Thayer's Note: The gentle reader is invited to bear in mind that I did not write the text on this page; I transcribed it from a book published in 1919. It does not reflect my opinions or language, but those of its author and its time.
The experiment, if it be so called, of restoration on the plan laid down by the President, lacked, from the standpoint of the individual states concerned, but one thing to be successful. Within these states the various departments of government, when free from outside interference, exercised their normal functions apparently in the manner prescribed by law and custom. But the relations of these states to the United States were abnormal by reason of the refusal of Congress to receive their representatives. Recognition of the existing state governments by the legislative branch of the general government was utterly lacking.
There were many things which, united, caused the existence of this condition of affairs. Congress, before the close of hostilities, had clearly shown and expressed the opinion that the matter of the reconstruction of the seceded states was a problem the solution of which properly belonged to Congress. The reason of this, beyond jealousy for the prerogatives of the legislative branch of the Government, encroached upon by the executive branch during the war, was largely the difference which appeared between the view of the results of the war held by the majority of the members and that held by the President, particularly as related to the status of the seceded states and the treatment of the freedmen. This difference increased after the death of President Lincoln and the succession of President Johnson. A combination of sentimentalism and of solicitude for the future welfare of the republican party caused the radical element of that party to demand that the suffrage should be extended to the lately emancipated slaves. This demand formed a basis of opposition to the President. At first the many differences of opinion p86 in the party and a desire to avoid an opportune rupture with the President made a policy of waiting advisable, if not actually necessary. In this period of delay a consolidation of opinion took place which enabled the radicals to cope with the President successfully when the occasion arose.
In pursuance of this policy of delay, a resolution was passed providing for a joint committee of both houses on the condition of the states lately in insurrection. The committee was chosen, and to it were referred all matters relating to the states in question. When, at the opening of Congress, the delegations from the Southern states presented themselves, as has been seen, no action was taken at first, and finally a resolution, introduced by Thaddeus Stevens, was passed by both houses, forbidding the admission of members from any of the eleven Southern states until Congress should formally have declared such a state entitled to representation. During the period which elapsed before the Reconstruction committee reported finally, many individual bills were reported by it and considered in Congress. Through this discussion the policy of Congress was finally outlined and developed. In the meantime, an investigation was being made by the committee of the condition of affairs in the South.
Prior to this, investigations into Southern conditions had already been made. General Grant in November, 1865, after visiting Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, submitted to the President a most favorable report upon the conditions existent and the feeling of the people. Slavery and the right of secession he said were accepted in good faith as matters of the past and he thought the people ready to do anything honorable in order to return to self-government in the Union. B. C. Truman and Carl Schurz also made tours of investigation but neither reached North Carolina. Truman's views coincided with those of General Grant while Schurz, who really came South to verify a set of preconceived and iron‑clad idea and to gather radical material, was able to his own satisfaction to accomplish both objects.
The radicals were not content with these reports, none of which, not even that of Schurz, contained the sort of information they desired as an indictment of the South and the presidential p87 policy. Sub-committees of the Reconstruction committee were appointed to take evidence, witnesses being summoned from every Southern state. Twelve witnesses were examined for North Carolina. Only one of these was a native though two others had lived in the state prior to the war. Eight had been officers in the Union army and six of these were bureau agents. The other was a Northern war correspondent. Most of the testimony painted a dark picture of conditions, agreeing as to the widespread hostility to the freedmen, the United States Government, and all Northern men. The testimony of Maj. H. C. Lawrence, a republican and an agent of the bureau, was in complete opposition to this and he gave the people a hearty endorsement. Such was the general character of the testimony. It had little or no effect upon the committee or upon their conclusions, nor indeed was it intended to have.
The committee made its report in June, 1866. The majority report declared that the seceded states at the close of hostilities had been in a state of complete anarchy, without governments or the power to form them except by permission of the victors. The plan of restoration adopted by the President was approved as a temporary military expedient for preserving order. The President's recommendation to Congress that these states should be admitted to representation was declared to have been based on incomplete evidence. When he made it, he had not withdrawn the military forces or restored the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, and he still exercised over the people of these states military power and jurisdiction. Moreover, the report alleged, in all the seceded states, except perhaps Arkansas and Tennessee, the elections for state officers and members of Congress "had resulted almost universally in the defeat of candidates who had been true to the Union, and in the election of notorious and unpardoned rebels who could not take the prescribed oath and made no secret of their hostility to the Government and people of the United States."
From the evidence which it had secured, the committee was convinced that devotion to the Confederacy and its leaders was still existent, and republican government endangered p88 by a "spirit of oligarchy" based on slavery. The final opinion of the committee was that the states lately in rebellion had become, through war, disorganized communities; that Congress could not be expected to recognize as valid the election of representatives from these communities, nor would it be justified in admitting the respective communities to participation in government "without first providing such constitutional or other guarantees as will tend to secure the civil rights of all citizens of the republic; a just apportionment of representation; protection against claims founded in rebellion and crime; a temporary restoration of the right of suffrage to those who have not actively participated in the efforts to destroy the Union and overthrow the government, and the exclusion from positions of public trust of at least a portion of those whose crimes have proved them to be enemies of the Union and unworthy of public confidence."
