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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter III - A Paper on Civil and Religious Liberty, in 1775


"She has seven sons in the rebel army," was the reason given by the British officer for plundering the farm and burning the house of Widow Brevard, in Centre Congregation, while Cornwallis was in pursuit of Morgan and Greene, after the victory of the Cowpens. What a mother! seven sons in the army at one time! all fighting for the independence of their country! And for this glorious fact, the house of the widow plundered and burned, and her farm pillaged!

One son, Captain Alexander Brevard, a tall, dignified gentleman, independent in his feelings and his manners, rendered signal services in the Continental army. He took part in nine important battles—Brandywine, Germantown, Princeton, Stony Point, Eutaw, Guilford, Camden, Ninety-Six, and Stono. Of all these, he used to say, the battle of the Eutaw was the sorest conflict; in that he lost twenty-one of his men. When the time of hard service was over, he returned to private life, and never sought political promotion; enjoying that liberty for which he had fought, and serving his generation as a good citizen, and the church as an elder, respected and beloved. He laid his bones at last in Lincoln county, the place of his residence for many years, in a spot selected by himself and General Graham. They served as soldiers in the Revolution, and lived as most intimate friends : having married sisters, the daughters of Major John Davidson, one of the members of the Mecklenburg Convention, they were brothers indeed; and dying in the hope of a blessed resurrection, they sleep, with their wives and many of their children, in their chosen place of sepulture. You may find the graves of these honorable dead in a secluded place, walled in with rock, about a hundred paces from the great road leading from Beattie's Ford by Brevard's Furnace to Lincolnton, a spot where piety and affection and patriotism may meet and mingle their tears; and youth may gather lessons of wisdom.

The youngest son of this widow, afterwards Judge Brevard of Camden, South Carolina, was first lieutenant of a company of horse, at the age of seventeen, and held, through life, a corresponding station in the opinions and affections of his fellow men.

Ephraim Brevard, another son of this widow, having pursued a course of classical studies in his native congregation, was graduated at Princeton College; and having pursued a course of medical studies, was settled in Charlotte. His talents, patriotism and education, united with his prudence and practical sense, marked him as a leader in the councils, that preceded the convention, held in Queen's Museum; and on the day of meeting designated him as secretary and draughtsman of that singular and unrivalled declaration, which alone is a passport to the memory of posterity through all time.

Dr. Brevard took an active part in the establishment and management of the literary institution in Charlotte, which was, to all useful purposes, a college, though refused that name by the king and council. His name appears upon the degree given John Graham in 1778, which is carefully preserved at Vesuvius Furnace, the only degree of the institution now known to be in existence. For a time the institution was under his instruction.

When the British forces invaded the southern States, Dr. Brevard entered the army as surgeon, and was taken prisoner at the surrender of Charleston, May 12th, 1780. The sufferings of the captives taken in that surrendered city, moved the hearts of the brave inhabitants of Western Carolina, and in the tenderness of the female bosom found alleviation. News was circulated among the settlements in the upper country, that. their friends and relations were dying of want and disease, in their captivity. The men could not visit them; it would be leaping into the lion's den. The wives, the mothers, the sisters, the daughters, gathering clothing and provisions and medicine, sought through long journeys, the places of confinement, trusting to their sex, under the Providence of God, for their protection. These visits of mercy saved the lives of multitudes; and in some cases were purchased by the lives of the noble females that dared to undertake them. The mother of President Andrew Jackson, returning to the Waxhaw, from a visit made to the prisoners, having been the bearer of medicine, and clothing, and sympathy, was seized with a fever in that wide, sandy wilderness of pines that intervened, and died in a tent, and was buried by the roadside, and lies in an unknown grave. Multitudes perished and found a captive's grave; and multitudes more contracted disease whose wasting influence more slowly, yet as surely, laid then low among their native hills. Of these was Dr. Brevard. On being set at liberty, he sought the residence of John McKnitt Alexander, his friend and co-secretary, for rest and recovery. The air of that mild climate, and the aid of medicine, and the watchful care of friends, all failed to restore him. Struggling for a time against the disease, with hopes of recovery, the breathed his last, about the time the hostile forces trod his native soil. He gave "life, fortune, and most sacred honor," in his country's service. The first was sacrificed; the last is imperishable. You may search Hopewell graveyard in vain for a trace of his grave. his bones have mouldered beneath the turf that covers Davidson and the Alexanders, but no stone tells where they are laid. No man living can lead the inquirer to the spot.

