NC copy of Bill of Rights makes rare public appearance

Posted March 18, 2013
Updated March 19, 2013

North Carolina reclaimed its copy of the Bill of Rights in 2005, two years after federal agents seized it in a sting. A Union soldier stole the document at the end of the Civil War.

— To commemorate the 10th anniversary of a sting operation that recovered North Carolina's original copy of the Bill of Rights, the historic document made a rare appearance Monday as lawmakers held a session in its honor.

A group of Richlands Elementary School students from Onslow County helped Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and other officials escort the Bill of Rights from the State Archives to the Capitol Building.

"It's really a miracle that we really do have an original copy of the Bill of Rights," Forest said.

Each of the original 13 colonies received a copy of the document, but North Carolina's copy was stolen by a Union soldier at the end of the Civil War. He took it back up north and sold it for $5.

The family that bought it twice tried to sell it back to the state, said state Secretary of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz.

"North Carolina refused to pay for it because it was ours," Kluttz said.

The state got a lucky break in 2003, when federal agents seized the document in a sting operation in Philadelphia. Against all odds, it was back in North Carolina's hands, and it finally returned to the state in 2005, after a two-year court fight.

NC copy of Bill of Rights Students share in history at NC Capitol

"It was in private hands for over 140 years, so it really is amazing we were able to get it back, even in the condition it's in. It's very fragile," Kluttz said.

The Bill of Rights is usually kept away from light in the State Archives. After one afternoon on display in the capitol rotunda, it returned to the archives Monday evening. 

Karen Metts, a teaching assistant at Richlands Elementary, said it's a day her class will remember a long time.

"It is a part of history, and they have been in it," Metts said.

State lawmakers held a special session honoring the document's recovery Monday night in the old chambers of the historic Capitol Building. Gov. Pat McCrory looked on from the gallery

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, noted that North Carolina had already granted all of the Bill of Rights’ freedoms in its own laws and Declaration of Rights years before the federal document was ratified. 

"We honor them – all the amendments – but North Carolina thought of it first," Stam said. 

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, added that "North Carolina was willing to give up a place in the union over the rights of individuals and even stayed out of the union for a full year, refusing to ratify the Constitution" until a Bill of Rights was agreed upon. 

The vote to honor the document's recovery was unanimous in both chambers. 

The Bill of Rights will make a brief appearance at the legislative building Tuesday afternoon. After that, it's likely to be years before its next public viewing.


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  • davidgnews Mar 19, 2013

    The 'rare public appearance' isn't likely to increase, either on paper or 'for real.'

  • remer54 Mar 18, 2013

    The politicans need to read it and do what it says to do.

  • indrdw Mar 18, 2013

    Had to find this document and read it. This document was very interesting in that it did not limit any citizens right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I wish our legislatures would have not added amendments that legislate how people should live based on their personal and/or religious beliefs using the voters to do pass it. This is not American, it is more like some of the countries we see in the middle east.

  • Ripcord Mar 18, 2013

    Fair enough, jlp. but I really do encourage every American to go to Washington DC to see the original documents. It's truly an inspiring experience.

  • salligalagher Mar 18, 2013

    I wish I could have seen it. I actually read a book on it.

  • jlp Mar 18, 2013


    I stand corrected.

  • ykm Mar 18, 2013

    some folks on here need to read it.

  • Ripcord Mar 18, 2013

    "The 2nd amendment is in the US Constitution, not the Bill of Rights." - jlp

    You're wrong. The Bill of Rights consists of the first 10 Amendments to the US Constitution. The 2nd of those Amendments reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." It is not part of the Constitution proper.

    I've been to Washington DC, I've seen the original documents with my own eyes. I've also read the Constitution. The 2nd Amendment isn't there. You should try it some time.

  • Ripcord Mar 18, 2013

    "It would be interesting to see what it says. Bet slavery was legal - shame on us if so."

    It's an original copy of the original Bill of Rights. It doesn't say anything about slavery.

  • jlp Mar 18, 2013

    "Don't let any Libs know about this. One of them is likely to show up with an erasure for the 2nd Amendment." - Ripcord

    The 2nd amendment is in the US Constitution, not the Bill of Rights.