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 governor's inaugural address in its declaration of ostracism of those who had opposed reconstruction, its threat of force, and its eulogy of the carpet-baggers was indeed prophetic of the character of his administration. It was partisan, sustained by force, and controlled largely by corrupt and greedy aliens who skillfully played upon the gnawing and patent ambition of the governor.
After filling the offices in his disposal, mainly magistrates and other county positions, many of them with ignorant and even with criminal negroes, he proceeded to the organization of the militia which he regarded as essential to success. An act authorizing this had already been passed by the legislature in response to his demand. He had called attention to the fact that many people in the state did not acknowledge the validity of the state government, and announced that he proposed to overawe them. The bill was drawn by John Pool and passed with difficulty since many republicans and all the conservatives were bitterly opposed to it. It provided for a maximum of nine regiments and a battery of artillery to be at the disposal of the governor. It was admirably adapted for the establishment of a military despotism and was intended for that, should the occasion arise. It was unconstitutional viewed from the standpoint of either the state or Federal Constitution and was in direct violation of a recent act of Congress. But Holden and his allies were entirely aware that their power could not endure longer than the first fair election and they deliberately planned terrorism and fraud. That the native North Carolinians were unaware of the inevitable result of such a policy shows how far removed they were from a normal mental grasp of existing conditions. p115 If the carpet-baggers knew, they cared little, expecting, when the time of reckoning came to be living in comfortable retirement upon their ill-gotten gains, somewhere north of Mason and Dixon's line, and out of reach of a just retribution.
Arms were lacking for the militia and the adjutant-general, A. W. Fisher, a carpet-bagger, went North and borrowed secretly from the State of Vermont a thousand rifles. The news of his mission, however, reached North Carolina and did not add to the popularity of the republican administration. Nor, be it said, did the militia. A failure from the beginning in any preservation of order, it served only to rouse antagonism.
The legislature, which had an overwhelming republican majority in each house, was, in the meantime, engaged in legislation and in a process of education in the possibilities of their position. In this latter activity they found in the carpet-baggers and in the lobby, a set of very able teachers. Of the members more than thirty were carpet-baggers and more than twenty were negroes. Judged by their capacity for evil, the latter were the more desirable legislators. Most of them and a large number of the white members were illiterate, and almost all were totally inexperienced. The conservatives, in a hopeless minority and unable to carry anything, sought chiefly to oppose and to put the majority on record. All of the conservatives under disabilities or under suspicion were excluded, but no republicans were troubled.
Little constructive work was done. Most of the time was spent in discussing matters of small moment. The per diem was fixed at $7 with mileage at 20 cents and this failed to satisfy many of the members whose sole conception of public service bore a close relation to compensation therefor. They accordingly looked elsewhere for larger dividends upon their investment of time and effort and had little difficulty in finding them. Already plans of large financial operations to be conducted at state expense were being shaped by the group of schemers headed by General Littlefield who was maintaining a free bar, popularly called "the third house," in the capitol for the use of members and their friends.
One of the most interesting and significant acts of the p116 legislature was the passage of a resolution affirming the validity of the existing government. It was based upon President Johnson's contemptuous reference to Governor Holden as "the man who writes himself governor of North Carolina" — which the republicans held to be an incitement to insurrection; upon Governor Worth's letter of protest to Governor Holden, when he surrendered his office as governor to the latter; upon the democratic national platform of 1868, which declared the whole process of reconstruction unconstitutional; upon Frank P. Blair's Brodhead letter; and upon the North Carolina conservative platform of 1868, which was of like tenor with the other documents mentioned. These were declared calculated to produce civil war, and in order to restore confidence, the state government was declared valid in every respect. The resolution was introduced by L. G. Estes and shows the fear of the republicans that the administration might be overturned. It also bears testimony to the deep-seated determination of the conservatives not to recognize the validity of the acts of the state government.
The debates showed the members to be, with a few exceptions, far below the average in ability. Prejudice and partisanship were rampant on both sides and the majority treated the minority with utter contempt, thereby setting a precedent from which their party was to suffer for many years to come. Disorderly scenes and abusive language grew commonplace, and decent people drew all too soon a breath of relief when the legislature finally adjourned.
The adjournment saw the beginning of the presidential campaign. In this the conservatives entered with real hope, thinking that the conservative forces of the North would rebel against the radicalism rampant in Congress and elect the democratic candidates, and that Reconstruction would be overthrown. They felt too that in the state the chance of success was good, and thus began work with real enthusiasm.
The most notable event in the campaign was the publication of an address to the conservative party written by Chief Justice Pearson, urging them to support Grant in order to prevent civil war. Denying any belief in the constitutionality of the reconstruction acts, he pronounced them extra-constitutional p117 and declared that a subjugated people had no right to protest. He stated that two other members of the Supreme Court agreed with him. The letter was received with anger and contempt by the conservatives who declared with entire truth that North Carolina had not been accustomed to political activity on the part of its judges. The republicans, however, enthusiastically, and with considerable truth, claimed that all of the justices of the Supreme Court were active republican partisans, and published fifty thousand copies of Judge Pearson's letter as a campaign document.
Another campaign document of note was an address, written by John Pool and Judge Reade, which was signed by eighty-eight republican members of the legislature at the time of adjournment. Directed against the conservative party, it was the most incendiary document ever published in North Carolina. It was full of threats and was calculated and intended to inflame the negroes and alarm the conservatives. Its publication was a deliberate step in the policy of terror which the republican party adopted.
Both parties held conventions, that of the republicans being notable for the bitterness of the speakers, the presence of an immense throng of negroes, and the fact of the previous announcement that Justices Reade, Dick, and Settle and Judge Tourgee would take prominent parts in the demonstration. So bitter was the comment that the justices absented themselves. Not so, Judge Tourgee who, although able, was entirely shameless. Not content with acting as chief marshal at the convention, he also served on the republican executive committee and, with his eye on a nomination for Congress, converted the bench into a stump for the period of the campaign.