There is a paper in his handwriting, preserved for a long time in the family of his friend John McKnitt. Alexander, and now in the possession of the Governor of North Carolina, William A.. Graham, which is as remarkable as the proceeding of the Convention on which it is based. It bears date September 1st, 1775. The first Provincial Congress of North Carolina was then in session in Hillsborough. The delegates from Mecklenburg were his compeers and personal friends,—Polk, Avery, Pfifer and McKnitt Alexander.

"INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE DELEGATES OF MECKLENBURG COUNTY,
PROPOSED TO THE CONSIDERATION' OF THE COUNTY.

"1st. You are instructed to vote that the late Province of North Carolina is, and of right ought to be, a free and independent State; is vested with the powers of Legislation, capable of making laws to regulate all the internal police, subject only in its internal connections and foreign commerce, to a negative of a continental Senate.

"2d. You are instructed to vote for the execution of a civil government under the authority of the people, for the future security of all the rights, privileges, and prerogatives of the State, and the private, natural and unalienable rights of the constituting members thereof, either as melt or Christians. if this should not be confirmed in Congress, or Convention,—protest.

"3d. You are instructed to vote that an equal representation be established, and that the qualifications required to enable any person or persons to have a voice in legislation may not be screwed too nigh, but that every freeman, who shall be called upon to support government, either in person or property, may be admitted thereto. If this should not be confirmed,--protest and remonstrate.

"4th. You are instructed to vote that legislation be not a divided right, and that no man, or body of men, be invested with a negative on the voice of the people duly collected; and that no honors or dignities be confirmed for life, or made hereditary on any person or persons, either legislative or executive. If this should not be confirmed,—protest and remonstrate.

"5th. You are instructed to vote that all and every person or persons, seized or possessed of any estate, real or personal, agreeable to the late establishment, be confirmed in their seizure and possession, to all intents and purposes in law, who have not forfeited their right to the protection of the State, by their inimical practices towards the same. If this should not be confirmed,—protest.

"6th. You are instructed to vote that deputies, to represent this State in a Continental Congress, be appointed in and by the supreme legislative body of the State; the form of the nomination to be submitted to, if free' And also, that all officers, the influence of whose office is equally to extend to every part of the State, be appointed in the same manner and form. Likewise, give your consent to the establishing the old political divisions, if it should be voted in Convention, or to new ones if similar. On such establishment taking place, you are instructed to vote, in general, that all officers, who are to exercise this authority in any of the said districts, be recommended to the trust only by the freemen of said division—to be subject, however, to the general laws and regulations of the State. If this should not be substantially confirmed, —protest.

"7th. You are instructed to move and insist that the people you immediately represent, be acknowledged to be a distinct county of this State, as formerly of the late province, with the additional privilege of electing in their on officers, both civil and military, together with election of clerks and sheriffs, by the freemen of the same : the choice to be confirmed by the sovereign authority of the State, and the officers so invested to be under the jurisdiction of the State, and liable to its cognizance and inflictions in case of malpractice. If this should not be confirmed,—protest and remonstrate.

"8th. You are instructed to vote that no chief justice, no secretary of State, no auditor-general, no surveyor-general, no practising lawyer, no clerk of any court of record, no sheriff, and no person holding a military office in this State, shall be a representative of the people in Congress or Convention. If this should not be confirmed,—contend for it.

9th. You are instructed to vote that all claims against the public, except such as accrue upon attendance on Congress or Convention, be first submitted to the inspection of a committee of nine or more men, inhabitants of the county where said claimant is resident, and without the approbation of said committee it shall not be accepted by the public; for which purpose you are to move and insist that a law be enacted to empower the freemen of each county to choose a committee of not less than nine men, of whom none are to be military officers. If this should not be confirmed, —protest and remonstrate.

10th. You are instructed to refuse to enter into any combination of secresy, as members of Congress and Convention, and also to refuse to subscribe to any ensnaring tests binding you to unlimited subjection to the determination of Congress or Convention.

11th. You are instructed to move and insist that the public accounts, fairly stated, shall be regularly kept in proper books, open to the inspection of all whom it may concern. If this should not be confirmed,—contend for it.

