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Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of North Carolina

The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York, 1919
Volume III by
J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 9
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. III
Chapter 8
The Downfall

Republican opposition to the Ku Klux was to be expected from the very nature of the case. The operations of the orders were mainly directed against members of that party and, even when they were not, the very existence of the secret organizations of self-constituted regulators indicated a condition of affairs which the party had no reason to be proud of. In addition, from the very beginning, the organizations were regarded by republican leaders, at least, as political in nature. Less important members of the party agreed to this in public, but many of them in their hearts probably had a guilty consciousness that the offenses for which they feared the visitation of the dreaded night-riders were not at all political; that, in fact, their republicanism was the least of their sins. In some communities that had suffered greatly at the hands of the negroes, the republicans were secretly grateful to the klan, and, in the days of its degeneracy, a considerable number of them joined it, in order that, under the shelter of its disguise and its fellow­ship, they might violate the laws of the land, particularly those in reference to the manufacture and sale of whiskey. But this of course was not loyal republicanism. Hatred of the Ku Klux speedily became a cardinal doctrine of the party and it was regarded as good party policy to magnify the violence of its acts as much as possible, connecting it at the same time with the opposition party, and thereby to attract as much attention as possible in the North. Right faithfully most of the "loyal" carried out this obligation, taking due care, however, not to get their names connected with the ingeniously manufactured product which appeared in the press under the heading, "Southern Ku Klux Outrages."

 p147  Upon the activities of the Ku Klux in the state the governor now prepared to base his plan for carrying the election of 1870. In the summer would be chosen the attorney-general, the members of Congress and a legislature which would select a United States senator. Upon its result depended the future of the republican party and the governor's own personal ambitions. The conservatives were deeply stirred and very hopeful, for it was increasingly evident that the people were weary of the republican régime and even the republican leaders were skeptical of success. The governor at first sought some new alignment of parties by which the native white republicans and the old whigs might combine, with the carpet-baggers and negroes excluded. But the plan would not work as long as Holden was included in it. The party had heavy burdens to carry. The extravagance, dishonesty, and incompetence of the administration, the shameless corruption of the legislature, the partisan­ship of the judiciary, and the divisions in the party, all contributed to make the cause well-nigh hopeless from the beginning.

On the conservative side, the chief burden that had to be carried with the Ku Klux. But this was not so heavy as might be supposed. In spite of all the violence for which, justly or unjustly, it received the credit, its service to the people was recognized by the masses, who had never regarded it in the same light as the political leaders had. In the next place, the very denunciation of it by the republicans, combined with their highly-colored accounts of its real and supposed outrages, tended to intimidate the negroes politically far more than the Ku Klux had ever done, and thousands of negroes who had never been molested by the Ku Klux determined to have nothing to do with politics, in this campaign at least. The truth is that many of the negroes, chiefly those in the country, were beginning to discover the falsity of political promises and had come to believe that politics as conducted by the carpet-baggers and other whites had little of good for them. Disappointed in the past by their failure to receive "forty acres and a mule," they were taking steps to acquire those coveted possessions by hard work.

Early in March, 1870, Wyatt Outlaw, a negro, was hanged  p148 by the Ku Klux in Alamance, and on March 7th, the governor proclaimed the country in a state of insurrection, but took no steps to suppress the supposed uprising. In Orange, where conditions were in some respects worse than elsewhere, and in Chatham, leading conservatives induced men of influence in their party to apply to Governor Holden for commissions with a view to disbanding the orders. In both counties Ku Klux activity ended here. The governor, in the meantime, notified the President of what had been done, suggested legislation by Congress which became the basis for the later Ku Klux laws, and urged the senators from the state to secure power to have the leaders tried by military tribunals and shot.

In May, John W. Stephens, a state senator and one of the governor's detectives, was killed by the Ku Klux who had discovered that he was responsible for the barn-burning in Caswell.

