Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Purloined Paper
May 20, 2005 6:02 AM   Subscribe

A Yankee soldier stole North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights during the closing days of the Civil War in 1865. In March, 2003 the FBI seized the stolen copy in a sting operation. A court battle ensued, and one of the "investors" has not released his claim to the document. Recent developments make it look like it may be some time before this is settled. [more inside]
posted by marxchivist (20 comments total)

 
I ain't no lawyer, but it looks to me like this is a clear case of stolen property. The case of N.C. vs. B.C. West set a precedent for returning public documents that had long been out of custody. For those who say North Carolina gave up their rights to this when they succeeded from the United States, an order was issued after the war directing everyone to return stolen documents to their respective states. Looks like Tennessee tried to stake a claim to it too.
posted by marxchivist at 6:07 AM on May 20, 2005


For those who say North Carolina gave up their rights to this when they succeeded from the United States, an order was issued after the war directing everyone to return stolen documents to their respective states.

having lived for two years in that state, i'd say that north carolina is in desperate need of its bill of rights.

someone ought to nail it on the front door of every church in the state.
posted by three blind mice at 6:14 AM on May 20, 2005


I'm no lawyer, either. And normally, for something this far in the past, I'd say let the current owner keep it.

But with something of this historical significance, there's simply no question; it belongs in the hands of the government - and by extension, all the people of the United States. The federal government will likely do a better job preserving and respecting the document than some schmoe antiques dealer, too.
posted by Floach at 6:15 AM on May 20, 2005


Interesting story, excellent fpp!
posted by HuronBob at 6:51 AM on May 20, 2005


Hmm, I don't know about this. I mean at what point does "Crime" become "History"? Should the Louve have to return all the stuff that Napolian plundered? (Assuming they have anything like that, I'm not sure).

And not only that, but dispite the order to return stolen crap, why should NC get to keep their copy of the bill of rights when they didn't want to follow them anyway (due process? Not if you're a negro...)

I mean, technicaly you could go back and forth for thousands of years.

I say give 'em back the letter when they pay slavery reperations.
posted by delmoi at 7:41 AM on May 20, 2005


Also, according to the article, it's only one of the orgional 14 bills of rights. which one is it?

Also, didn't they start with like 20? which rights were dropped, I wonder.
posted by delmoi at 7:42 AM on May 20, 2005


I saw something about this some time ago, but it lacked the details. These links really flesh out the story. Thanks Marxchivist.

I am hoping that NC gets this document back.
posted by caddis at 7:54 AM on May 20, 2005


delmoi... you're kidding, right?
posted by HuronBob at 8:04 AM on May 20, 2005


What a strange and interesting story, it's like the war is not quite over... I've heard it said that for many in the South it isn't? I also hope NC gets it back, seems like the healthier overall outcome.

Hopefully someone with legal knowledge can weigh in, sounds like a clearly documented case of theft, possession of stolen property, and attempt to sell or 'fence' said property? All the skulking about, anonymous offers etc clearly show the 'owners' knew they were dealing with something of questionable legal status.

I mean, technicaly you could go back and forth for thousands of years.

Good point though, and this is an unresolved legal problem, not clear cut apparently. Consider the Elgin Marbles dispute between Greece and Great Britain. In a greater sense consider the recent posts about the Armenians demanding an apology from the Turks for genocide commited 100 years ago. Consider China's demands for compensation for crimes committed by Japanese soldiers during WWII. Invasions, genocides, and other crimes including simple theft have been perpetrated since forever, wouldn't we have to unwind the whole of history to sort it all out? Yeah it's a problem, where do you draw the line?

What's really interesting is, despite perhaps beliefs or perceptions to the contrary, the war wasn't between two countries or even two cultural groups. There were no international legal differences involved then and there aren't now, the war itself stopped that from happening. So, simple stolen property case then?
posted by scheptech at 8:16 AM on May 20, 2005


Well, if it's really just a stolen property case, then I'm sure that the statute of limitations would have applied a long-ass time ago.
posted by delmoi at 8:27 AM on May 20, 2005



delmoi... you're kidding, right?


No, I'm not. If one 150 year old grevance is legitimate, why not another? Unless you consider theft of a peice of paper to be a greater crime then theft of a human life.
posted by delmoi at 8:29 AM on May 20, 2005


I think he was wondering whether you were kidding about 'which rights were dropped'.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:41 AM on May 20, 2005


Elgin marbles.
posted by beagle at 8:46 AM on May 20, 2005


I think he was wondering whether you were kidding about 'which rights were dropped'.

Well, no I'm not. I read something about there being extra amendments in a highschool history textbook and I've always wondered what they were. Never found a good answer.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 AM on May 20, 2005


I demand to see a lawyer, heh. Ok so the original crime is long gone, the guy's dead anyway, but can property within the U.S. legal system become un-stolen at some point? The crime of attempting to sell stolen property is current? So, number one, these guys go to jail for just for that assuming they knew what they were doing?

Does the state of NC, an ongoing legal entity which is still 'alive', retain ownership rights forever until it could be demonstrated they somehow sold or otherwise gave up their ownership? Hard to see how anyone other than the state could make a case for ownership. As far as I know, stolen property is like counterfeit money, doesn't matter how many hands it passes through before detection, the last person with it is left holding the bag.
posted by scheptech at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2005


Wonderful post.
posted by jenleigh at 9:10 AM on May 20, 2005


I read something about there being extra amendments in a highschool history textbook and I've always wondered what they were. Never found a good answer.

One was later ratified as the 27th Amendment, affecting when pay raises for Congress take effect. The other would have regulated the way the House grew in size, with no effect on us today.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:32 AM on May 20, 2005


It seems that the 'Virginia Draft' for a Bill of Rights, indeed, included twenty articles. Among those not included in the twelve amendments eventually sent to the states for ratification, was an article prohibiting hereditary offices, another strongly hinting at the wisdom of term limits, an article asserting that all Power is vested in and derived from the People, and a strong statement that "non-resistance against arbitrary Power and Oppression is absurd, slavish and destructive of the good and Happiness of Mankind."
posted by namret at 10:12 AM on May 20, 2005


I say give 'em back the letter when they pay slavery reperations.

The amount of reparations owed to living persons enslaved in North Carolina is $0.
posted by oaf at 12:25 PM on May 20, 2005


Or New Jersey or New York or Maryland .... Non-southern states allowed slavery too.
posted by Carbolic at 6:16 PM on May 20, 2005


« Older Kitten War!...  |  From the folks who brought you... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments