While Charlotteans were celebrating (in their nightcaps?) the 131st anniversary of the Meck Dec — and commemorating it with this brass badge — big trouble was on the way.
“Despite North Carolina’s efforts,” Ronnie W. Faulkner writes in NCpedia, “a number of scholars outside the state maintained that the Mecklenburg document was a fraud. The ultimate scholarly blow came in 1907 with the publication of William Henry Hoyt‘s The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence: A Study of Evidence Showing That the Alleged Declaration of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, Is Spurious.
“Using the latest methods of scientific history and internal criticism, Hoyt maintained that the evidence was overwhelming that the reconstructed declaration was a misconstruction of the Mecklenburg Resolves of 31 May 1775, which contemporary newspapers proved had been written. Most North Carolinians ignored Hoyt’s work, but not Samuel A. Ashe, editor, historian, and descendant of one of the state’s most prominent families. The first volume of Ashe’s History of North Carolina (1908) presented both sides of the issue but ultimately agreed with the naysayers.
“A bitter fight broke out in the North Carolina General Assembly over a bill authorizing the purchase of Ashe’s book for the public schools. House Speaker Augustus W. Graham, the son of a governor and descendant of a ‘signer’ of the Mecklenburg Declaration, took the floor and defeated the authorization bill. Opponents of the measure, appealing to patriotism, noted that the date of 20 May was enshrined on the state flag and seal….”
“Thousands of Mecklenburg citizens, many of them direct lineal descendants of signers of the famous document, are expected to gather in the open air theater of Independence Park to celebrate with salvo and song the 157th anniversary of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
“A dozen patriotic societies will commemorate the signing of the immortal document… and at the same time will honor the George Washington bicentennial observance in programs throughout the year.”
— From “Open air exercises to mark May 20 observance” in the Charlotte Observer (May 17, 1932)
Outside its home county the Meck Dec has struggled to entrench itself as an “immortal document,” especially among evidence-demanding historians.
This image is from a poster stamp, intended for promotion rather than postage.
“When Oklahoma state Rep. Dan Fisher (R) first introduced his bill to eliminate funding for AP U.S. History in Oklahoma, he included the Mecklenburg Declaration among documents of ‘historical significance’ that students must read in American History class.
“The document is not listed in the version of the bill approved by the Oklahoma House Common Education Committee on Monday, perhaps because historians dispute the document’s origins….”
— From “Anti-AP History GOPer Wanted To Teach Widely Disputed Document” by Caitlin MacNeal at Talking Points Memo (Feb. 18)
h/t Erik Spanberg
On this day in 1909: President William Howard Taft visits Charlotte for Meck Dec Day and the dedication of the 12-story Realty Building, the Carolinas’ first steel-frame skyscraper.
Just as a parade past Taft’s reviewing stand ends, a sudden downpour sends thousands running for cover. The president’s speech, moved indoors, opposes partisan politics in the federal judiciary. But it will be the “Taft rain” that Charlotteans remember.
Later, at what will become Johnson C. Smith University, Taft sits in a chair custom-built to accommodate his 325 pounds and urges blacks to continue pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
These two postcards from the collection mark Taft’s visit to Charlotte.
Harper’s Weekly sent a correspondent and an artist to cover the 1875 centennial celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Although it admitted skepticism about the document’s authenticity, Harper’s devoted a full page to the ambitious program of speeches, fireworks and banquets staged by the town of perhaps 5,000.
“The people are exhibiting an enterprise that will in time make Charlotte a centre of considerable trade and manufacture,” the paper astutely predicted.
It voiced less enthusiasm, however, for “one of the side-diversions of the day… a grand cock-fight between North Carolina and South Carolina birds which might better have been omitted from the programme.”
On this day in 1916: Woodrow Wilson visits Charlotte for Meck Dec Day. “A hearty cheer greeted the president as he left the train, and he smiled warmly and doffed his silk hat in response,” The Observer reports. “Southern crowds are not much on cheering except when ‘Dixie’ is played; they usually prefer to gaze in silence, but the president and Mrs. Wilson were greeted with vocal demonstrations wherever they went.”
Wilson, however, is soon overshadowed by Mayor T. L. Kirkpatrick, who takes the speakers’ platform to introduce Gov. Locke Craig. Undeterred by the sight of spectators and soldiers fainting in the steamy heat, Kirkpatrick offers a 40-minute review of Mecklenburg history. When the mayor at last yields, Craig introduces President Wilson in a single sentence.
Kirkpatrick, who will suffer considerable teasing about having spoken more than twice as long as the president, always insists that Wilson told him he was not feeling well and to stretch his remarks. The mayor’s speech makes such an impression on First Lady Edith Wilson that she scathingly recalls it in her memoirs.
More phrase-frequency charts from Google Books Ngram Reader:
— Krispy Kreme vs. Dunkin Donuts
— Wrightsville Beach vs. Myrtle Beach
— LSMFT (Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco)
— Reynolds Price vs. Anne Tyler
— Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence vs. Protocols of Zion
The ongoing revision of North Carolina’s Civil War talking points brings to mind the advice R.D.W. Connor, the state’s most prominent historian, gave editor Robert B. House in 1923 on how to put out the new North Carolina Historical Review:
“Don’t let professional North Carolinians and professional Southerners ruin the quarterly with ‘patriotic’ articles… Make it a real scholarly historical publication. Avoid old hackneyed subjects — Mecklenburg Declaration, Regulators, First at Bethel, number of troops in Confed. Army, etc.!”
“Last week [President Eisenhower] flew to Charlotte, N.C. for ceremonies commemorating the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration…. The trip’s real purpose was to assist Charles R. Jonas, 49, who is up for re-election as North Carolina’s sole Republican Congressman.
“Without any open endorsements or overt politicking, Ike managed to give Jonas his beaming blessing. The President, said a G.O.P. strategist, ‘is like a man with an umbrella—everyone wants to stand under it with him.’ ”
— From Time magazine, May 31, 1954
Jonas won a second term and served 10 terms in all before retiring.
“The language of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence clearly depended on the Mecklenburg Declaration, which was the work of 27 oatmeal-eating Calvinists, a third of whom were ruling elders in the Presbyterian church.
“One Hessian officer, writing home during the war, said, ‘…. Call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.’ ”
— From “Five Cities That Ruled the World” (2009) by Douglas Wilson
(Listeners to “A Prairie Home Companion” may recall sponsor Mournful Oatmeal, billed as “Calvinism in a box.”)
Pictured: “Hornets nest” pinback button, probably worn on Meck Dec Day.