The governor, facing certain defeat unless new measures to win the election were concerted, was desperate. His evil genius, John Pool, now presented a plan. At a republican conference in Raleigh on June 7th, participated in by some of the most undesirable elements in the party, he suggested the organization of two regiments of regular troops as detailed militia, and their use in arresting various persons in the state. The writ of habeas corpus was to be ignored and it was suggested that the accused be tried by a military commission. Richard C. Badger, who was present, vehemently denounced the plan as vicious, but the governor, in spite of his timidity and misgivings, was entirely under Pool's influence, and so the plan was adopted except that part involving trial by military commissions. Back of it all was President Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant who approved the plan and furnished the equipment for the troops. Caswell County was at once proclaimed to be in insurrection and preparations for the organization of the troops were hastened.

W. J. Clarke, a native, was placed in command of one regiment. For the other, George W. Kirk, a noted Tennessee bushwhacker and desperado was chosen. George B. Bergen, of New Jersey, was made lieutenant-colonel. The following  p149 circular, written by Holden, was then printed and distributed in the western part of North Carolina and in Eastern Tennessee.

Rally Union Men
In Defence of Your State!
Rally Soldiers of the Old
N. Carolina 2d and 3d Federal Troops!
Rally to the Standard of Your Old Commander!

Your old commander has been commissioned to raise at once a regiment of State troops, to aid in enforcing the laws, and in putting down disloyal midnight sessions.

The blood of your murdered countrymen, inhumanly butchered for opinion's sake, cries from the ground for vengeance.

The horrible murders and other atrocities committed by rebel K. K. K. and "southern chivalry," on grayhaired men and helpless women, call in thunder tones on all loyal men to rally in defence of their State. The uplifted hand of justice must overtake these outlaws.

N. Carolina 2d and 3d Federal Troops!
1,000 Recruits

are wanted immediately, to serve six months unless sooner discharged. These troops will receive the same pay, clothing and rations as United States regulars. Recruits will be received at Asheville, Marshall, and Burnsville, North Carolina.

For further information address or call on me at Asheville, N. C.

George W. Kirk,

Colonel 2d Regiment State Troops.

Kirk, with Holden's consent, went secretly to Tennessee and, in violation of law, raised a large part of his force there from his own kind.

In the meantime the parties had held their conventions and prepared for the campaign. For attorney-general the conservatives nominated William M. Shipp, a man of ability and of good record. The republican convention was the scene of a three-sided factional contest in which John Pool outwitted both Holden and Abbott, defeating the latter with Holden's aid for the presidency of the convention and then preventing any endorsement of Holden's administration and the nomination of his son-in‑law, L. P. Olds, for attorney-general. For this position Samuel F. Phillips, one of the most prominent conservatives in the state was nominated and in accepting he gave the republican party and its record in North Carolina an unqualified endorsement and was henceforth not only a republican but a radical.

 p150  The plan of the governor to use military force, when made public, excited the utmost horror and surprise in all decent people. Prominent republicans flooded the governor with letters of protest. Some extremists, most of them of like character with Kirk, heartily endorsed the plan. The Standard, claiming to speaking for the governor, and probably doing so, was full of threats, going so far as to say that if it was thought necessary, certain leading conservatives, already determined upon, would be put to death. One of these, it is interesting to know, was William A. Graham.

In Washington, Pool and Abbott organized a campaign of misrepresentation in order to build up a sentiment in the North in favor of what was about to happen. The President sent for Holden and assured him of his support, saying: "Let those men resist you, Governor, and I will move with all my power against them." The governor came away confident and determined upon the creation of a military commission to try those arrested. This may have been suggested again by Pool; in all likelihood it was the suggestion of the President.

In spite of all the later claims in respect to the purpose of raising the military force, at the time, among the conspirators, there was no pretence of its having any other object than to wreak partisan revenge, excite a wholesale terror, and above all, carry the election.

Kirks regiment consisted of nine companies with a total of 670 men, of whom 399 were under legal age, 64 over legal age, and more than 200 from other states. Enlisted among the whites, also in violation of law, were a large number of negroes. It was an undisciplined disorderly body, composed chiefly of criminals and desperadoes, drawn from the worst elements of the mountain population.