As has been seen, the Fourteenth Amendment was decisively rejected by the North Carolina. It met the same fate in all the other Southern states except Tennessee and when Congress met it was evident that with the refusal of ratification as pretext some more radical plan would be tried. By February, 1867, it had become a determined fact that the state governments, as organized by the President, should be superseded by others organized under military authority; that the political leaders of the Southern state should be disqualified from taking part in the reorganization of the governments; and that the right of suffrage should be extended to the negro by national legislation, in utter defiance of the constitutional right of the individual states in the matter. In pursuance of this determination, the act of March 2, 1867, "to provide for a more efficient government of the rebel States" was passed. It was vetoed by the President, but was passed over the veto on the same day. Declaring in the preamble that no legal state governments or adequate protection for life or property existed in the ten "rebel" states, the act provided that these states should be divided into five military districts, each under an officer of the army of not lower rank than brigadier-general, and made subject to the military authority of the United States. North Carolina and South Carolina formed p89 the second district. The commander of each district was required to protect all persons in their rights and to suppress insurrection, disorder, and violence. In the punishment of offenders, he was authorized to allow the civil tribunals to take jurisdiction, or if he deemed it necessary, to organize military commissions for the purpose. All interference with such tribunals by the state authorities was declared void and of no effect. It was further provided that the people of any of the said states should be entitled to representation whenever they should have framed and ratified a constitution in conformity with the Constitution of the United States. This constitution must be framed by a convention elected by the male citizens of the state, regardless of race, color, or previous condition, with the exception of those disfranchised for participation in rebellion or for felony. Those persons on whom disabilities would be imposed by the proposed Fourteenth Amendment were disqualified from holding a seat in the convention and from voting for delegates. The constitution thus framed, and containing the provision that all persons whom the act of Congress made electors should retain the electoral franchise, must then be approved by Congress. Whenever representatives should be admitted, the portion of the act establishing military governments would become inoperative so far as concerned the state in question. Until the completion of this reconstruction, the existing civil governments were declared provisional and liable at any time to modification or abolition.
On March 23d, a supplementary act was passed. The original act left the whole matter of the initiation of reconstruction very indefinite. The supplementary act provided that the district commanders should cause a registration to be made of all male citizens who could take a required oath as to their qualifications as electors. The election of delegates to a convention should then be held by the commanders. For the sake of giving at least an appearance of following the will of the people, the act provided that the question of holding the convention should be submitted to them at the same time. Unless a majority of the registered voters took part in the election and a majority in favor of holding the p90 convention resulted, no convention should be held. Provision was made for boards of election composed only of those who could take the "iron-clad" oath. Finally it was provided that a majority of those registered must take part in the voting on the ratification of the constitution in order to make it valid. This act was also vetoed by President Johnson and promptly repassed by the required majorities.
In July, congress met again. In the meantime Attorney-General Stanbery had sent to the President an interpretation of the act, which closely restricted the power of the military commanders. At once another supplementary act was passed, as an authoritative interpretation of the former acts. It gave the commanders full power to make any removals from office that they might see fit, and authorized the boards of registration to go behind the oath of an applicant for registration whenever it seemed to them necessary. District commanders, the boards of registration, and all officers acting under either were relieved from the necessity of acting in accordance with the opinion of any civil officer of the United States. The executive and judicial officers referred to in the imposition of disabilities were declared to include the holders of all civil offices created by law for the administration of justice or for the administration of any general law of a state. An extension of time for registration was authorized, and also a revision of the lists of registered voters before the election. This act, as was now the customary thing, had to be passed over the President's veto.
Such was the most important legislation enacted for the restoration of the South. Questions of precedent and of constitutional law were alike disregarded in their passage, and justification found for all. A discussion of their constitutionality, however, is not a part of this study. It is sufficient to say that the laws were effective.
Within the state the debates in Congress caused the utmost dismay. Acting under the authority of the council of state, Governor Worth sought to find a way of testing the constitutionality of the reconstruction acts. Judge Ruffin and Judge Benjamin R. Curtis of Massachusetts, however, advised against the plan as useless and, deciding against the plan, the p91 governor and council finally urged the people to register, send as good men as possible to the convention, and decide later if the resulting constitution should be ratified or rejected.
The first reconstruction act was at once declared in force in North Carolina and General Daniel F. Sickles was assigned to command of the second district with headquarters in South Carolina. He was not unknown in the state, for he had been in command of the department of which North Carolina formed a part, and had been rather popular than otherwise. Consequently his assignment was received with as much satisfaction as could be expected under the circumstances. As a matter of fact, opposition to the enforcement of the reconstruction act was apparently dead. It had been violent until p92 the passage of the act, and then there seemed to be a general acquiescence if not agreement. But it was only resignation. No one can believe that anything approaching a majority of the white people of the state favored the destruction of the existing state government. But power to resist was lacking, and apathy succeeded protestation. The supplementary act was really received with joy by the conservative element. This feeling was caused by the effect it had upon the plans of the radicals in the state. Immediately after the passage of the first reconstruction act, the "loyal" members of the legislature, which was then in session, acting under the influence of Holden, issued a call for a meeting of "loyal" citizens to devise a plan for calling a convention of the people. The primary meeting was held and a committee appointed to devise and carry out a plan for organization. By comparison with what this meant, military government seemed to the conservatives far preferable.
