- Paperback: 260 pages
- Publisher: McFarland (December 24, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786475595
- ISBN-13: 978-0786475599
- Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 7 x 0.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,864,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The First American Declaration of Independence? The Disputed History of the Mecklenburg Declaration of May 20, 1775
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"This book is one of the finest pieces of historical detective work I've ever read. Scott Syfert is the Sherlock Holmes of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, able to deal with serious and substantial issues concerning Thomas Jefferson, revolutionary politics, states' pride, accusations of plagiarism, and government cover-ups. He writes in an engaging, scholarly and wholly convincing manner." --Andrew Roberts, author of Storm of War and Masters and Commanders
"Using honed skills of a lawyer and historian, Syfert presents a highly readable and believable accounting of the first formal declaration of independence from English rule in the American colonies and the controversies that it created." --Joe Epley, author of A Passel of Hate
"Leave it to Scott Syfert to rescue and then bring vividly to life a little-known (outside of Charlotte, NC) story of our Revolutionary past and the urgent need by our ancestors for freedom." --Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
About the Author
Scott Syfert is a corporate attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also cofounder of the May 20th Society, a nonprofit dedicated to commemorating the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. He lives in Charlotte.
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Here is an example: "The people of the frontier were not independent of British rule, but as a practical matter British governance was distant and remote. On a day-to-day basis, they governed themselves. In fact, the only thing that the frontiersman usually required from the British authorities was permission -- permission to charter a school, permission to build a mill, permission to perform a marriage ceremony. The government didn't do anything for them. Largely it only hindered them."
In the brief paragraph above, Mr. Syfert succinctly describes not just the role of the British government in the frontier, but also provides a sense of the relationship between the colonists and their rulers, alluding to the general sense of frustration that would emerge among the ruled. This paragraph is typical of Mr. Syfert's style throughout the book -- thoughtfully argued and direct.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in North Carolina history or 18th Century American history in general.
I moved to Charlotte in 1980 and still remember being handed a parchment copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence near the end of my first year in school. For more than 20 years, I never heard another word about it. That is until Mr. Syfert and his associates in the May 20th Society reinvigorated the debate and restored this important piece of North Carolina and American history to the public consciousness. I commend Mr. Syfert a job well done, both for reviving the debate around this important document and for writing a definitive, fair and highly engaging account of the document's origins and controversies.
As usual, I started from scratch, compiling dozens of pdfs of historians' accounts and newspaper articles starting in the 1700s and going through the 19th and 20th centuries. I traced the excitement over the announcement of the declaration, the angry denunciation of it by Thomas Jefferson, the defense in the form of affidavits from surviving participants, and the quite astonishing reversals as Peter Force, George Bancroft, and others weighed in with evidence through the 19th century, with the culmination early in the 20th century--the discovery of an 18th century diary in German, written and preserved in one of "the Moravian towns." In the latter part of the 20th century North Carolina politicians caved under the onslaught of skepticism and the state of North Carolina gave up celebrating May 20 as an official holiday. The great thing about retiring as a mere youth is that, when you want to, you can spend a week ploughing day and into the night on a limited if enormous project and emerge with a good sense of the controversy over, say, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. I emerged as a believer, not that the declaration survives in an 18th century piece of paper but that it existed and that many fine people approved it and some of them were around to testify about it decades later.
I'm just as happy I started from scratch, but a more efficient student might have discovered at the outset that Scott Syfert had recently published a book on THE FIRST AMERICAN DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. In the webzine JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION Jim Piecuch on May 28, 2014 reviewed this book, concluding this way: "Syfert has marshaled all of the corroborating evidence available to support the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration, and his clear and well balanced presentation, giving full attention to opposing arguments, makes a strong case. Unfortunately, it is not conclusive and probably can never be unless new evidence is found. Yet, having begun reading The First American Declaration of Independence as a solid skeptic, by the time I finished the book I found myself accepting the possibility that the document may indeed have existed, and that the citizens of Mecklenburg might actually have declared independence from Great Britain in May 1775." I am happy to see that Piecuch shares that review here on Amazon, one way that serious reviewers can help make Amazon a great honest democratic reviewing organ at a time when the mainstream media is often corrupt as well as incompetent.
Piecuch says he began "as a solid skeptic." I was more open minded for personal reasons, having spent months tracing hundreds of North Carolina patriots through the astounding ongoing gift of Will Graves and C. Leon Harris, the transcriptions of pension applications under the law of 1832 in the Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements and Rosters. If anyone ever deserved the Medal of Freedom! Among other works I already knew pretty well Cyrus Hunter's SKETCHES OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA (1877), so I felt acquainted with many of the participants in the Mecklenburg (that is, Charlotte) meetings late in May 1775. These were momentous men.
History, still, is written by the North, and anyone who thinks that historians give the South due attention should look at the treatment of North Carolina by Gordon S. Wood in THE RADICALISM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. Now, here is Scott Syfert, reasonable, methodical, judicious, and a really eloquent writer. He demonstrates vast knowledge and relies on no special pleading in these pages. In 5 parts, "Life in the Carolina Backcountry (1663-1775)," "High Treason (1775-1781)," "Opening Arguments (1817-1829)," "The Mecklenburg Controversy (1829-2012)," and "Clues and Explanations," Syfert traces the whole story. He divides up the parts into highly focused chapters, such as one devoted to the ride of Captain James Jack to Philadelphia carrying the declaration. Every chapter is fact-filled and every chapter has a driving narrative. This man knows what he is talking about, and knows that he has a terrific story to tell. I warn you, this book may keep you up most of the night, as it did me--it's that compelling. What is Syfert's own history? How does a "corporate attorney" become such a fine historian and fine writer? My hat is off to you, Scott Syfert!
P.S. I hesitate to add this here because it may detract from my praise. I have tried to contact Syfert to say something about his fn 9, Ch. 22, p. 236. He says that a copy no longer exists of Archibald Murphey's article in the Hillsborough RECORDER of March 1821. In fact, I have it in a 3 July 1821 reprint. It is extremely long and extremely important, and Syfert is the man to write an article about it. Any writer feels chagrin at missing an important document. I hated in MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE when a friend just would NOT publish an exciting document and I could not mention it in the book lest I scoop him! The 1821 article is signed with a pseudonym. It took me several hours early in July to figure out that it was Murphey, but there is no doubt about it. I did not know then that the article was not known--I was just blazing ahead as I tend to do, assembling basic materials without consulting books on the subject. Always more to be done, but Syfert's book is terrific, as I said. He just needs to write a little supplement. Oh, dear, good news and bad news, but a really important book!
P.P.S. Scott Syfert called a while ago. He did not in fact know about Florian, the pseudonym of Archibald Murphey, so I am emailing him several pieces Murphey wrote as "Florian." One way or another, Scott will write this up. I hope that Jim Piecuch, who reviewed him here, above, will invite him to write it up for the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. I have not yet checked out the "May 20th Society" but will do so right away. Syfert and other Charlotte historians have been looking afresh at the evidence about the MecDec for several years. More power to them! What a really wonderful book he wrote, and now he has an additional piece to write. J.D. Lewis, the heroic author of the 3 majestic volumes on the NC Patriots, has put up a link at the end of his Mecklenburg Declaration page:
What fine researchers are at work on North Carolina (and South Carolina) Revolutionary history!
I have just received Robert M. Dunkerly's REDCOATS ON THE CAPE FEAR: THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR IN SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA, revised edition. The publisher is the same as Syfert's.
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