During 1776, but prior to announcing the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress instructed the state legislatures to call conventions to draft constitutions to regularize their local state governments so that each could be administered in the name of the People and absent royal governors and royal officers. North Carolina heeded the revolutionary call—in 1776, it implemented a new constitution with a bill of rights. One interesting feature of the 1776 North Carolina Constitution was that Article 32 imposed a religious test against non-Protestants. Article 32 stated:
That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.
This particular provision would remain on the books, and largely unenforced, until North Carolina revisited this issue in the 1835 North Carolina Constitutional Convention (which drafted amendments to the 1776 North Carolina Constitution which were subsequently ratified by the People). Still, in 1809, there was one apparent attempt to enforce the religious test provision. Jacob Henry had qualified for a second, annual term in North Carolina’s lower legislative house: the House of Commons. Henry was Jewish. On December 5, 1809, another member put forward a motion to declare Henry’s seat vacant based on the 1776 North Carolina Constitution’s religious test. The next day, the Commons adjudicated the motion, and it failed. Henry kept his seat.