On July 6th, the force reached Alamance where a few days later they were mustered into state service. A military commission was then selected consisting of Krik's field officers and a group of partisans, holding Holden's militia commission, all of them of worse than mediocre ability and entirely subservient to Holden. The commission was ordered to meet  p151 on July 25th and it was planned to execute its sentence just before the August election but this plan was later changed.

The conservatives had viewed the threatening situation with disgust and with more fear of an uprising of the people that would lead to Federal interference than with terror of Kirk. Leaders besought the people to be patient and win at the ballot box. In fact the movement from a conservative standpoint was most important. It aroused such hostility that the most indifferent voter was affected and the republicans, more than ever, were put on the defensive and their defeat assured.

On July 1st, Bergen arrested in Alamance J. S. Scott, a merchant, James E. Boyd, a young lawyer and the conservative candidate for the House, and A. G. Moore, a farmer, informing them that this was done under instructions from Governor Holden. Upon application Kirk refused to admit them to bail. The next day a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was presented to Chief Justice Pearson who granted it. The writ was served upon Kirk at Yanceyville where, under orders from Holden, he was carrying part of his force. Declaring that such papers had played out, he refused to obey the writ except under orders from the governor. Application was then made for a writ of attachment against Kirk when Badger, acting for the governor, suggested that he might wish to be heard. The chief justice accordingly sent him a copy of the writ and the next day the governor replied assuming responsibility for Kirk's action. He declared himself authorized by law to take such a course, which he professed to believe necessary to suppress the insurrection in Alamance. The chief justice after hearing argument of counsel on lines laid down by himself, delivered an opinion in which he upheld the governor's power to declare a county in insurrection but denied the suspension of the privilege of the writ. Acknowledging the right of the petitioners to a writ of attachment, he refused to address it to any sheriff or to call out the posse comitatus on the ground that it would precipitate civil war in the state. He closed the opinion as follows:

The writ will be directed to the Marshal of the Supreme Court, with instructions to exhibit it, and a copy of this opinion to His  p152 Excellency the Governor. If he orders the petitioner to be delivered to the Marshal, well; if not, following the example of Chief Justice Taney, in Merrimon's case, Annual Cyclopedia, for the year 1861, page 555, I have discharged my duty; the power of the Judiciary is exhausted and the responsibility must rest on the Executive.


The same procedure was followed in the case of the other prisoners arrested and when a writ issued by Judge Mitchell was served on Kirk, he tore it up.

In the meantime Kirk's force had occupied the courthouses at Yanceyville and Graham, from which bases they terrorized the two counties, seeking evidently to provoke an uprising of the people. In Caswell nineteen prominent citizens were arrested and imprisoned. Many were treated with outrageous barbarity and some remained in jail more than a month, to find, when a hearing finally came, that there was not a scintilla of evidence against them. Writs were secured for all of them with the result already described. In Alamance eighty-two persons in all were arrested and many of them tortured.

When Kirk carried James E. Boyd to Yanceyville, W. R. Albright, of Alamance, went to Raleigh at Boyd's suggestion and told Holden that Boyd would tell all he knew about the Ku Klux. The result of the conference was that Kirk carried Boyd to Raleigh where he had a number of interviews with the governor. On the 17th, Holden wrote Kirk that Boyd was going to confess; and on the 19th Boyd was released upon his own bond in the sum of $50,000, and accepting a fee of $250 as counsel, agreed to work up evidence against the Ku Klux and make a public confession. He returned to Alamance and published a card the next day denying that he had made any revelation to the governor and stating that he had no knowledge to reveal. He then devoted his energies, according to his own account to securing evidence. On July 30th, the Standard contained a confession of member­ship in the Ku Klux signed by Boyd and fifteen others whom he had induced to join him. Tremendous excitement followed and several hundred young men hurriedly left the state for the Southwest, many of them never to return. Immediately upon the publication of his card, Boyd withdrew from the canvass.

