John Hood: Serve up a different license plate

Jul. 07, 2014 @ 08:14 PM

RALEIGH — As often happens at the North Carolina Legislature, the new fiscal year has begun with the House and Senate not yet finished with a budget-adjustment bill. One issue I hope doesn’t get left on the table is a House provision that would allow me to take the “First in Flight” license plate off my car.
For more than 30 years, the best that state leaders could do to honor North Carolina’s rich history on our official license plates was to commemorate an occasion in which two inventors from Ohio found a windy, deserted beach on the Outer Banks to test their flying machine. Clearly the Wright brothers did something amazing. But the incident revealed our state to be merely First in Wind.
What the House bill authorizes is for state officials to come up with an alternative license plate bearing the slogan “First in Freedom.” Prior to the adoption of the American Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, North Carolinians did two notable things. First, in May 1775, an assembly of Mecklenburg County leaders proclaimed the establishment of a new government independent of British colonial authority. Second, in April 1776, delegates to North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress in Halifax voted to instruct their representatives in Philadelphia to seek formal American independence from Britain — the first colony to do so.
While the story of the Halifax Resolves isn’t controversial, the same can’t be said of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence reportedly signed by some two dozen community leaders on May 20, 1775. No originals of the document appear to have survived a fire at the home of the meeting secretary, John McKnitt Alexander. A subsequent reconstruction bore so close a resemblance to the American Declaration of Independence that some critics of Thomas Jefferson, including his old political rival John Adams, cited the Mecklenburg document as potential evidence of plagiarism.
The charge against Jefferson was ridiculous, of course — but that doesn’t mean that the Mecklenburg story must be fictitious, as Charlotte attorney Scott Syfert observes in his masterful new book on the subject, “The First American Declaration of Independence?” A separate proclamation for which there is contemporaneous evidence, the so-called Mecklenburg Resolves dated May 31, 1775, was itself a radical statement that declared the authority of the colonial government to be “wholly suspended.” Moreover, there is both documentary evidence and subsequent eyewitness testimony for the proposition that Mecklenburg’s leaders — including militia commanders Thomas
Polk and Adam Alexander (John’s cousin) — made a public announcement of the county’s separation from British rule on or about May 20.
Of course, North Carolinians are free to disbelieve the story. They could still adopt the “First in Freedom” license plate to commemorate the Halifax Resolves, or perhaps even other notable Tar Heel milestones such as the Durham and Greensboro sit-ins advancing the cause of civil rights.
But only if the final state budget includes the license plate provision. As the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Adam Alexander, I’m certainly rooting for it.

John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.