In the campaign once more appeared the Union League and the Heroes of America, the latter making its final appearance. The press, of course, was active and the Standard, owned actually by Littlefield but nominally by N. Paige, another and its editor, after a series of bitter articles intended to incite the negroes to violence, published an editorial entitled, "Work," containing such a villainous reflection p118 upon the womanhood of the state, that only the prompt and final departure from town of Paige prevented a lynching.
In spite of the activity of the conservative leaders, the people were apathetic. They had not yet come to know what radical misrule would mean and above all they wanted peace and quiet. Governor Holden, however, was fearful of the result of the election and appealed to General Meade to authorize General Miles to station troops wherever he [the governor] might think necessary, "to inspire a salutary terror." General Meade properly refused and the governor then issued a proclamation in which he stated falsely that the conservatives were bringing great quantities of arms to the state for use on election day. He then appealed to the Federal Government for arms and the halls of Congress were full of the clamor of carefully manufactured recitals of "rebel outrages." The governor ordered the organization of the detailed militia, but when this was brought to General Meade's attention, the order was suspended. The regular militia was sent to several counties as a threat, but accomplished nothing. Indeed the state was so quiet that not even the presence of the militia could cause disorder.
A few days before the election, General Miles issued an order forbidding officers and men to fraternize with political parties. By an accompanying declaration that the campaign had been conducted with creditable quiet, he emphatically gave the lie to the reports which the governor and his associates had been so sedulously circulating. In company with many of the officers and men of his command, he promptly, in violation of the state law, registered and voted.
The election was quiet and resulted in a sweeping republican victory, Grant carrying the state by more than twelve thousand, and five republicans securing seats in Congress. Plato Durham was one of the conservatives elected, but Menninger, the carpet-bag secretary of state, held up the returns for three months and then with the governor's knowledge and approval gave A. H. Jones, the republican candidate, the certificate.
The plunderers had felt it wise to delay operations until republican success in the nation was assured, but with the election p119 out of the way, they eagerly awaited the meeting of the legislature. Although the credit of the state sadly needed rehabilitation, the legislature ignored the question entirely and gave itself over largely to the schemes of the spoilers. The policy of state aid to internal improvements had been adopted long before the war and practically all the debt of the state had been incurred in this way. In 1866 and 1867, in spite of financial depression, new bonds were issued. The war had shown nothing more conclusively than the need of greater and improved transportation facilities, and those who advocated the policy of south aid therefore naturally expected the new government to continue it. The plunderers, therefore, had not the task of forcing the acceptance of a new idea or policy; they had only to make use of an established system and were thus able for a time to conceal the real character of their operations and to use honest men as tools to accomplish their evil purpose.
On January, 1868, the total debt of the state, excluding of course the repudiated war debt, was $13,724,900 with accrued interest of nearly $2,000,000. Over $1,000,000 more was in doubt since, although not repudiated by the convention of 1865, it had not been specifically recognized. The bonds were selling at seventy.
The convention, which was attended by a quiet but influential lobby, began the work of plundering the state. Bonds of the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad, to the amount of $1,000,000 were endorsed. The Northwestern Railroad was planned to extend from Lexington and Greensboro to Salem and thence to the northwestern boundary of the state, and the state agreed to make a loan of $10,000 a mile as fast as the grading of •ten‑mile blocks was completed. The bonds of the Chatham Railroad, to the amount of $1,200,000, were taken in exchange for an equal amount of state bonds, and the road was given all the state's interest in the Cape Fear and Deep River Navigation Company between Northing Dam and Gulf Dam. The Western Railroad received $500,000 in state bonds in exchange for an equal amount of the bonds of the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford which had been p120 given to it by the state. Money controlled practically all the legislation.
The new constitution forbade the legislature to contract any new debt except to supply a casual deficit or to suppress invasion or insurrection, unless in the same bill it should levy a special tax to pay the interest. It was also forbidden to give or lend the credit of the state to any person, association, or corporation, except for the completion of such railroads as were unfinished at the time of the adoption of the constitution, or in which the state had a direct pecuniary interest, unless the subject was first submitted to a vote of the people and ratified by them.
When the legislature met in July a ring was organized, headed by Littlefield and George W. Swepson, the latter being the paymaster of the "Ring." Beginning at this session, he allowed members of the legislature to cash their per diem at the Raleigh National Bank, of which he was a director, without charging them any discount. The "third house" aided greatly in the work of the lobby, and Littlefield's readiness to make loans to needy statesmen with no expectation of their being repaid, made him the idol of the carpet-baggers and corrupt scalawags, while his radicalism commended him to republicans who were not tainted with dishonesty. His charm of manner and bonhomie made his company acceptable to many conservatives who at first did not question his motives or character. In the legislature, Byron Laflin was the chief member of the ring, and as chairman of the committee on internal improvement, was able to render great service to the cause. The ring not only put through its own schemes, but in a short time undertook to market bond legislation at the rate of 10 percent of the bonds received. Only through its aid could such legislation be secured and it was thus able to make its own terms.
Swepson paid a group of seventeen legislators, most of them carpet-baggers, which included Tourgee, Deweese, Laflin, Foster, G. Z. French, Estes, and Abbott, approximately $134,000 of which Deweese, Abbott, French, Estes, Foster, and Andrew Jackson Jones, a native, got the lion's share. He also paid Littlefield in cash more than $66,000, most of which p121 was used for the corruption fund. Very little was done at the extra session for the reasons mentioned but the Chatham Railroad was authorized to exchange its bonds for state bonds to the amount of $2,000,000 and similar assistance in less amount was rendered the Williamston and Tarboro Railroad. The Western North Carolina was also divided into two sections, its stock increased, and the state's liability added to.
