The American States during and after the Revolution, 1775-1789

By Allan Nevins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT: THE LOWER SOUTH

IN their early political history no States offer a sharper contrast than North and South Carolina. From 1776 to 1780 they were governed in diametrically opposite spirit. The radicals of little property or wisdom obtained control in North Carolina, while in South Carolina the Constitution insured control by the patrician class of planters and merchants. It need not be said that North Carolina's government during and after the war was short-sighted and demagogic. The people of other States, who knew that North Carolinians were poor, ill-educated, and of varied origin, were not surprised by this; they expected so little from the commonwealth that when William Hooper made a powerful speech in the Continental Congress, other delegates showed amazement. Yet North Carolina had men who might have given her a sound administration--men like Hooper, Samuel Johnston, Caswell, Davie, and Iredell--while her population, with all its faults, was the very stuff of democracy. South Carolina's government was good but unprogressive. The Revolution did not throw it into the hands of the unfit but neither did the Revolution introduce half the healthy social and legal changes it introduced into Virginia. The State had no such exponent of a new order as Jefferson.

North Carolina's population was much the greater--at the first census her white inhabitants, almost 300,000, were approximately twice as numerous as those of South Carolina. The empty upland region of both States attracted settlers rapidly, but North Carolina's was the larger and was nearer the main sources of emigration. It is against the background of this new, unstable, poor population of Scotch-Irish, Scotch, Germans, and English in the western counties that we can best understand the character of North Carolina's government.


I. NORTH CAROLINA POLITICS TO 1780

Among the few groups of well-to-do conservatives, the chief place was taken by a set of leaders in the northeastern part of North

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