General Daniel E. Sickles
General Sickles immediately upon assuming command issued an order declaring the civil government provisional and continuing it with full authority. He asked the co-operation and assistance of all and evidently desired as little change as possible. General criminal jurisdiction for example remained with the civil courts. He and Governor Worth were in constant conference and his policy was greatly influenced thereby.
In April, General Sickles, largely guided by conditions in South Carolina, issued his famous "General Order No. 10," which prohibited impressment for debt unless accompanied by fraud and which forbade the enforcement of judgments and executions on causes of action arising after secession and prior to the end of the war, and which stayed for a year those arising prior to secession. A homestead exemption of $500 was provided and wages for labor were made a lien upon crops. Corporal punishment was forbidden. The order accomplished some good and probably more evil and led in time to an absurd state of affairs which will be described later. While his power of removal was but little employed, General Sickles kept a very close supervision over the actions of civil officers and by general orders greatly modified existing laws. For instance, the distillation of grain was forbidden, p93 license to sell liquor was restricted, and discrimination between the races in public conveyances was prohibited. As an inevitable result, interference with the state courts followed, taking the form first of orders that negroes be allowed to serve on the juries, which was quietly acquiesced in by the judges, but extending later to serious interference with the action of the courts. In several cases military officers interfered to free notorious criminals from punishment and even to alter court records. Finally, Judge Merrimon resigned. Later on, during General Canby's administration, the same methods still being followed, Judge Fowle resigned.
Nor were state courts alone liable to military interference. In June, 1867, the first session of the Circuit Court of the United States to be held in the South since the close of the war was opened at Raleigh, with Chief Justice Chase presiding. In opening the court the chief justice said that while military authority was still exercised, it was not in its power to control the judicial authority, state or national. The military commander had a different view. When the marshal attempted to sell under execution some property in Wilmington to satisfy a debt owed outside the state, the post commander, acting under the authority of General Order No. 10, stopped the sale and was sustained by General Sickles. The matter was referred to the President who sustained the court and suspended General Sickles's order so far as it applied to proceedings of the Federal courts. This left a strange situation of affairs in which a foreign creditor could obtain relief denied to creditors within the state. General Sickles protested in an insubordinate letter and the attorney-general had taken steps for his criminal indictment when on August 26th, the President removed him and assigned General E. R. S. Canby to succeed him.
The administration of General Sickles was as popular in the state as such a military administration could have been. He showed, it is true, complete contempt for constitutional and legal restrictions, but he was strongly desirous of bettering economic conditions and was ready to take advice from those in whom the majority of white people had confidence, and he frequently and voluntarily bore witness in favor of p94 the state. He believed in general amnesty, was in sympathy with the disfranchised and thus won the enmity of the radical leaders what he had uniformly ignored.
General Canby's assumption of command brought at first few changes in policy. Later his administration was characterized by more frequent and greater interference with civil affairs. The courts were practically overthrown and crime increased to such an alarming extent that in April, 1868, a provost court with jurisdiction over almost half the state was established in Raleigh. His removals from office also caused criticism. The military force in the state during the whole period was small, less than a thousand men being distributed among ten posts.
During the administration of General Sickles, the order for a general registration was published with the provision that it should begin in July. At once the work of organizing the registration boards for the nearly two hundred districts began. To the great disgust of the radicals, Governor Worth was asked to recommend suitable persons for the positions. Only those who could take the iron-clad oath could serve and as few native whites could take it, he had to find the men from former Union soldiers for the majority of the places. A few negroes were recommended, but none from the Union League which was already winning an unwholesome reputation.a General Nelson A. Miles had already ordered bureau agents to select one colored member, a native white, and an army officer or bureau agent for each election district.
Everything was ready when General Sickles, thinking it best to wait for Congress to decide who could vote, and, with his usual regard for the welfare of the people, wishing the crops to be laid by, postponed indefinitely the beginning of registration. But on August 1st, the rules were published and post commanders given full supervision of their districts. A little later Sickles was removed, but under Canby the work was carried to a conclusion. Finally, on October 18th, he declared registration completed, and issued the order for an election to be held on November 19th and 20th. The usual regulations for the conduct of an election were made. Sheriffs and other peace officers were ordered to be in attendance; p95 soldiers were forbidden to approach the polls except as qualified voters; all saloons were ordered to be closed, and members of the boards of registration, who were also candidates for the convention, were forbidden to serve as judges of election in their respective counties. The "iron-clad" oath was required, which excluded most native whites from service as election officials.
In the latter part of October, the decisions of the general board of rules and regulations in regard to grounds of challenge were revised. The circular shows the interpretation of General Canby as to disqualification for registration. The decision of General Sickles that, in case entering the service of the Confederacy or giving aid and comfort to its adherents had been involuntary, no disqualification existed, had already been published. Under the interpretation of General Canby the holding of only certain specified offices prior to the war constituted a disqualification. Among them were the following: sheriff, county clerk, member of the legislature, justice of the peace, school commissioner, tax collector, constable, postmaster, and marshal. But no disqualification was caused by having held any of the following positions: deputy sheriff, deputy marshal, assistant postmaster, clerk of the state senate, keeper of a lighthouse, or notary public.
As to the question of what constituted aid to the Confederacy, it was held, among other things, that investment in Confederate bonds, collecting supplies for the Confederacy, making speeches in support of the war, and holding a mail contract or any civil or military office were acts that carried disqualification. But making charitable contributions or being a candidate for office did not constitute aid and comfort in the disqualifying sense. Hiring out horses to the Confederacy was disloyalty, but hiring them to Confederate soldiers was not.
