The Regulator Movement: History & Significance

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

In this lesson, learn about the Regulator Movement in North Carolina, which lasted from 1764 to 1771. We will discuss the causes of the movement, the major events associated with it and the aftermath.

Taxation and Corruption in North Carolina

The most famous cry against the British government in the American Revolution came from Patrick Henry's powerful speech, in which he declaimed, ''No taxation without representation.'' Although many people associate this theme with the revolution, fewer people know that arguments over the issue of taxation began years before the revolution.

From 1764 until 1771, the Regulator Movement grew in western North Carolina. This movement foreshadows one of the major causes of the Revolution: resistance to unfair taxes. Let's talk about what the Regulator Movement was, the major events associated with it and the effects of the movement.

The Beginning of the Regulator Movement

In the 1760s, the eastern and western parts of North Carolina were distinctly different. The eastern portion of the state was composed of rich, fertile farmlands. This allowed farmers to make considerable profit. In the western, mountainous part of the state, however, it was difficult to farm and the people living there had a hard time finding a way to make money. This difference lead to deep socioeconomic divides between the different parts of the state. The eastern portion of the state supported and benefited from the colonial government, but the back country people (the western part of the state) did not.

Despite the obvious land differences, the taxation rate for the state was consistent. This frustrated people living inland, because they were not wealthy like the people close to the coast! Additionally, the entire state was plagued with dishonest officials and corruption in government. This further frustrated people living in the western portion of the state.

These frustrations lead to the formation of an association called the Regulators. Their goal was to reform the government and rid it of corruption. The name of this organization came from their desires to ''regulate'' their own affairs - they wanted to live their life without restrictions or laws from the government.

Growing Tensions

In 1764, the Regulator Movement began with public protests in the counties of Anson, Orange and Granville against the sheriffs, tax collectors, court clerks and judges. The royal governor of the time, Arthur Dobbs, attempted to quell the movement by issuing a proclamation warning government officials not to take illegal fees. However, this was ignored by the corrupt officials.

Governor William Tryon. Tryon was the governor during the majority of the Regulator Movement.

In 1765, a new governor, William Tryon, came to power. The Regulators immediately disliked him because he built a large new house and office using public money. Tryon embodied the exact corruption and waste of money that the Regulators hated! Regulators later refused to pay taxes and fees, punished officials and interfered with courts running smoothly.

The Movement Turns Violent

Until 1770, the movement was mainly non-violent. Although the Regulators often protested and made threats, they hardly ever acted upon those threats. However, in 1770 the Regulators broke into the house of the very disliked and corrupt Orange County official Edmund Fanning and dragged him by his feet down the stairs of his house. They also broke into the homes of other officials.

In 1771, an extra court session was called, but judges were afraid to attend because of the threat of Regulator violence. Governor Tryon called the militia out to protect the judges. It is there that Regulators asked for a public meeting to determine if there was corruption in Orange County. This meeting, which had no threat of being violent, was refused. This not only drew the Regulators closer, but also increased their distaste with the government.

After this event, Tryon lost patience for Regulators and told the militia to put an end to the Regulators, who were camped out in Hillsborough.

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