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N.C. Wins Legal Battle Over Bill of Rights

Posted March 24, 2008

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— A Superior Court judge on Monday ended the five-year tug-of-war over North Carolina's original copy of the Bill of Rights.

Judge Henry Hight's order ended all remaining claims to the document and declared the state the sole owner.

The document spelling out the rights of American citizens originally was given to North Carolina by George Washington in 1789. It was stolen from the state Capitol by a Union soldier at the end of the Civil War.

The document eventually wound up in the hands of Wayne Pratt, a Connecticut antiques dealer, who five years ago tried to sell it for $5 million. But his search for a buyer ended with an FBI sting operation, and the Bill of Rights copy was turned over to North Carolina officials based on a seizure warrant signed by a federal judge in Raleigh.

The Bill of Rights was returned to North Carolina in 2005, but a court battle continued to wage over its ownership.

“The Bill of Rights is more than words on a piece of paper. It’s a powerful part of our history and a symbol of our liberty,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement. “It belongs to the people, and it belongs here in North Carolina, for good.”

State officials had tried several times before to recover the stolen document. But they always refused to pay for it, saying they shouldn't have to pay for something that was stolen from the state.

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  • wralfan Mar 25, 2008

    How many of the Rights were covered over with white-out?

  • doodad Mar 24, 2008

    The fact that the antique dealer thought he could get 5 million dollars for it was evidence that it was not private property.

  • enigma1469 Mar 24, 2008

    The state took something that by the process of time was not theirs to take. It would be different if he was the one who stole it or if it was within a reasonable period of time. As far as this goes it was private property.

  • whatusay Mar 24, 2008

    Who did the document belong to when George Washington gave it to NC? I assume the people of the U.S. Not sure it was Washington's to give away.

  • postracker Mar 24, 2008

    The document was NOT stolen. It was simply aquired through the process of personal Eminent Domain.

  • TheAdmiral Mar 24, 2008

    Congratulations - now follow them.

  • NCDavid Mar 24, 2008

    This was North Carolina's presentation copy of the ratified Bill of Rights. All of the original colonies were presented with handwritten copies of the original, signed document after it was ratified. This link talks about the US Marshall's Office's role in the recovery of the document, and has some information on the theft during the Civil War.
    http://www.usmarshals.gov/history/north_carolina_bill_of_rights.htm

  • teachnow Mar 24, 2008

    Each of the original 13 colonies was given a copy. NC's was stolen by a Union soldier during the Civil War.

  • allison842 Mar 24, 2008

    Interesting. Didn't know about this. Shouldn't it be in our nation's capital though? Just my opinion.

  • Southern Fried Yankee Mar 24, 2008

    Good for North Carolina!!...Long may we prosper under the banner of liberty!!