Missing: One-page document with numbered items, in fancy ink handwriting on starchy paper. Text includes lots of 'shalls' and a slew of semi-colons. One line in the document reads: ``Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ... ' If found, please return to the State Archives and History Division in Raleigh. Do not fold.
People always are complaining about their rights being violated. The state of North Carolina is griping about its being stolen.North Carolina's copy of the U.S. Bill of Rights, one of 13 made for each of the original colonies, long ago disappeared from Raleigh. The state would love to get it back for next year's 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.
According to a letter received by the state March 25, 1925, a soldier in Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's Union Army stole the document from the secretary of state's office during the waning days of the Civil War. Sherman's troops occupied Raleigh at the time.
The man who wrote the 1925 letter, Charles I. Reid of New York, said he got his information from a man who had purchased the Bill of Rights from the soldier who had stolen it. Reid declined to reveal names.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported during the weekend that copies of the Bill of Rights also are missing in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Georgia.
Dick Lankford, an assistant state archivist for North Carolina, at first said Monday he had no idea what had happened to North Carolina's copy. Then his staff found Reid's long-forgotten letter.
``This has answered a major question for us,' Lankford said.
Fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights were handwritten on parchment. One copy was given to the federal government and the rest to the colonies.
The federal copy is on display at the National Archives in Washington.
North Carolina's purloined copy may be in the Library of Congress or the New York Public Library. Copies of the Bill of Rights belonging to two states turned up this century in private collections and were donated to those libraries. Because all 14 copies were identical, it's impossible to tell which belongs to which state.
Or North Carolina's could be up in somebody's attic.
``It would be wonderful to have it back,' Lankford said.
No questions asked.