The result of the registration was as follows:
p96 Nineteen counties had negro majorities, and in several others the white majority was less than a hundred. No definite idea can be formed of the number disqualified on account of disabilities imposed by the reconstruction acts. The registration of 1868, when the disabilities did not have the effect of disfranchisement, showed a gain of 17,220. But many who were qualified did not register in 1867 and did so in 1868.
Many accusations of fraud were made but there were no open outbreaks of disorder. Many negroes not of age registered, and in many cases qualified white men were denied. But on the whole the registration was as fair as it was ever intended to be or as it could be under the system employed.
As regards the qualification of the new electorate for the exercise of the franchise, the primary fact naturally was the dense ignorance among the negroes. Many of them, moreover, were vicious and idle, but probably not in so great a proportion as during the years immediately following. Certainly they were not so vicious. From the nature of things, also, they were able to bear a very small part of the burdens of citizenship and paid a very small part of the taxes.
During this period bitterness increased and conditions grew steadily worse. The workings of the reconstruction acts made them increasingly unpopular. Canby's name became associated in the minds of many with the conditions which prevailed and is execrated to this day. He was personally disliked also by those with whom he came in contact, not a large number, however, since he did not enter North Carolina until January, 1868.
On March 27, 1867, in response to a call issued by a committee appointed by the minority members of the legislature, a convention assembled in Raleigh composed of delegates, black as well as white, from fifty-six counties. In origin and membership it represented the opposition to the Worth administration in the state and that of President Johnson in the United States. Upon their assembling Robert P. Dick proposed that they proceed to the organization of the republican party in North Carolina. This was the declared intention of many present and excited no surprise but met instant and vehement opposition from Daniel R. Goodloe, the p97 New Orleans native present clear of any adherence to the Confederacy, an abolitionist and a republican since the founding of the party, and from B. S. Hedrick, both of whom deplored the certain loss of support of many desirable citizens who would not join the republican party. But such arguments were unavailing and the name was adopted. The meeting was chiefly notable for the prominence accorded the colored delegates and the manifest delight of the white delegates at their presence. So marked was this that the "loyal" white people were willing to unite with the negroes on terms of absolute equality. Resolutions were adopted accepting republican doctrine and calling a state convention of the party.
As was to be expected, the convention received its full share of abuse. Its members were given titles that were hardly relished by them, such as "Holdenites" and "Holden miscegenationists." The claim of the newly-organized party to a monopoly of loyalty seemed worse than absurd to the conservatives, and the leaders of the party were all distrusted by their opponents on account of their former records. Nor was the name of the party more popular in North Carolina than in the other Southern states. In this expressed dislike of the republican party, the former whigs were leaders. The democrats, who had formerly been most bitterly hostile to the party, were not at all prominent in political affairs just now. As has been seen, the state administration was in the hands of former whigs who had opposed secession until the call for troops, and some, like Jonathan Worth and Josiah Turner, until the passage of the secession ordinance. Those who had originally favored secession were in almost every instance in political retirement. With most of them this retirement was voluntary. They were fully conscious of defeat and ready to accept the decision and final settlement of the questions involved in the late struggle, and they did not care at this time to take any active part in politics. Most of them were convinced that things were in general out of joint, and their most acute sensation was one of regret at the failure of the Confederate cause. To arouse them from this condition of mind, a change of conditions was necessary. This was accomplished by the enforcement of the reconstruction p98 acts. In 1865 and later, the democratic party seemed dead forever in North Carolina, but the organization of the republican party in the state under the leadership of W. W. Holden, R. P. Dick, and Thomas Settle, three former democrats, and the first-mentioned the father of the secession movement in North Carolina, began its resuscitation.
There were immediate manifestations of feeling directed against the leaders of the new party, particularly against Holden who retaliated with threats of sweeping confiscation, a policy to which he was now inclined. But there was no organized opposition as yet and no prospect of any important opposition to the reconstruction acts.
The organization of the republican party was carried out in every county. Prominent Northern republicans came South to assist in this. Secret political societies were the chief agency, the Heroes of America among the whites and the Union League among the negroes. This latter body made every attempt to divide the negro vote a complete failure. A word as to its nature will explain this.
Organized in the North in 1862, it spread widely, and when it became evident that the negroes in the South would be enfranchised, the organization was immediately extended among them, chiefly by bureau agents and other politically ambitious Northern men who saw that something must be done to control the ignorant negroes, to bind them to their benefactors by something which would appeal to their pride and to their emotions. The league was admirably adapted for this. Through the effect of its ritual and methods upon the ignorant and emotional negro and through the discipline of its organization, it furnished an ideal instrument. It was for this reason the chosen agency of the carpet-baggers to carry out the political work begun by the bureau and it thus became the second handmaid of radicalism in the reconstruction of the state. Introduced by carpet-baggers, it was, for the entire period of its existence in North Carolina, controlled by them, chiefly for their own aggrandizement, and for that reason alone would have won the undying hatred of the native white population. In its development, however, it gave additional and abundant evidence of its entire unworthiness, and p99 its very name has remained a symbol of all that was evil in Reconstruction.