His public confession revealed practically nothing that was  p153 of value to the administration. Its chief value was its effect upon the public mind. He was twice judicially examined in North Carolina and suffered badly at the hands of the lawyers who cross-examined him. His testimony makes highly interesting and enlightening reading. He was also examined by the Senate "outrage" committee in 1871, and in the minority report, signed by Senators Blair and Bayard, was harshly condemned. Both Blair and Bayard later on the floor of the Senate expressed their highly uncomplimentary opinion of him, one, it is needless to say, common to many in North Carolina at the time, and not wholly unknown to‑day.

In the midst of the excitement caused by these events, Bedford Brown went to Washington to urge the President to interfere. Already the President had sent seven companies of regulars to the state who were heartily welcomed by law-abiding people who saw in them ultimate protection from the governor's desperadoes. With great unanimity, the officers condemned Kirk's methods and the governor's course. But Grant was as yet beyond reasonable influence and expressed to Brown his determination to uphold the governor. The Northern press, even the larger part of the republican newspapers, were bitterly hostile to the governor, the Washington Star expressing the prevailing sentiment in the following editorial:

It is the fault of just such men as Holden that North Carolina is not soundly Republican today, if she is not. In no State of the South was there so large a Union element during the war and in no State was the work of reconstruction entered upon under more favorable auspices. As for Holden, he is simply a demagogue, trickster, and political desperado. A blatant secessionist when secession was uppermost, he is just the style of man now to persecute with rabid vindictiveness not only his secession neighbors, but all Republicans who oppose his oppressive reign.

The election came in the midst of it all and was a conservative victory. Shipp and five conservative candidates for Congress were successful and the legislature was overwhelmingly conservative, the Senate with a two‑thirds majority.

The day of the carpet-bagger and the scalawag was over  p154 and the first step in the overthrow of Reconstruction was accomplished.

The next day Holden, who was writhing under the lash of Josiah Turner's editorial attacks in the Sentinel, ordered his arrest. Turner was taken from Hillsboro, which being in Orange was outside the zone of supposed insurrection, and carried finally to Yanceyville, where he was confined with a negro under sentence of death in a loathsome cell. Later he was imprisoned in the room in the courthouse in which Stephens had been murdered.

Upon their failure to obtain relief from the state courts, the counsel for the prisoners determined to apply to Judge Brooks of the Federal District Court. The petition was carried to him by M. W. Ransom who persuaded him of the fact of his having jurisdiction under the Fourteenth Amendment and a law passed by Congress a short time before. He accordingly issued the writ.

The news of his action came like a thunderclap to the governor and the other conspirators. Holden at once wired a protest to the President, expressing his determination not to yield. The following day Secretary Belknap sent in reply an opinion of the attorney-general advising the governor to respect the writ, and it was evident that the President had deserted him. Holden conferred with Kirk, ordered him to obey the chief justice's writs, and summoned Chief Justice Pearson to Raleigh to hear the cases. When court opened Kirk was present with all the prisoners but the applications for the writ were all withdrawn. Bench warrants for a few of the prisoners were issued but all were soon discharged. In the meantime Judge Brooks held proceedings at chambers in Salisbury and Kirk also appeared there with his prisoners, all of whom upon motion were discharged over the protest of the governor's counsel who objected rather vehemently in spite of the fact that no evidence could be brought against any of them.

An attempt to prevent the payment of Kirk's men by means of an injunction against the treasurer and the paymaster, failed and, mustered out, they fled to the mountains, still committing acts of violence. Many efforts were made to  p155 secure the arrest of Kirk and Bergen but they were secretly released by Judge Bond of the United States Circuit Court and fled from the state. Both were later the recipients of Federal appointments.

In November, Governor Holden issued a proclamation declaring the insurrection in Alamance and Caswell at an end and with this action the Kirk-Holden war, as it has since been known, came to a close.

The election results were scarcely known to the public before an insistent demand for the impeachment of the governor began. Many also included the chief justice in their demand. When the legislature met, a flood of petitions for the impeachment of both were presented. They were alarmed and attempted to justify their action; the governor in his message, and the chief justice in a rather remarkable memorial, addressed to the Senate, which was rejected without being read.

