A freedom agenda for North Carolina
If your tenure in our state stretches back no further than the early 1980s, you may not be aware of the fact North Carolina’s license plates used to say “First in Freedom” rather than “First in Flight.” So you may not fully appreciate why we chose the title First in Freedom for the John Locke Foundation’s just-published book of policy ideas for the new administration and legislature in Raleigh.
The state’s freedom-themed license plate was first issued in 1975, as the nation was preparing to celebrate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. It commemorated North Carolina’s early role in the American Revolution.
In May 1775, a group of Mecklenburg County leaders met in Charlotte to fashion a response to escalating tensions with Britain. As they gathered, news arrived of the battles of Lexington and Concord a month earlier. Worried and angered, the Mecklenburg leaders decided to set up their own institutions of government. In a document later published as the Mecklenburg Resolves, they stated that British military action had resulted in the colonies entering “a state of actual rebellion” and that “all laws and commissions confirmed by or derived from the authority of the King and Parliament are annulled and vacated, and the former civil constitution of these colonies for the present wholly suspended.”
Some believe that the Mecklenburg committee went further still, issuing a formal Declaration of Independence on May 20, the first of its kind in America. But even if the Mecklenburg Resolves was the only document approved by the delegates, it was still a startling and courageous act of resistance against tyrannical government and deserves the veneration still evident on North Carolina’s state flag and state seal.
The revolutionary fervor was hardly limited to Mecklenburg. Political leaders in counties and towns across North Carolina expressed their resolve to fight for liberty over the subsequent months. By April 1776, they met as the Fourth Provincial Congress in Halifax to decide what North Carolina’s position should be at the upcoming Continental Congress. In the resulting Halifax Resolves, the assembled state leaders, including three veterans of the 1775 Mecklenburg committee, instructed the North Carolina delegation in Philadelphia to pursue formal independence from Britain – the first such decision in America. The date of the Halifax Resolves, April 12, is the other date honored on the North Carolina seal and flag.
So there is a strong case to be made that the Tar Heel State led the way on American independence, although it took nearly two centuries to deliver on the promissory note of freedom for all of our citizens. Now, in the early 21st century, we face new challenges to our economic vitality, our families, our liberty, and our tradition of constitutional government. Again, it is time for North Carolina leaders to act.
In First in Freedom, my JLF colleagues and I offer the following action plan:
• Replace North Carolina’s uncompetitive and unfair tax code with a new pro-growth system that targets consumption and encourages savings, investment, business formation and job creation.
• Place stronger constitutional limits on state budget growth and the issuance of public debt so that tax dollars are concentrated on the state’s highest budget priorities and investment needs.
• Continue the process of removing costly, counterproductive regulations that inhibit job creation and raise the cost of energy, food, medical care, and other goods and services.
• Enhance North Carolina’s long-term rate of economic growth by investing more wisely in infrastructure and bringing more academic rigor, accountability, management flexibility, competition, and parental choice to the delivery of educational services.
• Reorganize the operating system of state government to reduce the number of Council of State and Cabinet agencies, sort out the state’s convoluted governance system for education, strengthen accountability to the public, and promote competitive elections in North Carolina.
In short, North Carolina should reclaim our heritage and resume our leadership in the cause of liberty. Let’s be “First in Freedom” once more.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation, which has just published First In Freedom: Transforming Ideas into Consequences for North Carolina. It is available at JohnLockeStore.com.