These things did not pass unnoticed. Conservative members gave notice that the bonds were fraudulent, and hence invalid, and that they would never be paid. The rumor spread that the interest on the old bonds would not be paid. To correct the impression, the October interest was paid by selling the dividend on the state's interest in the North Carolina Railroad, which was paid in bonds of the road, to Swepson and A. J. Jones at a price far below par or even market value. Swepson knew ahead what was to be done and was able by speculation in state bonds to clear a large sum. Of this he paid Treasurer Jenkins $600.
The Williamston and Tarboro and Chatham roads received their bonds and gave mortgages which were invalid for lack of revenue stamps and for failure of registration with the secretary of state. The Chatham mortgage included lands undescribed which the road did not own. A large number of the bonds were sold at a very low price and an inconsiderable amount was spent upon the roads. So clearly were the bonds invalid that they were excluded from the Stock exchange.
Littlefield was made state proxy by Holden who regarded the state's interest in the railroads only as a political asset of the republican party and used it as such. He was directly responsible for the choice of Swepson as president of the western division of the Western North Carolina and of Littlefield who presently succeeded him. He was also in a lesser sense responsible for the choice of William Sloan for the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford and of A. J. Jones for the Western Railroad, although he was aware that both were notoriously dishonest and had already been exposed in stealing from the state.
When the legislature met in November for its regular session, an act was passed providing for new issues to protect p122 the old and special taxes were levied to pay the interest. For securing the passage of the act, Swepson paid Littlefield, acting for the "Ring" $240,000 in cash and a large number of bonds. At once an injunction restraining the treasurer from delivering the bonds to the Chatham Railroad was applied for and the Supreme Court on appeal declared the act unconstitutional because it had not been submitted to the people. The same act provided for $4,000,000 in bonds for the western division of the Western North Carolina, and a little later the stock of the two divisions was increased and the state was pledged to take three-fourths of the increase when 5 percent of the rest was paid in. The additional stock payments were fraudulently made up and the bonds issued by Holden's order to Swepson without requiring from him his certificate that the stock was duly subscribed. The bonds were issued in various ways and only a small part was spent upon the road. A large part was expended in obtaining control of certain roads in Florida where Littlefield and Swepson planned similar operations.
The Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad was the next to profit, receiving $4,000,000 in state bonds, most of which was squandered without benefit to the road.
Another act incorporated the University Railroad, appropriating $300,000 in construction bonds. The directors had been appointed by the governor and a president elected, when the attorney-general pronounced the act unconstitutional. The matter was carried to the Supreme Court which unanimously agreed that the act was invalid. The court differed as to the extent of the decision, the chief justice holding that all the railroad bonds were invalid. While they argued this question they talked of the case very freely and the matter became widely known. A rehearing was demanded and the court handed down a decision confined to the case before it. Many accusations were made against the Supreme Court at the time, but there is no evidence to show improper conduct on the part of any particular member of it. Swepson, on one occasion, tapped his pocket and said that he had there another decision which had been prepared by the court and that it had cost him a large sum of money to prevent its being rendered, p123 but his word carries little weight. The following telegram, sent him two days before the case was first argued, casts an unpleasant light upon the general situation of affairs:
"Raleigh, N. C., June 24, 1869.
"George W. Swepson,
"The case will be tried, but the opinion of the Court reserved until your return; this all I can effect.
"W. W. Holden."
A few days after the passage of the University Railroad act, the charter of the Western Railroad was amended and the state treasurer was directed to exchange $500,000 in bonds for an equal amount of stock in the road, to issue an equal amount in exchange for the bonds of the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad, which had been paid to the former road by the state, and, for the purpose of extending the road to Wilkes County, to make an additional stock subscription of $500,000, making a total authorized issue of $1,500,000. To pay the interest, two special taxes were levied, one of one-eightieth of 1 percent and one of one-fortieth of 1 percent. The act provided for the retention by the treasurer of 180 of the bonds as security for the payment by the road, during the first two years, of $90,000 for interest, both of which sums were to be repaid at the expiration of that time. Under the provisions of this act, A. J. Jones, the president of the road, received 1,320 bonds. Fifty-five of these were sold by New York brokers for $24,255, and, from that amount 7⅝ of 1 percent of the face value of the bonds was charged as commissions, so that the company only received $20,893.13.a The rest of the bonds were deposited with certain brokers in New York, by whom, under the instructions from Jones, part were hypothecated in an attempt to raise money to buy gonds on margin to bull the market. A pool was formed for this purpose by Swepson, Littlefield, Sloan, Jones, and a number of bondholders, including T. P. Branch, a Richmond broker, S. McD. Tate, T. W. Dewey, and R. Y. McAden. Treasurer Jenkins and Governor Holden were present in New York when it was formed and were frequently p124 consulted by the members. At the same time it was decided by the railroad presidents that Henry Clews and Company should succeed Soutter and Company as the financial agents of the state. To this, Governor Holden consented and the change was made. Soutter and Company had been paid $1,000 a year as compensation for their services.
The Western Railroad was next assisted with a total of $1,500,000. A. J. Jones received $1,320,000 and squandered all of it, spending a long time in New York where he is known to have lost a large part in gambling.
The interest on the debt due in January and April, 1869, had not been paid and the bondholders began too complain loudly. Governor Holden was overwhelmed with correspondence from the North, where practically all the bonds were held, demanding payment, and it was clear that there was no chance for the bonds to rise in price unless something was done to satisfy the holders of those already sold. Swepson and Jones now agreed to advance the money to pay the interest on the special tax bonds, and Jenkins advertised that the April and October interest would be paid, and Governor Holden wrote an open letter to Clews and Company in which he said that the state would pay all its debts, especially the special tax bonds. The railroad stock owned by the board of education was now sold at a very low rate, and the proceeds, $150,000, along with the money received from the land scrip, $125,000, were invested in special tax bonds.
Two million dollars were subscribed to the Oxford Branch of the Raleigh and Gaston, $2,700,000 to an extension of the Williamston and Tarboro, but both acts were clearly unconstitutional and no bonds were ever issued.