The legislature was distinctly a body of young men. Seventy were under thirty, and of the remainder, the majority were under forty. Inexperienced, in the main, they were ably led and manifested such a genuine spirit of reform that by their action they assured the ascendancy of their party for the next quarter of a century. In the body were only four carpet-baggers, but twenty-two negroes found places.

Impeachment talk continued and it became apparent that public sentiment behind it was strong. Vance opposed it, advocating a compromise by which the republicans would consent to a constitutional convention and advocate the removal of his own disabilities. After the impeachment he said, "It was the longest hunt after the poorest hide that I ever saw." As time passed without action, the governor seems to have concluded that the conservatives were afraid of the consequences of impeachment, and the Standard, which still represented his opinions, said editorially:

We have heard enough on this subject. We want acts after today. In the name of the people of North Carolina, who elected the governor and chief justice, we demand a trial at the bar of the Senate. Innocent or guilty, the matter has reached that point from which there is only one course to pursue and that is — give these men a trial — clear them if innocent and convict them if guilty. If the Democratic  p156 party will not try these men, then we denounce the party as being more corrupt and dishonest than has been charged against the Republican party.

In December the conservative caucus of the House decided on impeachment and on December 9th, Frederick N. Strudwick, of Orange, introduced a resolution impeaching the governor. The chief justice expected impeachment and had engaged counsel but the influence of his old students, backed by a feeling that it would be unwise to make too clean a sweep, prevailed, and he thus escaped a fate he richly deserved.

The judiciary committee of the House reported the following resolution favorably which on December 14th was adopted by a vote of sixty to forty-six:

That William W. Holden, Governor of the State of North Carolina, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors in office.

The next day F. N. Stradwick, W. P. Welch and Thomas Sparrow appeared before the bar of the Senate and impeached him formally. A board of managers, headed by Sparrow was chosen and William A. Graham, Thomas Bragg, and A. S. Merrimon were employed as counsel. Eight articles of impeachment, in substance as follows, were drawn up, adopted, and presented to the Senate.

Article 1. Raising unlawful armed bodies of troops and causelessly declaring the county of Alamance in a state of insurrection, and afterwards unlawfully arresting eighty-two citizens of the county and unlawfully detaining them, when there was no insurrection and when the civil officers of the law were in the full exercise of all their functions.

Article 2. The same as to Caswell county with the arrest of eighteen citizens.

Article 3. Unlawfully arresting, in the county of Orange, Josiah Turner, Jr., and imprisoning him.

Article 4. Unlawfully arresting and detaining in the county of Caswell, John Kerr and three other citizens.

Article 5. Refusing to obey the writ of habeas corpus in the case of Adolphus G. Moore.

Article 6. Refusing to obey the writ of habeas corpus in the case of John Kerr and eighteen other citizens of Caswell county.

Article 7. Unlawfully recruiting a large body of troops from the State of North Carolina and the State of Tennessee and placing in command of them one Kirk and other desperate and lawless men from the State of Tennessee; unlawfully arresting and imprisoning John Kerr and many others; hanging by the neck William Patton,  p157 Lucien H. Murray and others; thrusting into a loathsome dungeon Josiah Turner, Jr., and F. A. Wiley, and without lawful authority making his warrant upon David A. Jenkins, Treasurer of the State, for $70,000 or more, to pay the said unlawful troops.

Article 8. Inciting and procuring from the State Treasurer to disregard the injunction to restrain him from paying the sum of $80,000 or more of the public treasury for the unlawful purpose of paying his unlawful troops.

