From the Hendersonville Times-News
The bizarre and captivating tale of how North Carolina got back its original copy of the Bill of Rights was the focus of Tuesday’s Hendersonville Rotary Club meeting. Members heard a detailed account from a key figure in the document’s safe return — North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul M. Newby.
He was working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh at the time, part of the team that got the document back, but not without a fight, Newby explained.
Fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights were originally issued, one for federal use and the other 13 for the 13 American states in 1789 for ratification, according to Newby.
The document spent three quarters of a century in Raleigh, and stayed there until the end of the Civil War. In 1865, a union solider broke into the state archives and stole the document, bringing it to Ohio, where he sold it for $5, Newby told the club.
The priceless text eventually ended up in Indiana. A former North Carolina secretary of state tried to retrieve it, but refused to pay the millions of dollars asked, stating that taxpayer money would not be used on stolen property.
Efforts continued for many years, and the state’s copy of the Bill of Rights eventually got into the hands of Wayne Pratt, a well-known antique collector, Newby said. His mistake came when he tried to sell the document to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
In 2003, when the Gov. Mike Easley and the Raleigh U.S. Attorney’s Office found out about the situation, they were ready to put up a fight. Newby was personally asked for his assistance in the process. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was brought on board.
A clever sting operation retrieved the document, and it was confirmed from looking at the back of the text that it belonged to North Carolina, Newby said. After more legal back and forth, the document was finally returned to Raleigh, where it is today.
Newby also briefly highlighted last week’s N.C. Supreme Court session in Hendersonville. This was the first time a session had been held in Henderson County, and only the sixth time outside of Raleigh.
The court is traveling the state to celebrate the court system’s 200th anniversary, an opportunity given thanks to approval from the North Carolina General Assembly.
“Everyone in Henderson County extended such a warm welcome to us,” Newby said. “This was the best place to start the anniversary tour.”
Newby has ties to the western part of the state. Earlier in his career he worked at Van Winkle law firm in Asheville.
At the end of Newby’s talk, an audience member asked him if he felt President Donald Trump was functioning outside his powers as president.
“I am so sorry, but we’re out of time,” Newby quipped, a remark met with a roar of laughter.