The Atlantic, Tennessee and Ohio Railroad was aided to the extent of $2,000,000. Sloan and Laflin opposed the bill and were paid $20,000 apiece for silence. Deweese then secured an injunction and Judge Watts was paid $5,000 to grant it. A compromise which was the object of the suit was then reached at a cost of $163,000 in bonds. The rest of the bonds were finally returned to the state along with those received by Fowle and Badger as a fee for legal services, which they had p125 returned to the company when they saw that blackmail was the object of the suit.
Two other acts chartered the Eastern and Western Railroad with an appropriation of $2,000,000 and the Edenton and Suffolk with $850,000. Both were unconstitutional and no bonds were ever issued.
These acts ended the work of the ring in securing legislation. By this time the whole state knew what was being done and the people were greatly roused. By the end of the summer of 1869, talk of repudiation was general and when the legislature met in the autumn no further legislation was possible and the presidents of the various roads were directed to return all unsold bonds to the treasurer and to account for the rest. A little later all the acts in aid of railroads were repealed.
The following tables give the available information in a condensed form:
|Western N. C. (W. D.)||6,387,000||6,387,000||None|
|Western N. C. (E. D.)||613,000||613,000||None|
|Williamston & Tarboro||300,000||300,000||None|
|W. & T. (branch line)||2,700,000||None||None|
|Atlantic, Tennessee, & Ohio||2,000,000||1,760,000||1,615,000|
|Wilmington, Charlotte, & Rutherford||4,000,000||3,000,000||None|
|Eastern & Western||2,000,000||None||None|
|Edenton & Suffolk||850,000||None||None|
|p126 Road||Special tax levied||Tax on $100||Bonds left outstanding|
|Chatham||1/20 of 1%||.05||$1,550,000|
|Western North Carolina (both divisions)||1/8 of 1%||.125||7,000,000|
|W. & T.||1/30 of 1%||.0333||300,000|
|W. & T. (branch line)||1/16 of 1%||.0625||None|
|Univ.||1/100 of 1%||.01||None|
|Northwestern||1/20 of 1%||.05||None|
|Western||3/80 of 1%||.0375||1,320,000|
|A. T. & O.||1/20 of 1%||.05||145,000|
|W. C. & R.||1/8 of 1%||.125||3,000,000|
|Oxford||1/20 of 1%||.05||None|
|E. & W.||1/20 of 1%||.05||None|
|E. & S.||1/40 of 1%||.025||None|
2/3+ of 1%
|May||Not listed||Not listed|
p127 From the dishonest officials, little was ever recovered. Littlefield, after leaving the state, went to Florida, where, resting under the protection of the various governors of that state, he defied requisition papers. All refused to surrender him upon the demands of Governor Caldwell who never rested in his efforts to capture him. Once Littlefield had to surrender to the sheriff of Leon County on a charge of bribery to avoid being sent to North Carolina, and, on another occasion, Governor Caldwell sent a member of the legislature to abduct him if necessary, and he was almost captured. The legislature offered a reward of $5,000 for him and two attempts were made by Floridians to win it. In both, Littlefield succeeded in escaping. With Swepson, he was indicted in Buncombe County in 1870, and requisitions were made upon the governors of New York and New Jersey for them. Swepson was arrested in Raleigh in 1871 upon a bench warrant issued by Chief Pearson upon the governor's affidavit, and held to appear at Buncombe Court, but was never punished. He and Littlefield, the latter being in London, at different times made partial settlements with the Western North Carolina Railroad represented by N. W. Woodfin, but the road received only a small part of what was due it. Swepson's account with the state, skillfully handled by his lawyers, Merrimon and Ransom, steadily grew less, until it seemed wise to accept and make an immediate settlement.
William Sloan and John F. Pickrell were indicted in New Hanover for a conspiracy to defraud the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad, and the former was criminally indicted for not accounting. He was found guilty in the latter case, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision on a technicality, and he escaped. A. J. Jones was convicted of not accounting and appealed to the Supreme Court, which, as in the Sloan case, reversed the decision. He was also criminally indicted in Moore County, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary. He appealed in this case and died before the case was heard.
A number of attempts were made to force the payment of the interest upon the special tax bonds. L. P. Bayne and Company sued for a mandamus against Jenkins to compel him to p128 pay the interest which the legislature had forbidden, but the Supreme Court on appeal dismissed the case. Later, another case was brought in the Federal courts with the same result. No attempt was made to pay interest and the matter rested for several years. The holders of the bonds, issued before the war, to aid in the construction of the North Carolina Railroad, by suit in the Federal court secured the sequestration of the stock of the road held by the state, and thus obtained payment and security for the principal. For the rest, the state, having received little or no benefit from the railroads, was left with the burden of the bonds dishonestly issued and corruptly spent, a debt which was in addition invalid, without reference to the methods employed to create it, because of the fatal defect in the election of the body by which it was contracted.
These operations did not of course pass without notice. Various attempts at investigation were made, all rendered fruitless at first by the partisanship of the legislature, the majority in which saw in the attempt to punish thieves only an attack upon honored and trusted leaders of the republican party. In one case, that of the penitentiary, the fraud was uncovered. It was found that the committee charged with the location of the penitentiary had purchased from John M. Heck and D. J. Pruyn, the latter a notoriously corrupt carpet-bagger, a site on Deep River and •eight thousand acres •seven miles away, neither of which they owned at the time the bargain was made. The purchase price was $100,000. The lands were then bought by Heck for less than $11,000 and he contracted to sell to Pruyn for $56,000. C. L. Harris, the superintendent of public works, then paid that amount to Heck in bonds and the balance of the purchase price to Pruyn in the same way. The deeds were not warranted and •more than six thousand acres were undescribed.
