The roots of North Carolina helping the poor go deep into history, all the way to the English Poor Laws when we were still an English colony. The Colonial Assembly charged the vestry of each parish to levy a tax for what was then referred to as “poor relief”. Dependent children were placed with families and learned a trade as an apprentice. It was simply a natural aspect of civilized life to care for the less fortunate.
The North Carolina Constitution of 1776 did not include any responsibility for the poor, but those responsibilities previously held by the local vestrymen were assumed by the elected overseers. In 1793 and 1831, the legislature authorized the building of almshouses with the use of county tax funds.
After the Civil War a new state constitution was drafted. The North Carolina Constitution of 1868 explicitly included a role for state government. Article XI Section 7 reads as follows:
“Beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate and orphan, being one of the first duties of a civilized and christian state, the General Assembly, shall at its first session, appoint and define the duties of a Board of Public Charities, to whom shall be entrusted the Supervision of all charitable and penal State institutions, and who shall annually report to the governor upon their condition, with suggestions for their improvement.”
In 1971, North Carolinians decided it was time for a new constitution and did not mince words regarding the importance of caring for the poor. Article 11 Section 4 continued the North Carolina tradition for caring for the poor. “Beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate, and the orphan is one of the first duties of a civilized and Christian state. Therefore the General Assembly shall provide for and define the duties of a board of public welfare.”
North Carolinians should be justly proud of their long history of concern for those suffering through hard times. Tar Heels are a thoughtful, practical people, and recognize that everyone needs help now and then. Those of us who can help, must. At Roads to Justice we seek to further that tradition well into the 21st century, making use of modern technology as well as good old-fashioned conversation.
In other upcoming post, we will discuss North Carolina’s dedication to education- also enshrined in the state’s most noble document- the Constitution!
Want to read more about North Carolina Constitutional History? Follow this link! And here is the link to our current Constitution. Enjoy!