Bill of Rights Returns Home
A Long Search Begins
The priceless document has a mysterious history, much of it spent out of the public eye. It was one of fourteen original copies of the proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution - collectively known as the Bill of Rights - prepared by three federal clerks in 1789. A copy was scrivened for the governor of each state to peruse as the adoptions of the twelve amendments to the Constitution was debated; the other copy was for the federal government. After the ratification of the first ten amendments in 1791, North Carolina retained custody of its copy of the document for the next eight decades. The secretary of state kept the Bill of Rights with other valuable state documents in the State Capitol.
In April 1865, as Gen. William T. Sherman's victorious army passed through Raleigh in relentless pursuit of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's retreating Confederates, a soldier from Ohio along with his comrades removed numerous official documents from the State Capitol. The unidentified thief later returned with his unusual spoil of war to his home in Tippecanoe (present Tipp City), in Miami County, Ohio.
Approximately one year later, the Union veteran sold his trophy to Charles A. Shotwell, then of Troy, Ohio. Thirty years later, Shotwell proudly displayed the document on the wall of his office at the Board of Trade Building in Indianapolis, Indiana. On May 10, 1897, the Indianapolis News ran an article about Shotwell and his souvenir that was printed in its entirety by the Raleigh News and Observer on June 10. State Supreme Court justice Walter Clark saw the article and wrote to the North Carolina Secretary of State Cyrus Thompson, asking that he take appropriate measures to recover the document which "on its face belongs to the State of N.C. and to your office & the State can reclaim it anywhere & any time." At Clark's suggestion, Thompson wrote to his counterpart in Indiana, William D. Owen. For three months, there was no response. Finally, on September 25, Thompson wrote to the Indianapolis News to see if the facts as reported in the article of May 10 were true. He also mentioned to the newspaper that he had made unanswered inquiries to the secretary of state.
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