Beginning in 1866, by April, 1867, the state was organized and almost every negro who could vote was a member. Those who would not join were not only exposed to ostracism but also in most cases to violence as well. Although there was nothing in the rules or ritual of the league which was objectionable, the meetings, under the influence of evil and designing leaders became the hot-beds of violence and crime. Labor was disbanded by it, larceny, assault, riot, arson, murder, and rape were the products of the society and it thus became associated in the minds of the whole people with all that was evil and the Ku Klux movement was the logical result. Politically speaking, the league was temporarily successful. It organized the negroes and bound them to the republican party, lifted the carpet-baggers into positions of profit and apparently stifled opposition. Never was a political plan carried out with greater temporary success, for never were the members of a political organization so unfitted through ignorance for the privilege of suffrage, and therefore, unmoved by argument, they were as easily handled as so many sheep. But it furnished a basis of opposition for the white people and out of the league to a large extent grew the Solid South. During the existence of the republican régime, the members of the league were practically immune from punishment by the courts. Finally counter organization followed, equally beyond the law but intended to preserve public order. A retaliation so violent, and a retribution so swift came that in a very short time after the appearance of the Ku Klux, the activities of the league became beautifully less, and it vanished altogether by the end of 1870.
In the summer a cleavage among the republicans appeared. The radical element wanted confiscation and the proscription of political opponents. Holden was a representative of this sentiment which was preached to the negroes. D. R. Goodloe, now an editor, led the opposing faction. When the convention met in September, the question came up. It met with so much favor, particularly among the negroes, that the matter was left unsettled by the convention for congressional action. p101 The convention declined to pass any resolution favorable to amnesty. This was partly due to bitterness and partly due to the belief that their own chances of political preferment would be greater if the old leaders were disqualified. As a matter of fact, in respect both to confiscation and amnesty, the convention was more radically proscriptive than those it was supposed to represent.
The opposition, the mass of the white people who assumed the name conservative, — were at sea as to policy. Some wanted to attempt a division of the negro vote, but that proved unpopular and it was finally decided to make a stand against negro suffrage and to deny the constitutionality of the reconstruction acts. This decision was largely due to the advice of William A. Graham. A call had been issued for a state convention and it has assembled in September. Beyond denouncing the republican convention, it did nothing. Most of the conservatives were opposed to organization and too discouraged to achieve anything. But another meeting was called and Graham wrote a letter advising the conservatives to vote against a convention and urging that no recognition be given negro suffrage. No formal action was taken but the future position of the party in respect of the negro was settled, and it became in fact, if not always in name, a white man's party. But in the campaign the conservatives were listless and dispirited and without organization. The election was held on November 19th and 20th. The results were:
On the call of General Canby the convention met in Raleigh on January 14, 1868. The republicans had a majority of 94, the conservatives having elected 13 delegates. Of the 107 republicans, at least 18 were carpet-baggers and 15 were negroes. Many of the carpet-baggers, or "squatters," as they were called in North Carolina, had formerly been officers in the Union army. The more prominent of them were General p102 Joseph C. Abbott, a native of New Hampshire and formerly an editor and lawyer; Lieutenant Albion W. Tourgee, a native of Ohio, a graduate of Rochester University, and a former officer of the One Hundred and Fifth Ohio Volunteers; General Byron Laflin, a native of Massachusetts, formerly colonel of the Thirty-Fourth New York Infantry, and Major H. L. Grant, of the Sixth Connecticut Volunteers, and a native of Rhode Island. Of the other carpet-baggers, David Heaton had been a special agent of the treasury department and had settled in New Bern; S. S. Ashley was a native of Massachusetts and a minister, little else being known of his past history; John R. French was a native of New Hampshire who had been a newspaper editor and twice a member of the Ohio House of Representatives. He had come to North Carolina as a direct tax commissioner.
Of the white native North Carolinians in the convention, none had been previously of any prominence in the state, few being known at all outside their own counties. W. B. Rodman had been known as an able lawyer and as an earnest advocate of secession. He, with Calvin J. Cowles and J. M. Turner, was disfranchised under the reconstruction acts, but the fact that they were radicals prevented any action being taken to unseat them.
Several of the colored delegates were, comparatively speaking, men of considerable ability. James H. Harris was an orator of great power and had a fair education. With J. W. Hood and A. H. Galloway, he shared the leadership of the colored members.
None of the conservatives were men of political prominence. The two who at once took the most prominent part in the debates of the convention were Captain Plato Durham, and Major John W. Graham, both Confederate soldiers and men of education.
Temporary organization was effected the first day. The next day permanent organization was completed by the election of officers. Calvin J. Cowles, Holden's son-in‑law, was elected president although he was under disabilities and thus not a registered voter and so ineligible to membership. Cowles was a man of unimpeachable honesty but of only fair ability, p103 who was entirely under the influence of Holden and the carpet-baggers. Two conservative delegates who were accused of being under disabilities, although declared elected by Canby, were unseated without notice.
Naturally, the convention was the object of scorn and derision on the part of the conservatives who dubbed it "the Convention (so‑called)." A heated quarrel occurred over the practice of the conservative newspapers of placing the word "negro" after the names of the colored delegates and several reporters were excluded from the hall.
By comparison with previous public assemblies in North Carolina this convention was extravagant, the per diem being fixed at $8 with 20 cents mileage. As attendance was lax additional ground of criticism was furnished. In mileage accounts there were numerous flagrant instances of fraud as well as in the purchase of supplies and yet by comparison with a number of the Southern states, North Carolina in this respect escaped lightly, the expenses of the convention, including everything, being only a little more than $100,000.