"12th. You are instructed to move and insist that the power of county courts be much more extensive than under the former constitution, both with respect to matters of property and breaches of the peace. If not confirmed,—contend for it.

"13th. You are instructed to assent and consent to the establishment of the Christian religion, as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and more briefly comprised in the thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, excluding the thirty-seventh article, together with all the articles excepted and not to be imposed on dissenters by the Act of Toleration; and clearly held forth in the Confession of Faith, compiled by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster; to be the religion of the State, to the utter exclusion, for ever, of all and every other (falsely so called) religion, whether pagan or papal;—and that full, and free, and peaceable enjoyment thereof be secured to all and every constituent member of the State, as their unalienable right as freemen, without the imposition of rites and ceremonies, whether claiming civil or ecclesiastical power for their source;—and that a confession and profession of the religion so established shall be necessary in qualifying any person for public trust in the State. If this should not be confirmed,—protest and remonstrate.

"14th. You are instructed to oppose to the utmost, any particular church or set of clergymen being invested with power to decree rites and ceremonies, and to decide in controversies of faith, to be submitted to under the influence of penal laws. You are also to oppose the establishment of any mode of worship to be supported to the oppression of the rights of conscience, together with the destruction of private property. You are to understand that under the modes of worship are comprehended the different forms of swearing by law required. You are, moreover, to oppose the establishing an ecclesiastical supremacy in the sovereign authority of the State. You are to oppose the toleration of popish idolatrous worship. If this should not be confirmed,—protest and remonstrate.

"15th. You are instructed to move and insist that not less than four-fifths of the body of which you are members, shall, in voting, be deemed a majority. If this should not be confirmed,—contend for it.

"16th. You are instructed to give your voices to and for every motion, or bill, made or brought into Congress or Convention, when they appear to be for public utility, and in no ways repugnant to the above instructions.

17th. Gentlemen, the foregoing instructions you are not only to look upon as instructions, but as charges, to which you are desired to take special heed, as the ground of your conduct as our Representatives; and we expect you will exert yourselves to the utmost of your ability to obtain the purposes given you in charge and wherein you fail, either in obtaining or opposing, you are hereby ordered to enter your protest against the vote of Congress or Convention, as is pointed out to you in the above instructions."

This paper will not suffer in comparison with any political paper of the age. In some respects it surpassed all with which Mr. Brevard and his compeers had any acquaintance. In the first and seventh resolutions there is a reference made to preceding events in North Carolina, to which nothing corresponds but the doings of the Mecklenburg convention. The Congress of North Carolina in session at the time this paper was drawn up, was not prepared for such a step as is referred to—the entire independence of the State.

In the second and third resolutions, the democratic republican principles are announced in their full extent,—complete protection, and extended suffrage. In the fourth and fifth, aristocratic honors are done away; and the right of property confirmed. In the seventh, the election of all officers, civil and military, is confirmed to the people at large. In the eighth, the jealous watchfulness of an abused community is seen in shutting out all public officers, from whom any oppression had been suffered under His Majesty, from the office of law-maker for the community. In the ninth, tenth, and eleventh, the expenditure of the public money is guarded from all such impositions as had been complained of in times past. The object and amount of all expenditures to be fairly stated, that no impositions like those suffered in Orange, and from which the Regulators sprung, might be repeated. By the twelfth, the execution of the laws is brought more within the power of the people, or at least more carefully within their view.

But the thirteenth and fourteenth resolutions are especially worthy of notice, as asserting religious liberty. He does not take the false ground that all religions are to be contemplated, in the constitution of a free people, as alike open for the adoption of the community at large; and that any religion, or no religion, may become the public sentiment without detriment to liberty :but having secured to all persons undisturbed enjoyment of life, laud, and estate, he takes the broad ground that there is one true religion, and that religion is acknowledged as true by the State. He believed the Bible, and from it had drawn his principles of morals, and religion, and politics:—from it, the people of Mecklenburg had drawn theirs,—and multitudes in Carolina had drawn theirs. To abjure religion would be to abjure freedom and time hope of immortality. Time phrases confession and profession in the thirteenth resolution, are not taken in a restricted sense or made denominational, but used in their enlarged meaning, embracing all Protestants, asserting the Bible to be true, and as a revelation containing the complete system of the only true religion.