Somewhat in contrast to this was the act of the legislature in forbidding the sale, without its consent of the swamp lands belonging to the board of education. This was due to the revelation of the fact that they were about to be sold far below their value for the benefit of a few interested parties, headed by D. P. Bibles, a carpet-bagger supposed to be in p129 partnership with General Sickles. Later on a similar plot, engineered by Bibles, was formed, but C. L. Harris was informed that a fraud was about to be committed, shared in by two members of the board of education, probably Ashley and Menninger. He opposed the sale and relied upon the support of the governor, who, however, championed the cause of the ring, and in consequence a breach occurred between them which was never healed. The sale was prevented at the time, but was later consummated on terms very unfavorable to the state.
One of the most important acts of the session was one making it a felony to go masked, painted and disguised on the highway with the intent of terrifying any citizen. This was of course directed at the Ku Klux who were becoming active. Its passage was secured by the governor's sending the militia to Alamance with the statement that it was necessary to have troops there to protect the lives of loyal citizens.
By the end of the session the legislature had become a scandal, and public criticism was bitterly severe. The majority of the members were either ignorant or careless and a large number were entirely corrupt. By the time of adjournment repudiation was in sight. Even such carpet-baggers as Sweet and Seymour began to protest. The former had his eyes opened as to the motives and considerations behind the legislation and the latter considered the question, chiefly from the standpoint of policy and expediency. But it was too late to save the legislature from political damnation and there was little hope that any good would come from it. It had recklessly plunged the state so deep in debt that it was on the verge of avowed bankruptcy, and in doing so, it had been utterly contemptuous of constitutional restrictions. It had shown itself partisan, selfish, incompetent, and corrupt. Judge Alden told a New York banker that he could buy a majority of the body. George W. Swepson and M. S. Littlefield had bought for their joint use, among others, Abbott, Laflin, Estes, Foster, Hyman, Sinclair, Stevens, J. H. Harris, and Rev. Hugh Downing. These facts were not clearly proved as yet, but they were suspected, and the result was fatal to the majority. At the beginning of their term they had presented a p130 united front to the conservatives who were ignored in debate or silenced by the call of the previous question. This condition of affairs was now soon changed. Friction among themselves increased until the majority was apparently about to break up into hostile cliques. The deportment of the members was never good and became worse as the session progressed. Abusive and profane language was common in debate and there were occasional personal encounters.
Although there was no election in 1869, political interest was strong and the conservatives gained ground in public sentiment. In the summer B. F. Moore published a powerful protest against political activity on the part of the judges, written by himself and signed by 108 of the leading lawyers of the state. This action was not intended to have political significance but only to serve as a warning. But it could not fail of political effect and when the court met in June, the chief justice declared that "the case appeared as if the bar had been lying in wait to murder the judiciary," and directed the service of a rule upon all the protesting lawyers who practiced before the court to show cause why they should not be silenced for contempt. By agreement the rule was served only upon Moore and two others who while admitting disapproval of the conduct of the judges, pleaded a lack of intent to bring the court into contempt, upon which the chief justice, after administering a scolding to the lawyers, ordered the rule discharged. The action of the court did not strengthen it, many, even of the republicans feeling that it had erred badly.
The republicans were beginning to lose the coherence which had at first characterized the party. The conservatives saw this and were quick to take advantage of it. No opportunity was lost to widen any breach that was visible, nor was the battle against the radicals lessened at all when the legislature adjourned. The most influential agency in this contest was the Sentinel, edited by Josiah Turner with an enthusiasm for polemics that seemed little short of diabolical to his opponents. He was a man of positive genius for political warfare, sparing not and caring little where he struck. Quick-witted, ingenious in putting an opponent on the defensive and keeping p131 him there, and at the same time ignoring a counter attack, gifted with a keen sense of humor, he saw the ridiculous side of everything and employed it as a means to an end, realizing clearly that in politics a dangerous enemy is often rendered harmless by laughter and ridicule. He had a nickname for nearly every carpetbagger and for a number of the native republicans and spoilsmen. The "hands," "Pilgrim" Ashley, "Windy Billy" Henderson "who stole Darr's mule" (or as he later phrased it, "who was tried and acquitted of stealing Darr's mule"), "Kildee" Lassiter, "Chicken" Stephens, "Greasy Sam" Watts, "Blow Your Horn Bill" Smith, "the Governor's Son Joseph," "Ipecac" Menninger, "Colonel Heck who teaches the Sunday School," "Parson" Sinclair, "Sleepy" Downing, "Ku Klux" Ingram, "Grapevine" John Ragland, and "Captain" Thomas Settle, are terms that are familiar in North Carolina even today. No man in the state p132 was so bitterly hated by the republicans and, as time went on, so intensely feared. He saw everything. Through sources of information never revealed, he learned of plans and policies that were studiously concealed from the public by their originators. He never forgot or overlooked a vital point, never lost his temper, and never forgave, but cunning as a serpent, writing with a pen that seemed dipped in gall, he relentlessly pursued what now became the chief aim of his existence, the overthrow of the republican party in the state. No man was ever better adapted to such work, for his genius was destructive always and he naturally belonged to the opposition. He was the inspiration of the conservative party in its deepest gloom, and to him more than to any other man belongs the credit for the speedy overthrow of Reconstruction in North Carolina.
Josiah Turner, Jr.
Editor of the Sentinel
The republicans were in no condition to stand attack, new lines of cleavage appearing steadily. Several factions opposed Holden, some of them bitterly. Friction and ill-feeling developed between the natives and the carpet-baggers. There were marked beginnings of a conservative and radical division in the party which was to end finally in the loss of the former. By the summer of 1869 the party was on the defensive. The state debt and the methods by which it had been created excited feeling, and as it became more evident that small benefit was accruing to the public, hostility took the form of a demand for repudiation which was not at all confined to the conservative party.
Nor was the legislative record alone responsible for this. The administration was in a sense as unpopular as the legislature. It was extravagant, equally inefficient, and was not free from corruption. It was, as might have been expected, partisan to a degree. The governor seems never to have profited personally to the extent of a penny from the widespread stealing, but he was hand in glove with the thieves, many of whom, like Swepson, Sloan, Littlefield, and Jones, were given their best opportunities by him. He also extended to them all the protection in his power. In this sense he must be held partially responsible for their acts. A strong and p133 good man could have held back the thieves, but with his eyes open he refused to do so.