Notwithstanding the fact that the main purpose of the convention was to frame a constitution, no great interest was manifested in the subject. Committees were appointed, the carpet-baggers capturing the chairmanship of ten of the nineteen standing and of most of the special committees. This gave them the opportunity to put many of their theories into form. Individually or collectively, they controlled the convention. With this fact in mind, it is a cause for wonder that more changes were not made in the fundamental law. The explanation seems to lie in the rivalry of the three carpetbag leaders, Abbott, Heaton and Tourgee, who in their efforts to gain personal strength yielded in many things to the native whites.
One of the first constitutional matters to come up was the judicial article. The distinction between actions at law and suits in equity was abolished in spite of solid conservative and even some republican opposition. Provision was made for the adoption of a code of civil procedure and practice and a commission was appointed to prepare it. It consisted of W. B. Rodman, V. C. Barringer, and A. W. Tourgee. Rodman p104 and Barringer were well qualified for the position but Tourgee although he had studied law in Ohio was "innocent of law" and was admitted to the bar as a "twenty dollar lawyer" by grace of an ordinance passed for his benefit.
Another change in the judicial article, even more criticized was placing the election of judges in the hands of the people and replacing the term of good behavior by a term of eight years. The Supreme Court was recognized by the constitution and the justices were increased from three to five. The number of Superior Court judges was increased to twelve, a very necessary change as the courts were crowded and emancipation had largely increased their burdens.
The question of political disabilities naturally arose early. Two phases of the matter were considered. A committee was appointed to prepare a list of such persons laboring under those imposed by the Fourteenth Amendment as should be recommended by the convention for congressional relief. The names of about six hundred, practically all republicans, were presented and a violent debate followed in which it became apparent that while some republicans favored general amnesty, the majority wanted nothing of the sort. The list was of course adopted.
The other phase was in relation to the qualifications for voting and holding state office which should be inserted in the new constitution. The majority favored unqualified manhood suffrage with disbelief in a Supreme Being, or conviction of a felony, as the only disqualifications for holding office. Three minority views appeared. One desired disqualification for suffrage and office-holding of all who had ever, by any means, attempted to prevent the exercise of the right to vote, of those disqualified by the Fourteenth Amendment, and of those who could not take a somewhat rigid preliminary oath. The second was that of the conservatives who denied that the right to vote was inherent, and contended that since the negroes were not prepared for it, it should not be extended to them. A third wanted the disabilities of the Fourteenth Amendment added to the majority report. The debate, by far the bitterest in the convention, lasted for three weeks in which the most radical views and desires on the subject were expressed. The p105 conservatives warned the convention that if disabilities for voting were imposed there would follow the necessity of permanent military occupation of the state by the United States. The convention, as a threat, at once repealed the amnesty act of 1866 but adopted the majority report.
The conservatives were bent upon putting the republicans on record as concerned the division of the races, foreseeing the future importance of that issue, and they, therefore, sought to have inserted in the constitution provisions for separate schools, separation of the races in the militia, and the prohibition of intermarriage and the apprenticing of white children to colored masters. All were rejected by the majority, most of whom secretly agreed but did not dare to come out openly for political reasons. The constitution was finally drafted and adopted. The conservatives voted solidly against it, and none of them signed it.
Other matters than the constitution engaged the attention of the convention. Fourteen divorces were granted, the state was redistricted for Congress, with much factional quarreling among those who had congressional aspirations, a committee was appointed to devise some plan to settle every citizen upon a freehold, and a resolution was passed thanking the House of Representatives for the impeachment of President Johnson. Ordinances relating to the payment of interest on certain state bonds and railroad matters were passed and the rumor was general that their passage was secured by a group of lobbyists who would profit largely thereby. The lobby was there undoubtedly, led by General Milton S. Littlefield, of New York, a man of great personal charm and attraction, already wealthy from a lumber steal in Pennsylvania and destined to be better and more unfavorably known in North Carolina within the next two years.
After providing for the submission of the constitution to the people and the election of state officers, members of the legislature, and members of Congress under the supervision of the military authorities, the convention adjourned on March 17th, in the midst of an uproar horrifying to the conservative element in the state. The Sentinel headed its account of the proceedings as follows:
The Disgraceful Closing Scenes! Corn Field Dance and
Ethiopian Minstrelsy!! Ham Radicalism
in its Glory!!!
The new constitution varied widely from the former one. In the Bill of Rights, the original of which had been adopted in 1776, there was less change than in any other part of the fundamental law. But quite a number of provisions were inserted. The chief of these were as follows: all men were declared equal; the right of secession was denied, and the paramount allegiance of all citizens to the United States was affirmed; the public debt of the state was declared valid, and the war debt was repudiated; slavery was prohibited; the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was forbidden; the people were declared entitled to the privilege of education; the legislative, executive, and judicial departments of government were declared forever separate and distinct; the freedom of the press was guaranteed, as in the former Bill of Rights, but individuals were held responsible for abuse of this freedom; the quartering of soldiers upon citizens in time of peace was forbidden; it was provided that the courts should always be open, and in criminal cases greater protection was guaranteed defendants than in the original instrument, though not more than was enjoyed under the law of the state and the usage of the courts; and finally it was declared that all rights and powers not delegated by the constitution should be retained by the people.
