The single biggest piece of evidence against the existence of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence – or put differently, the lack of evidence in its favor – is the fact that no original copy of the document exists. The original records were all lost in a fire at the home of John McKnitt Alexander in 1800. Skeptics of the story allege that without the original document the story is unprovable.
Skeptics of the story also have to contend with the various eyewitness testimonies that were collected around 1830, given by credible witnesses including Revolutionary war heroes and Presbyterian ministers. These witnesses, thirteen in number (along with several others, such as Robert Henry and Dr. Charles Caldwell who gave similar accounts) also corroborate the basic story that Mecklenburg County declared independence on 20 May 1775. Skeptics, however, dismiss the credibility of these accounts because they were made many decades after the fact, in some cases fifty years later.
But what the skeptics lacked was a unifying theory that could account for the admittedly circumstantial but nonetheless concrete evidence that seemed to strongly suggest that something happened in Mecklenburg in late May 1775. The foundation for their case was unearthed in 1838 when a historian named Peter Force discovered a series of “resolves” from a Committee in Charlotte-Town, dated 31 May 1775.
The preamble of the Resolves read:
“Whereas by an Address presented to His Majesty by both Houses of Parliament, in February last, the American colonies are declared to be in a state of actual rebellion, we conceive, that all laws and commissions confirmed by, or derived from the authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated, and the former civil constitution of these colonies, for the present, wholly suspended. To provide, in some degree, for the exigencies of this county, in the present alarming period, we deem it proper and necessary to pass the following Resolves.”
These became known as the “Mecklenburg Resolves” to differentiate them from the “Mecklenburg Declaration.” These Resolves became (and in fact remain) the key to the entire case for the skeptics of the story. According to their theory, the people of Charlotte passed the Mecklenburg Resolves on 31 May 1775 (which is unarguable, since they have been found), but these fall short of a declaration of independence.
According to this theory, when the witnesses gave their testimony in 1830, in their old age they conflated in their minds a true event (the Mecklenburg Resolves) with a fictitious one (the Mecklenburg Declaration). In short, the entire Mecklenburg Declaration story is simply a case of mistaken identity. To this day, whether the Mecklenburg Resolves are a part of the overall story (as the believers suggest) or the “real” document itself remains the crux of the Mecklenburg Controversy.
The preamble plus four resolves were from the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), December 18, 1838, 2. The text of the Resolves quoted in this chapter is from the original version of The South-Carolina Gazette; and Country Journal of June 13, 1775 [No. 498] held in the collection of the Charleston Library Society, Charleston, SC.