The other state officers were incompetent or worse. Menninger, the secretary of state, was utterly corrupt. D. A. Jenkins, the treasurer, although the receipt of $600 from Swepson is a most suspicious fact, seems to have been honest in relation to the funds in his hands, but he did nothing to check the wholesale rascality. Adams, the auditor, was a nonentity. Harris, the superintendent of public works, was personally honest, but was bitterly partisan. When he protested against fraud, the governor read him out of the party. Ashley, the superintendent of public instruction, was inefficient and corrupt. On every side there was nepotism. For example, the governor made his son, already speaker of the House, through his influence, director in two railroads, his brother director in one, one son-in‑law attorney-general, and another mayor of Raleigh. Josiah Turner, commenting on this in the Sentinel, said: "But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he had denied the faith and is worse than an infidel."
In the judiciary morals on the whole were better and ability, if anything, worse. The Supreme Court was an exceedingly able body with the grave fault that it was actively in politics. The Superior bench was far worse off. Watts was corrupt and incompetent. Jones was an habitual drunkard, brazenly immoral, and hopelessly incompetent. Logan was honest in money matters, incompetent, ignorant, and very partisan. Tourgee was able but corrupt and otherwise devoid of character. Buxton was honest, able, and inclined to dabble in politics. Cannon and Cloud were honest, ignorant, and rather stupid country lawyers who belonged anywhere rather than on the bench. Pool and Thomas were of good character and average ability. Mitchell had been long on the bench and was a good judge. Almost all were careless and inclined to laxity in attendance, and the grand jury of Orange, at Turner's instigation, presented Tourgee in his own court for leaving early. An interesting view of the legal knowledge of the Superior bench is to be found in the fact that the Supreme p135 Court reversed 70 decisions out of 114 cases heard at January term, 1870.
The Supreme Court
Local conditions varied. In the black counties they were terrific; in many white counties in republican hands there seems to have been honest and capable government. Not all the conservative counties were well-governed, but there was in the republican counties generally a marked tendency to an extravagance out of place considering the condition of the people. Many of the more lucrative and important office were held by carpet-baggers and nearly all were corrupt. Craven, Pitt, New Hanover, and Wake suffered particularly from carpet-bag rule. In the Federal service things were little if any better during this period and for many years to come. Such were the political conditions of the republican régime. Social and economic conditions contributed also to republican weakness.
In the meantime a movement was in operation which powerfully influenced the course of history in the state.
The Ku Klux movement, which appeared in almost every Southern state during the decade following the war, grew naturally out of the chaos in society which was caused by the ordinary results of the war and, more especially, by Reconstruction. The old order with its security and stability had disappeared and the people of the South were confronted with problems which required immediate solution. Not the least pressing and important of these was that of the relation of the races, with its important bearing upon the labor question. The first attempt towards a settlement of this furnished one of the chief pretexts of the radicals in entering upon their policy and the adoption of the congressional plan apparently destroyed any possibility of the control of the lower race except by force. The force of law, the power of the government, were in the hands of aliens or their tools, and conditions grew rapidly more unsettled until the statement of the committee on reconstruction that the governments of the Southern states "afford no adequate protection for life or property, but countenance and encourage lawlessness and crime," false when it was made in 1866, became entirely true. Liberty with the negroes rapidly degenerated into license and, p136 banded together in secret leagues which to radical officers served as a valid political cloak for all offenses, instigated to violence by the unprincipled adventurers who had been lifted into political power by the negro vote, alienated from their former friends by slander, they unconsciously set about the destruction of civilization in the South. Crime and violence of every sort rank unchecked until a large part of the South became a veritable hell through misrule which approximated to anarchy. Called into existence by this state of affairs, the Ku Klux lifted the South from its slough of despond by the application of illegal force which overthrew Reconstruction and ultimately restored political power to the white race. In the process, it furnished protection to the oppressed, but, degenerating from its high purpose and estate, it was often violent and sometimes oppressive, and in the end, fell into the control of reckless spirits who used it for private vengeance rather than public punishment. But when this evil day came, its purpose was in a fair way of accomplishment. The women of the South once more could leave their doors without the accompaniment of a deadly terror. Property became fairly safe again. Heart had been put into the despairing whites and a revolution had been wrought through its operations, or, to be more exact, the results of a revolution had been overthrown and a form of government, wickedly, illegally, and unconstitutionally imposed upon the people, had come into the hands of the class best fitted to administer government, and the supremacy of the white race and of Anglo-Saxon institutions was secure.
The inherent evils of the movement are plain, but it is an old adage that desperate diseases require desperate remedies. Certain it is that no open revolt could ever have accomplished so much of good as did the secret operations of the so‑called Klan, and few today would deny that there was necessity for some remedy for the conditions then existent. The justification for the movement even then sometimes seems difficult, but when all at elements are considered, the conclusion seems inevitable that if there be such a thing as the sacred right of revolution, then the Ku Klux movement as planned and carried p137 out at first was justifiable. No free people ever labored under more galling oppression or more grievous misrule, and, in the absence of any effective legal remedy, the principle of salus populi would seem to apply. At any rate, it is clear that the movement was primarily designed for protection and its influence upon politics was purely accidental. The evidence is overwhelming in support of the theory that the chief purpose of the Ku Klux was to oppose the Union League and check its operations. The unfortunate thing is that such an extreme and, under ordinary circumstances, indefensible policy should have been necessary. Like practically every other evil of reconstruction, its effects survive and are too often manifested in Southern life and thought. The responsibility for it must ultimately rest upon those who planned and put into effect for partisan purposes the congressional plan of reconstruction.
