As should be obvious by now, North Carolina is undergoing dramatic change in 2013. A new Republican governor and legislature are pursuing new approaches to state issues such as taxation, regulation, transportation, and education. North Carolina Democrats — locked out of executive, legislative, and judicial power for the first time since Reconstruction — are seeking to reorganize themselves as an effective opposition party.
In other words, both political coalitions are adapting to unfamiliar roles. So far, 2013 has already featured dramatic events and compelling controversies. More will follow. It seems likely that future scholars of North Carolina’s political history will look back on the year as a momentous one.
For those who like to watch history’s odometer turning over, the prospect is fascinating. You see, 2013 also happens to be an anniversary year for a number of events of historical significance. In the process of writing two recent books of family history, I came to understand these events in an entirely different context from my original exposure as a high school and college student.
For example, as Marion Redd observed in a recent Raleigh News & Observer guest column, it was 150 years ago that Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee, including some Hoods in western North Carolina’s 26th Regiment, invaded Pennsylvania and met with a bloody defeat at Gettysburg.
It was 200 years ago that Creek Indians allied with Britain during the War of 1812 began attacking settlements in Alabama and Georgia. In response, native Carolinian Andrew Jackson led volunteers and militiamen south and west to confront the “Red Stick” Creeks. The initial battles in late 1813 featured the exploits of a Tennessee scout named Davy Crockett and a Cherokee from Western North Carolina named Chief Junaluska. Gen. Jackson’s campaign also involved hundreds of North Carolinians with less-familiar names, including my ancestors William Lemmond and “Long Jimmie” Morrison.
It was 250 years ago that the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years War — known in America as the French and Indian War. Also in 1763, a bill enacted the previous year went into effect to carve out a swath of Anson County to create the new Mecklenburg County. Another ancestor of mine, Adam Alexander, was involved in both events. As a captain during the French and Indian War, Adam served under his uncle Col. Nathaniel Alexander, who commanded the Anson County militia in the defense of western North Carolina (including Fort Dobbs, now a state historic site). And when North Carolina’s colonial government drew up the proclamation creating Mecklenburg County, it actually cited Adam Alexander’s farm as a landmark for defining the new county’s eastern border. Adam later commanded the Mecklenburg militia during the Revolutionary War and was said to own the largest collection of books in the region. Adam’s cousin, another fellow named Nathaniel Alexander, would be the first and only Mecklenburg native elected governor of North Carolina (Jim Martin and Pat McCrory may have begun their political careers in Mecklenburg, but they were born in Georgia and Ohio, respectively).
Finally, it was 300 years ago that King Charles II granted the charter creating the colony of Carolina to a group of his supporters in Parliament. The leader of the colonial proprietors was Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury, who then asked his personal physician and political aide to help draw up a governing document for the new Carolina colony. That man, John Locke, would later make his fame with a far more progressive and influential set of writings on constitutional government, epistemology, welfare reform, and religious toleration.
Fortunately, there is a critical difference between the momentous changes of 2013 and most of the aforementioned historical events of 1863, 1813, 1763, and 1663. Although debates in the General Assembly this year may get heated, they’ll be settled with words and ballots, not bullets and bayonets.