By the time North Carolina became a state in 1776, the institutions of government were already firmly established. Recognizably English in origin, though radically altered in spirit by independence, the government in many ways still resembled the hierarchical network of local and state authorities that had existed since the earliest days of the colony. The offices of Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Treasurer all have roots in pre-colonial North Carolina, as do the General Assembly, the court system, and local offices such as county clerk and sheriff.
While major policies and mandates such as voter registration requirements and water regulations are set by the state government, their implementation is often the responsibility of individual county governments. Once again a legacy of the state's European heritage, counties have always provided manageable jurisdictional boundaries for such matters as census taking, judicial and voting districts, highway maintenance, sanitation, law enforcement, and tax management. Counties and municipalities have also been focal points for consolidation and expression of the public will, as for instance the Mecklenburg and Halifax Resolves, and the Edenton Tea Party. Of course, the symbiotic relationship between county and state has often meant that state leaders could manipulate borders or install sympathetic appointees in state controlled positions who could then enforce--or fail to enforce--laws and regulations that ensured the continuance of the party in power.
The mandate for governmental authority is found in the state constitution. The Constitution of 1776, placed most of the power in the General Assembly, leaving the Governor's office with scant authority and the court system only minimally defined. The Assembly retained broad authority in such unexpected matters as fixing town borders; granting municipal charters; the incorporation of businesses and other institutions; and approval for name changes and the granting of divorces, both of which were transferred to the Superior Court system in the early 19th century. As the General Assembly often met for only a few weeks each year, the other two branches provided needed stability, and were instrumental in shaping both state and national affairs. An example of their influence is the NC Supreme Court's Bayard v. Singleton ruling in 1787 (1 N.C.(Mart.) 5) that provided an early model for judicial review, later enshrined in the US Supreme Court's ruling in Marbury v. Madison.
After the Civil War, the state was under military authority until readmittance to the Union in 1868, at which time a new Constitution was enacted. This new Constitution more precisely laid out the mechanisms of governance at both the state and local/county level, added additional responsibilities and offices to the Executive branch, and refined the judicial process. Much amended over the intervening 100 years, it served as the foundation for the 1971 Constitution, and many of the structures put in place in 1868 remain.
The relatively sedate Constitutional history of the state fails, of course, to hint at the occasional upheavals that beset any government. In 1870 Governor William Holden was impeached and removed from office by political opponents. Two state Supreme Court Justices (Furches and Douglas) were likewise impeached, though not successfully, at the beginning of the 20th century. The gradual tightening of racial restrictions in the post-Civil War years led at least indirectly to a violent coup d’état in Wilmington in 1898, in which the elected government was forced out and replaced by white supremacists.
Naturally, as needs have changed and expanded, so too has the government, and with the Executive Organization Act of 1971, the state consolidated nearly 200 separate state agencies into 18 departments in the Executive Branch. Since that time, agencies have continued to change and some new agencies have been created. The most recent agency to be created is the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 2000.