To put beyond all doubt, however, what he understood by the Christian religion, he marks out the two well known and accredited systems of Articles with which he and his constituents had been familiar, and under which he arraigned all Protestants, both asserting the main principles of the Reformation, and one conjoining a system of efficient government on which he had modelled his political creed,—a creed the inhabitants of a large part of North Carolina were prepared to defend. He would have the community disown Infidelity and all Paganism, and avow the religion of the Bible.

Having asserted the paramount authority of the Christian Religion as the sole acknowledged religion of the community,—he then puts all denominations on a level, in political matters. North Carolina had suffered as little as any community had, or perhaps could, from a religious establishment, that is, certain forms and doctrines supported at public expense, and defended by law;—but the evils resulting had been so many and so great, that these resolutions require that no denomination, not even that of a majority of the citizens, should have any peculiar privileges guaranteed by law. The people of Mecklenburg were almost universally of the same faith as himself; but he asked no favor by the power of law. But one other State in the Union had, at that time, acknowledged this grand principle, and with this State the author of this paper had no communication. The idea was to him, and his constituents, a peculiar idea,—like the idea of independence under the supremacy of law, it was consistent and complete.

Of all the forms in which religion, professedly drawn from the Bible, is presented in any part of the world, one only is excepted in the resolution,—that is the Popish. The ancestors of these people in Mecklenburg had brought with them, from the mother country, no kind remembrance of the spirit of the Popish clergy and their adherents. Turn to what period of the history of their fathers they might, and the Romish priests appeared the enemies of that religious liberty and civil freedom for which they panted. Every page of the history was stained with blood. They fully believed the spirit of popery unchanged; and to tolerate it, was to cherish in their bosom an enemy to the very privileges and enjoyments for which they had labored, and for which they were prepared to lay down their lives. The principles of religious liberty, asserted by their ancestors the other side of the ocean, took deep root in the wilderness of Carolina, and grew as indigenous plants. The people felt they were born to be free —were free; and having made declaration of their freedom, would maintain it against all enemies unto death.

Now that the subject of religious liberty has been discussed about three-quarters of a century, in the freest country on earth, the only exception that can be taken against these resolutions on religious liberty, is on this single point—the exclusion of popish rites and ceremonies. In other colonies the contention had been against foreign interference with the established religion of the province; here, as in Rhode Island, the ground is taken against all State establishments whatever. It is instructive to observe how this principle, avowed by Roger Williams in exile and suffering, and proclaimed by the emigrants in North Carolina, has at length become the received opinion of time whole United States. And while, on principle, the free exercise of religious rites is guaranteed to all that claim to be Christians, of whatever sect or denomination, there is a growing fear, manifesting itself in every section of country, lest the extension of popish rites and ceremonies shall be found at last injurious to civil liberty.

The resolutions of the Mecklenburg, Convention establish a government, and at the same time they set aside the authority of the kin; of Great Britain. In this paper the great principles on which to frame a constitution of the most entire freedom, fullest protection, and most complete dominion of law, are laid down. The one is a beautiful expression of enthusiastic devotion to liberty and law; and the other is a calm expression of the idea of that liberty for which these patriots panted. Neither were mere theories or paper declarations; both were realities. The people felt themselves independent,—and that they had a natural right to the freedom they enjoyed in their log cabins in the wilderness, and on the plains of the Catawba, far removed from the wealth and refinement of the seaboard. Their flocks and their plains, with the skilful hands of their wives and daughters, and the brawny arms of their sons, and the mines beneath their feet, supplied the wants, and even time luxuries of men who could sleep upon straw, be contented in homespun coats, and find domestic peace in a log cabin. The liberty for which their fathers had sighed, these men had found. They knew the value of the pearl, and rejoiced in that liberty in which God, in his grace and wonderful providence, had made them free.

This paper is the expression of the feelings of thousands in Carolina in 1775, and the feelings of multitudes at this day. The merit of Ephraim Brevard is, not that he alone originated these principles, or was singular in adhering to them, but that he embodied them in so condensed a form, and expressed them so well. He thought clearly,—felt deeply,—wrote well,—resisted bravely,--and died a martyr to that liberty none loved better, and few understood so well.


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