How North Carolina made a revolutionary declaration constitutional law

Constitution Day has me thinking on individual rights and the protection of them, at the federal level, yes, but also here in North Carolina. One thing I very much appreciate about the North Carolina State Constitution is in Article I, Section 1:

Section 1. The equality and rights of persons:
We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.

Does that wording sound familiar? It should. It’s a liberal borrowing from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But this is very important: in North Carolina, the self-evident truths are not just undergirding and informing the thinking that produced the Constitution, they are a very part of it.

Life. Liberty. Pursuit of happiness.

And in North Carolina, there’s one more self-evident gift of God all people have: the right to the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.

North Carolina is bang on the money with remembering to include that. As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations (Book I, Chapter X, Part II):

The property which every man has in his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable.

The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this most sacred property.

After all, life, liberty, and property was the original grand trifecta, as famously elucidated by John Locke. In 1669 Locke wrote the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which as author George Stephens pointed out “set up a system of nobility and serfs, which is so out of character with his philosopy that it seems likely that he was under orders to write as he did.”

Locke’s political philosophy influenced Thomas Jefferson and his writing of the Declaration of Independence. Which as shown above influenced the North Carolina State Constitution’s declaration of individual rights.

Which is fully in character of Locke’s philosophy.

Jon Sanders / Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...