Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
"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.