapers in 1775, the text of the Mecklenburg Resolves was lost after the American Revolution and not rediscovered until 1838. Historians believe that the Mecklenburg Declaration was written in 1800 in an attempt to recreate the Mecklenburg Resolves from memory. According to this theory, the author of the Mecklenburg Declaration mistakenly believed that the Resolves had been a declaration of independence, and so he recreated the Resolves with language borrowed from the United States Declaration of Independence. Defenders of the Mecklenburg Declaration have argued that both the Mecklenburg Declaration and the Mecklenburg Resolves are authentic.

The early government of North Carolina, convinced that the Mecklenburg Declaration was genuine, maintained that North Carolinians were the first Americans to declare independence from Great Britain. As a result, both the seal and the flag of North Carolina bear the date of the declaration. A holiday commemorating the Mecklenburg Declaration, "Meck Dec Day", is celebrated on May 20 in North Carolina, although it is no longer an official holiday and does not attract the attention that it once did.


Richard and Priscilla (Holmes) Harris

Richard HARRIS - d. 1786-May 1787, Granville Co., NC. Son of Richard HARRIS and Margaret KIMBROUGH. He (or possibly his father) was the Richard HARRIS who was Sgt. in the company of Capt. John SALLI, 1754, Granville, Co., NC. A 2-great granddaughter [Sarah F. (McGILL) DEAN, daughter of Dr. James W. McGILL, granddaughter of Sarah (PARKER) NEELY McGILL, and great granddaughter of Mary (HARRIS) PARKER] relates that he was the Richard HARRIS of Tar River who signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence on May 20, 1775. Richard HARRIS, Jr. and Jonathan PARKER (father-in-law of Richard's daughter Mary) took an oath to defend NC against George III in Tar River District, Granville Co., NC on May 22, 1778 (recorded May 30, 1778) [State Records of North Carolina, Vol. 22, p. 169]. Various land records include the names of Richard and Robert HARRIS, probably brothers, and Richard HARRIS, Jr. A published abstract of the 1785 Will of Richard HARRIS follows [see also will transcription from a photocopy]:

© Janet Crain

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