In North Carolina the movement was carried on by three separate but kindred societies whose methods were identical — the White Brotherhood, the Constitutional Union Guard, and the Invisible Empire. All were secret orders with rituals, all were organized for protective purposes, and all in time had political influence and significance. The White Brotherhood appeared in the state sometime in 1867 or 1868, and nothing is known of its origin; the Constitutional Union Guard was organized at the North, probably with a political purpose and reached North Carolina in 1868; and the Invisible Empire, the Ku Klux proper, organized in Tennessee in 1865 reached the state in 1867 or 1868. These orders were organized locally into camps, klans, and dens, respectively. In North Carolina, they existed side by side, often with the same officers and almost the same membership and it is now almost impossible to distinguish them. At the head of the Invisible Empire was William L. Saunders, who, though not a member, directed its larger activities and through it those of the others as well. Their nominal heads are not known. Their members were widely scattered but no one knows or ever knew their number. Forty thousand was a very usual estimate. Nor is the geographical range of the orders any better known. It was essentially a movement of the Piedmont region of the state p139 and was never very successful in spreading in the eastern counties where there was a large negro population. The only counties with negro majorities in which the Ku Klux appeared were Caswell, Lenoir, Jones, Franklin, and Wayne, and only in Caswell were they active. The counties in which the orders displayed any activity fall into two groups, a central and a western one. In the former, were Alamance and Orange, where Daniel R. Goodloe said the movement was hereditary and closely akin to the Regulation, Caswell, Chatham, Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett, Lenoir, Jones, Moore, Person, Franklin, Wayne, Guilford, Rockingham, and Stokes. In the latter were Burke, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Polk, McDowell, Rowan, and Rutherford. Orange and Alamance formed the storm centre of the central group and Cleveland and Rutherford of the western. So far as outward manifestation is proof, the movement was of comparatively little importance elsewhere. But it is not to be doubted that it was in a quiet way very important, both protectively and politically, in many counties where it did not attract any public attention. In the latter respect it was an organization which kept its members aroused. Its chief work in the state and in the South, in addition to the protection it furnished, was in restoring heart and courage to the white people who at first seemed overwhelmed by the immensity of their misfortunes. In this way it was the active agent which secured political redemption. The western group of counties was largely influenced by South Carolina and was practically unconnected with the central group. In fact the chief activities in the West commenced only as the movement ceased further eastward. In the West the organization was far less complete and the discipline less effective. Its punitive measures were far less productive of public benefit and, in its period of greatest activity, the movement had little to recommend it.
A Ku Klux Klan Costume
From an original photograph in the Hall of History at Raleigh
A Ku Klux Klan Banner Used in North Carolina
The important activities of the Ku Klux began in 1869 although without resorting to violence it had not been inactive before. In that year in Alamance, Orange, Caswell, Jones, Lenoir, and Chatham counties severe punishment was inflicted upon various evil-doers by the orders which constituted themselves p140 censors of public morals and manners. In Alamance where the order was popular with the people a large number of persons, most of them negroes, were whipped for various offenses. Politics so far as can be discovered did not enter into any of these cases. In Orange which was probably the best organized county in the state, a large number of persons were whipped, and five, all negroes, were put to death for offenses against women or for barn-burning. In Jones the Union League had a large number of outrages to its score and in retaliation, two carpet-baggers and a negro were shot and killed. Proof was lacking but it is likely that the Ku Klux were responsible. In Chatham whippings were frequent but no one was killed. Both the League and the Ku Klux were in constant operation. In Caswell the League was very active and, under the leadership of John W. Stephens, a man of bad reputation and notoriously evil political life, barn-burning was seemingly the purpose of its existence. During 1869 a large number of negroes were whipped.
The Ku Klux operations which were not very widely extended and not nearly so lawless as those of the Union League, excited the anger, fear and hatred of the republican leaders. The sending of militia to Alamance County, to be followed later by Federal troops, had a corresponding influence upon the conservatives. The governor planned to send troops to Hillsboro, but his friends warned him not to do so. Late in the same month, he warned the people of Orange, Chatham, Lenoir, and Jones to abstain from lawlessness and threatened to declare them in insurrection. About the same time, Chief Justice Pearson wrote a letter to George Little, in which he said the entire state was in as profound peace as it had ever been. The governor's action did not at all aid the republican party and was probably a cause of strength to the opposition. The mass of the people were fully aware of the fact that, if the governor had been more zealous in trying to prevent radical lawlessness, he would not have had as much occasion to worry over Ku Klux outrages, many of which had been carefully invented for the press with a full realization of their political value. At the same time, it seems beyond question that Governor Holden believed that the condition of affairs p141 seriously menaced the safety and welfare of the state as well as of his party. In so far he was justified.
Caswell Holt of Alamance County,
This photograph was taken in 1912, while he was in the employ of the former county chief of the Ku Klux
In spite of the hysterical press notices which would indicate the contrary, there was never a time when the Ku Klux were disturbers of general public peace and order. In fact, for a time, at least, after their appearance, there was improvement in this respect. The courts were undisturbed and the officers of the law went unhindered about their duties. Wrong-doers and radical politicians, names then too often synonymous, trembled, a small class of timid whites became alarmed, and panic, not soon allayed, spread among the negroes, but the mass of the white people remained undisturbed and unafraid.
The legislature in 1869, it will be recalled, had made going p142 on the highway masked, painted, or disguised, a felony, and Governor Holden had formally proclaimed his intention to enforce the law. The legislature at the same session authorized him to employ a force of detectives to arrest fugitives from justice. The governor construed the law liberally and planned a secret campaign against the Ku Klux which failed in spite of the activities of some twenty detectives. In Lenoir and Greene, Judge Thomas ended the operations of the secret orders. The center of disturbance was Judge Tourgee's district, and while he talked loudly and was not lacking in personal courage, he accomplished nothing. Militia was sent to various places with no success and finally the governor threatened to declare several counties in a state of insurrection. Such was the situation in the state when the legislature met for its third and final session.