In the legislative department greater changes were made. The name of the lower house of the General Assembly was changed from the House of Commons to the House of Representatives. The property qualifications for members of both houses were abolished, and they were obliged to take an oath of allegiance to the United States before taking their seats. Senators were required to be at least thirty years of age. The elective council of state was abolished and replaced by one composed of the executive officers of the state.
In the executive department three new offices were created: p107 lieutenant-governor, a superintendent of public works, and auditor. The latter replaced the office of comptroller which had been created by act of the General Assembly. The election of these officers, with that of the other state officers, which had formerly been in the hands of the General Assembly, was put into the hands of the people. The property qualification for governor was abolished, and his term of office, together with that of the other state officers, was increased from two to four years. Only two years' previous residence in the state, instead of five, was required for the governor. He was given power to commute sentences in addition to the pardoning power. All nominations of the governor had to be confirmed by the Senate. Provision was made for a bureau of statistics, agriculture, and immigration.
In the judicial department, the most complete change was made. All distinctions between actions at law and suits in equity and the forms of such actions were abolished. Only one form of action, the civil suit, could be brought in the state. Feigned issues were abolished, and it was provided that the fact at issue should be tried by order of court before a jury. The county courts were abolished and a large part of their powers and duties were given to the clerks of the Superior courts. The number of the Supreme Court justices was increased from three to five, and that of the Superior Court judges from eight to twelve. Their election and also that of the solicitors was taken from the General Assembly and given to the people. The term of office of judges was changed from life or good behavior and made eight years. The election of clerks, sheriffs, and coroners was taken from the county court and put in the hands of the people.
Regarding taxation, the constitution provided that the proceeds of the capitation tax should be applied to education and the support of the poor. Provision was made for the payment of the interest on the public debt and for the creation, after 1880, of a sinking fund for the payment of the principal. The General Assembly was prohibited from incurring any indebtedness until the bonds of the state should be at par, except to supply a casual deficiency or to suppress insurrection, unless there should be inserted in the same bill p108 a provision for the levying of a special tax to pay the interest annually. The General Assembly was also forbidden to lend the credit of the state, except to railroads which were in the process of construction at the time of the ratification of the constitution or to those in which the state had a financial interest, unless the question was submitted to the direct vote of the people. It was also provided that every act levying a tax should state its object and the proceeds could be applied to no other purpose.
The constitution provided for universal suffrage. No one could register without taking an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and every officer had to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. All persons who denied the being of Almighty God, who had been convicted of treason, perjury, or any other infamous crime since becoming citizens of the United States, or who had been convicted of corruption or malpractice in office and had not been legally restored to the rights of citizenship, were disqualified for holding office. Taking any part in a duel also disqualified for holding any office under the state.
County government was put in the hands of five commissioners in each county elected by the people to exercise a general supervision and control of county affairs. It was also provided that the people of each county should elect a treasurer and register of deeds. The commissioners were directed to divide the counties into townships, and the people of each township were biennially to elect two justices of the peace. No counties or other municipal corporations could contract a debt without the consent of a majority of the voters, and all the counties were forbidden to pay any debt contracted to aid in rebellion.
The General Assembly was directed to provide a general system of public schools, and the executive officers of the state were formed into a board of education to succeed to all the powers and duties of the literary board. The state University was declared to be forever inseparable from the public school system, and the General Assembly was directed to establish, in connection with the University, departments of agriculture, mechanics, mining, and normal instruction.
p109 Provision was made for a homestead exemption of $500, and it was provided that the real and personal property of a married woman should remain her separate estate and property, and in no way liable for the debts of her husband. These provisions were not new to the state, both having been incorporated in the law in 1866.
Punishments for crime were provided as follows: death, imprisonment, with or without hard labor, fines, removal from office, and disqualification to hold any office under the state. Four crimes were punishable by death: murder, arson, burglary, and rape. Provision was made for a penitentiary, and the General Assembly was directed to provide for the care of orphans, idiots, inebriates, deaf mutes, and the insane, and authorized to provide houses of refuge and correction for the punishment and instruction of certain classes of criminals, whenever it might seem necessary.
These were the more important changes. There were others of less interest and importance, but they are far too numerous to mention. A comparison of the two constitutions shows a very wide difference, and brings out very clearly the part played by Northern members of the convention.
Early in January the conservative executive committee called a convention of the constitutional union party which met February 6th. The controlling element were former whigs but a large number of democrats were present. Here re-appeared in politics many who had been prominent before and during the war. An organization was perfected and a series of resolutions outlining party policy adopted. They declared devotion to the United States Constitution, protested against the reconstruction acts as a violation of it, and declared negro suffrage to be the great political issue of the state, registering their opposition to it while avowing their purpose to protect the negro in the enjoyment of civil rights and of such privileges as were not inconsistent with the welfare of both races. After endorsing the President and expressing their distrust of the "organization controlling Congress," they waived all former party feeling and prejudice and invited the people of the state to co-operate with the democratic party and elected delegates to the democratic national p110 convention. Enthusiastic speeches were made, the most notable by Vance who urged activity and fearlessness of the result of opposition to the radicals, saying "When free speech, a free press and a free ballot are restored, the wrath and indignation of an outraged people will damn them forever. It will be better for them that a mill stone were hanged about their necks and that they were drowned in the depths of the sea." Later the committee nominated Vance for governor and upon his declining chose Thomas S. Ashe, a former member of the Confederate Congress who had been a senator-elect when the war ended. He was of course under disabilities as were most of the other nominees. Nearly all had been whigs.
