A new law will soon give North Carolina drivers two choices for standard-issued license plates. In addition to the familiar “First in Flight” plate (which has been the standard for 32 years) drivers will be able to choose a new “First in Freedom” plate. The new license plates will be available from the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles starting on July 1, 2015.
There have been three slogans for license plates in North Carolina over the years: “Drive Safely” (1954-62), “First in Freedom” (1975-1985), and “First in Flight” (1982-present). At other times, the plates bore no slogans.
The “First in Flight” slogan commemorates the first successful heavier-than air flight conducted by the Wright Brothers’ at Kill Devil Hills in 1902. The new “First in Freedom” plates will mark a return to the earlier slogan, which referred to the state’s proud history in the American Revolution. The story of that history is explained well by our friend John Hood of the John Locke Foundation:
The state’s freedom-themed license plate was first issued in 1975, as the nation was preparing to celebrate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. It commemorated North Carolina’s early role in the American Revolution.
In May 1775, a group of Mecklenburg County leaders met in Charlotte to fashion a response to escalating tensions with Britain. As they gathered, news arrived of the battles of Lexington and Concord a month earlier. Worried and angered, the Mecklenburg leaders decided to set up their own institutions of government. In a document later published as the Mecklenburg Resolves, they stated that British military action had resulted in the colonies entering “a state of actual rebellion” and that “all laws and commissions confirmed by or derived from the authority of the King and Parliament are annulled and vacated, and the former civil constitution of these colonies for the present wholly suspended.”
Some believe that the Mecklenburg committee went further still, issuing a formal Declaration of Independence on May 20, the first of its kind in America. But even if the Mecklenburg Resolves was the only document approved by the delegates, it was still a startling and courageous act of resistance against tyrannical government and deserves the veneration still evident on North Carolina’s state flag and state seal.
The revolutionary fervor was hardly limited to Mecklenburg. Political leaders in counties and towns across North Carolina expressed their resolve to fight for liberty over the subsequent months. By April 1776, they met as the Fourth Provincial Congress in Halifax to decide what North Carolina’s position should be at the upcoming Continental Congress. In the resulting Halifax Resolves, the assembled state leaders, including three veterans of the 1775 Mecklenburg committee, instructed the North Carolina delegation in Philadelphia to pursue formal independence from Britain – the first such decision in America. The date of the Halifax Resolves, April 12, is the other date honored on the North Carolina seal and flag.
So there is a strong case to be made that the Tar Heel State led the way on American independence, although it took nearly two centuries to deliver on the promissory note of freedom for all of our citizens.