The third and last session of the "mongrel" legislature differed greatly from its predecessors. The credit of the state was gone, all resources were taxed to their limit, and there remained nothing for the corrupt to exploit; nothing to steal. The haughty and proscriptive spirit displayed by the majority had disappeared, and the hitherto despised minority began to assume importance as the majority of a rapidly approaching tomorrow which would bring a reckoning. In consequence, unity departed from the republicans, and, during most of the session, the conservative minority drove before them the badly demoralized majority.
The governor's message was of little importance except in respect to three things. He recommended the payment of the interest on the debt, declaring that the state had received the money from the bonds, but advised against any further increase of the debt. He advised an appeal to Congress for a general amnesty bill, not because he thought amnesty was deserved, but because it would relieve friction. Most important of all, was a request to the legislature to increase his power in the use of the militia. Governor Holden evidently desired to appear to his political opponents equipped with an olive branch and a sword.
Immediately after the session began, bills to carry out the governor's suggestions were introduced. A resolution favoring p143 general amnesty passed both houses by good majorities. One introduced by Seymour endorsing the validity of the debt, opposing any increase, and condemning repudiation, failed to pass. The debate indicated clearly that most of the members did not expect the bonds to be paid.
The third recommendation of the governor resulted in a bill "for the better protection of life and property," introduced in December by Senator Shoffner, of Alamance, and thereafter known by his name. The author of it, however, was John Pool and rumor had it that Shoffner was paid a considerable sum of money for consenting to father it. The act empowered the governor, whenever, in his judgment, the civil authorities in any county were unable to protect its citizens, to declare the county in a state of insurrection and to call into active service the militia of the state for its suppression. The judges and solicitors were given power to remove to another county the trial of any person indicted in any county for murder, conspiracy, or going masked, painted, or disguised. All expenses incident to either action were to be borne by the county concerned, the privilege being given to the county to tax the costs upon any persons convicted. The bill was vehemently opposed by the conservatives who declared it unnecessary and denounced it as unconstitutional and intended simply to give the governor unlimited military power to use for political purposes. Republican sentiment was not at all united on it. W. T. Gunter, of Chatham, an intense republican, led the fight on it in the House and even Deweese wrote many letters from Washington in opposition to its passage. Seymour, who was its chief defender, acknowledged that it was wrong in principle but declared that the times demanded it. In private conversation, he made no secret of the fact that it was passed as the only hope of holding the state republican. The chief defense of the republicans was that the bill did not authorize the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
At least three-fourths of the session was spent in discussion of proposed investigations of the charges of fraud. The thieves, the Standard, the carpet-baggers, and some partisans fought every proposal, declaring them stabs at the republican p144 party and urging the republican members to act with republicans and not with enemies and to disregard a "snarling minority." Littlefield ran away from Raleigh but finally appeared before the House in committee of the whole where, under the protection of Sinclair, Seymour, French, Downing and James H. Harris, he was not seriously embarrassed. Swepson was summoned but with the aid of the governor escaped. Numerous minor investigations were made and finally a commission to investigate the whole question of fraud was authorized. Lieutenant-Governor Caldwell, a scrupulously honest, if partisan, man appointed on it Thomas Bragg, Samuel F. Phillips, and W. L. Scott, a group commanding general confidence. Not much time was allowed them but the testimony taken by them was damning. Littlefield saw the danger and gave an oyster supper to the republican members with an unlimited supply of liquor. A large number got drunk, nineteen senators agreed to secure the abolition of the commission, and the law was repealed on the following day.
In the meantime something more than investigation had been accomplished. As an interesting indication of sentiment, it is notable that the Senate passed a resolution forbidding the treasurer to pay any interest on the special tax bonds until further action by the legislature. Finally, all appropriations of bonds to railroads were repealed and the companies were directed to return to the state all which were unsold.
The radical element sought to prolong the life of the legislature by taking advantage of an ambiguity in the constitution which Tourgee said had been inserted for that very purpose, but public opinion was too strong, and after providing for an election in August the Legislature on March 28, 1870, adjourned sine die. During its term it had been in session 259 days and in per diem and mileage alone had cost the state $349,705.30. Printing had cost more than $50,000 and incidental expenses were pry more than $200,000. How great was the cost to the state of their activities, viewed from financial, economic, social, moral and political standpoints, is of course beyond human surmise.
With the adjournment most of the carpet-baggers saw the p145 handwriting on the wall, and the more brazen made no secret of their belief that their day had come to an end. Byron Laflin was asked as he started for the station the day of adjournment: "You are coming back, General?" and replied with a leer, "Is there anything to come back for?" The rats were deserting the sinking ship. Deweese about the same time was forced out of Congress for selling a cadetship.c His sole and probably true defense was that he was really expelled for underselling the market. In disgrace, under indictment for misuse of his frank, which he had lent to send out state republican campaign documents, he retired to Cleveland, Ohio, where he had invested his rather tidy profits in a city block.
In the state almost every carpet-bagger in office was known to be a defaulter and the hatred of them by the mass of republicans was scarcely less intense than that felt by the conservatives. The state administration was, however, hopelessly committed to them, and since they held a large number of Federal offices the party organization was more or less dominated by them.
a Sic: some kind of garble. I have no idea what "7⅝ of 1 percent" means; and $20,893.13 is a discount of 13.86% on $24,255. Assuming the face value of the bonds to have been $1000, and that 7⅝ percent was meant, the commission would have been $4,193.75, which subtracted from $24,255 leaves not $20,893.13 but $20,061.25.
c An investigation of his appointments to the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy — in only one of the latter of which impropriety was proved — led to Deweese's censure on March 1, 1870 in the following unanimous resolution of the House:
Resolved, That John T. Deweese, late a Representative in Congress from the Third Congressional District of North Carolina, did make an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in violation of law, and that such appointment was influenced by pecuniary considerations, and that his conduct in the premises has been such as to show him unworthy of a seat in the House of Representatives, and is therefore condemned as conduct unworthy of a Representative of the people.
He had resigned the day before, else he would have been expelled. (From Mark Grossman's Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power, and Greed, Santa Barbara, CA, 2003: p97.)
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