The republicans met the same day and nominated Holden for governor with a full ticket upon which were three carpet-baggers. Both parties nominated Chief Justice Pearson, and Associate Justice E. G. Reade, and several nominations for Superior Court judges coincided.
When the congressional nominations came three carpet-baggers were chosen. One of them, J. T. Deweese, was defeated for the nomination by James H. Harris, the negro member of the convention from Wake County, who then sold the nomination to him for $1,000.
The campaign was conducted with great activity and enthusiasm. The Union League with Holden as president and James H. Harris as vice president, and the Heroes of America, were both brought into service. The republicans made their campaign largely on matters relating to the war which would rouse antagonism and bitter feeling. The conservatives made their fight on the question of ratifying the constitution with resulting negro equality and the loss of protection for person and property. They received unexpected allies in Daniel R. Goodloe and H. H. Helper, the former saying that because Holden's name was "a synonym for whatever is harsh, proscriptive, and hateful to nine‑tenths of the whole people of the State," he could not support him, while Helper, attacking Holden, urged the election of Goodloe. The republicans lost others they might normally have counted on because of the radical changes in the constitution and their p111 violent and proscriptive tendencies. Notable among them was B. F. Moore.
Union League Commission to Wyatt Outlaw, Signed by William W. Holden
Outlaw was later hanged by the Ku Klux
A larger, more readable image opens in another window.
The first recorded Ku Klux notice in the state appeared in this campaign. It was:
"K. K. K.
Attention! First Hour! In the Mist!
At the Flash! Come. Come. Come!!!
Retribution is impatient! The grave yawns!
The sceptre bones rattle!
Let the doomed quake!"
The convention had provided for the submission of the question of ratification of the constitution to the voters qualified under the reconstruction acts. The state officers were to be chosen by the voters qualified under the new constitution, which meant manhood suffrage. But the voting on ratification of the constitution and the election of state and county officers took place at the same time, and, by order of General Canby, on the same ballot. By this piece of entirely unjustifiable partisan politics, which was entirely characteristic of reconstruction methods and morals, all who had been disfranchised by the reconstruction acts were prevented from voting, and the validity of the acts of the legislature thus elected is therefore open to question. A new registration had been made, and the number registered was increased considerably. The figures were:
The election was held on April 21st, 22d, and 23d, and resulted in a complete republican victory. The vote on the ratification of the constitution was:
The vote for governor was:
p112 The conservatives elected only one member of Congress, one judge, of those whom the republicans had not endorsed, and one solicitor. Of the eighty-nine counties, the republicans carried fifty-eight. It was conceded that the republicans polled almost their full strength. Thus it is seen that a large number of conservatives, qualified to vote, failed to do so. This was, in part, the result of the general belief, that, if the conservatives were successful, Congress would set aside the election, or refuse to remove the disabilities of those conservatives who were elected to office. And doubtless, such would have been the case.
Fraud was common all over the state. By an amendatory act of Congress, passed March 11, 1868, voting upon affidavit instead of registration, was authorized, and ten days was set as the period of required prior residence. This gave room for illegal voting, and, consequently, many voted in different counties on different days.
The constitution still needed the approval of Congress and in addition a majority of the newly-elected officers were under disabilities. When Canby announced that all officers installed prior to the formal restoration of the state would have to take the "iron-clad oath" there was consternation among the "loyal" and Congress was urged to help. Finally an act was passed approving the constitution and providing that representatives should be admitted as soon as the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. But the admission was upon the express condition that the constitution should never be so changed as to deprive the right to vote any citizen or class of citizens who were then entitled to suffrage. General Canby construed this act to remove the necessity of taking the test oath.
The same day the disabilities of nearly seven hundred persons in the state, chiefly republicans, were removed, and this made possible the organization of the state government. The act of Congress authorized the governor-elect to summon the legislature and Holden called it to meet July 1st. General Canby instructed the chief-justice-elect to take the oaths of office before a United States commissioner, and then to administer them to his associates and to the state officers. Chief Justice p113 Pearson notified Governor Worth that he would administer the oaths to the governor on July 1st. The same day, Governor Worth was removed from office by a military order from General Canby. The oaths were administered to Governor Holden the next day, and Governor Worth surrendered the office with a dignified and telling protest which stung Holden to the quick.
Holden delivered his inaugural on July 4th. It consisted of a defense of the new constitution with a declaration that the government must be administered by its friends. He defended the carpet-baggers, declared his opposition to mixed schools, promised a development of public education, and guaranteed protection of the right to vote to the negroes, threatening confiscation and the use of force if any attempt were made to deprive them of it.
In the meantime, the legislature met and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and elected John Pool and Joseph C. Abbott to the United States Senate. They, with all the members of the lower house, were admitted by July 20th. North Carolina was thus restored to her place in the Union and, legally, Reconstruction was at an end. But from a social and economic standpoint, or from an internal political standpoint, it now began.
a The writer presents a very biased and incomplete notion of the Union League, which is still active today. A more nearly complete view of the organization's history, marked by much less bias if tending naturally in the opposite direction, is provided on its own website.
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