Authorities Seize North Carolina’s Copy of the Bill of Rights, 2003

On March 18, 2003, a sting operation resulted in the recovery of North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights from a group of antiques dealers.

The return of the document ended an odyssey that began in 1865 when it was taken from the State Capitol in Raleigh by Union soldiers occupying the building. During the 140 years that it was missing, it came up for sale several times, but the state refused to pay for its own property. In 2003, an offer to sell a copy of the Bill of Rights came to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. When their experts recognized it as North Carolina’s copy, they notified the state.

A sting operation was organized by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A meeting was set up to close on the purchase of the document. A check for $4 million was brought to the meeting but the document was not. Once the seller was satisfied with the closing documents, he had the manuscript brought into the room. Once verified, authorities entered and seized the document.

After five years of litigation the Bill of Rights was declared the rightful property of North Carolina. It now resides in a vault at the State Archives.

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