Defending Liberty From The Bench

Commentary By North Carolina History Project

In 1735, Maurice Moore was born in what became known as Brunswick County. His father had earned great wealth in South Carolina as a planter along the Lower Cape Fear region and later moved to the modern-day Brunswick County area.

Although from planter pedigree, Maurice Moore chose law as his profession. His occupation steered him ultimately into a career in public service, during which he became one of the colony’s leading young political figures.

In his early career, Moore ascended quickly in provincial politics. At the age of 22, Moore served in the North Carolina House of Commons for three consecutive years. From 1760-61 he served on the Governor’s Council. After that year he returned to the House of Commons for the years 1762, 1764-1771, and 1773-1774. He ultimately was appointed to the colony’s Superior Court.

During Moore’s lifetime, a common political debate was whether the American colonists had the same constitutional rights as British subjects. A major catalyst of American debate and protest was the Stamp Act of 1765. That same year, Moore published a pamphlet, The Justice and Policy of Taxing the American Colonies in Great Britain Considered. In it, he expressly opposed the Stamp Act and condemned taxation without representation and the concept of virtual representation. He notes in the final paragraph: “If the British parliament will insist on taxing the colonists, as their virtual representative, then they are stripped of that constitutional right on which their liberty and property depends, and reduced to the most abject state of slavery.”

Moore’s cogent argument alarmed Gov. William Tryon. Moore’s argument labeled all British taxation in his colony as unjust, and he demanded that it cease. Moore suggested that only the North Carolina government possessed authority to tax North Carolinians.

The controversy and citizen unrest over the Stamp Act continued spreading across the colony. The royal governor’s proclamation in defense of the Stamp Act was burned. A provisional government was put in place, with a Council of Safety along with committees of safety for each county and town. On Aug. 23, 1765, Moore and other prominent political figures, including Richard Caswell, William Hooper, and Joseph Hewes — the latter two later signed the Declaration of Independence — were appointed to a committee to prepare an address.

They called for people to unite in defense of liberty. Protests continued until the end of October. On All Hallows Eve, the Sons of Liberty, including Moore, marched through town with a coffin to portray the death of freedom and Lady Liberty. In 1766, Tryon removed Moore from his judicial position. In 1768, Moore was reinstated and remained on the Superior Court until 1773.

During the Regulator Rebellion, Moore initially supported the Piedmont farmers but soon disavowed the movement. Herman Husband, an Orange County Quaker and influential
Regulator leader, was kicked out of the North Carolina Assembly and was jailed, allegedly for libeling Moore in the North Carolina Gazette. While in jail, Husband learned that the charges had been dropped.

Meanwhile, Moore continued serving in the North Carolina House of Commons in 1771 and later in 1773 and 1774. It was no surprise that in 1775 he was elected to attend North Carolina’s Third Provincial Congress. He was elected once again in late 1776 for the Fifth Provincial Congress, but chose to not attend.

Moore died unexpectedly in 1777 and was unable to see how the American experiment unfolded. His son, Alfred Moore, followed in his father’s footsteps as a lawyer and was appointed in 1799 to assume fellow Tar Heel James Iredell’s spot as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States of America.