As soon as these were presented Lieutenant-Governor Caldwell withdrew and assumed the office of governor from which Holden automatically was removed until the conclusion of the trial. The chief justice took the chair and organized the court of impeachment. Holden was summoned and given thirty days to prepare an answer. The governor had as counsel, W. N. H. Smith, Edward Conigland, and Richard C. Badger, and on January 23d he submitted through them his answer to the articles of impeachment. To the first article, was presented an elaborate answer containing a copy of Governor Worth's protest at the time he retired from office, which was claimed to be indicative of the state's attitude towards the reconstructed government. Out of the protest, according to the answer, grew the later opposition to Holden's administration. The growth of the Ku Klux, the passage of a law against them, the governor's proclamation against them, and those declaring Alamance and Caswell counties in insurrection were then recited. It was denied that the persons arrested had been ill-treated, and constitutional authority was claimed for all the governor's acts. To the second article, was opposed the claim that all the persons were arrested upon probable cause. To the third article, it was denied that the arrest of Josiah Turner had been ordered elsewhere than in Alamance or Caswell, but it was admitted that orders had been given for his detention after arrest. The fourth article was answered as the first and second. In answer to the fifth, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was admitted, but the governor claimed that it was his intention to hold the prisoners only until they could with safety to the state be surrendered to the civil authorities, and he claimed constitutional and legal justification. The sixth article was answered similarly to the others. The answer to the seventh denied  p158 that his troops had been raised in Tennessee, but claimed that as within the governor's power. He denied that portion of the article relating to his drawing the money from the treasury. To the eighth article was submitted a denial and a demand for proof.

The next day the replication of the managers was presented. It consisted of a general denial of the governor's answer.

On January 30th, the manager asked leave to amend the eighth article and, after some objection by counsel for the governor, it was granted. But as this made a change necessary in the answer to that article, time was granted for that purpose. When the Senate re-convened, L. C. Edwards, of Granville, appeared and when he was called forward to be sworn, his right to sit on the trial was challenged by the counsel for the respondent. A long argument followed, but the chief justice decided that Senator Edwards was entitled to be sworn in as a member of the court. On the same day the final oath was taken by the Senate, and on the next day, the trial began.

In no state up to this time had a governor been impeached, and the case presented many points where a need of precedents was felt. Both sides relied extensively upon the reports of the impeachment trial of President Johnson, each interestingly enough from the other's previous viewpoint.

The trial began on February 2d and lasted until March 22d. The managers introduced 57 witnesses and the defense 113. The prosecution was able to prove beyond doubt the main contentions upon which the impeachment was based. The undisturbed exercise of jurisdiction by the courts in Alamance and Caswell was proved by many, and the statements of the articles as to the use of the troops, their illegal character, and the responsibility of the governor in their employment and payment were substantiated. The evidence also indicated that the governor had ordered Turner's arrest, but the defense had secured the removal of all the records of the telegraph office just before the trial, and they could not be used. Later evidence has proved that he ordered the arrest. The defense sought to show the existence of secret associations in Alamance and Caswell, having a common purpose to  p159 subvert the laws by threats, intimidation, acts of outrage, and murder; that they had committed many outrages in those counties, including six or seven murders; and that they exercised such an extensive control within those counties that witnesses could not be induced to testify or grand juries to present, in consequence of which the ordinary administration of the laws had become inadequate to protect life, liberty, property, and the public peace. This, he claimed, would be sufficient for the defense; that the secret societies existing for the purpose of resisting the government in the enforcement of the law were treasonable and that the act of June 29, 1870, the Shoffner act, gave the governor discretionary power in declaring a county in a state of insurrection and that therefore it was only necessary to show that the governor had acted in good faith to secure his acquittal. This latter argument met with great opposition from the board of managers who insisted that the act was unconstitutional and that the governor, under the constitution could never be irresponsible.

After argument of councilº the vote was taken. The result follows:

Guilty Not Guilty
Article Dem. Rep. Total Dem. Rep. Total
1 30 0 30 6 13 19
2 32 0 32 4 13 17
3 36 1 37 0 12 12
4 33 0 33 3 13 16
5 36 4 40 0 9 9
6 36 5 41 0 8 8
7 36 0 36 0 13 13
8 36 0 36 0 13 13

The managers then asked for judgment and upon motion of John W. Graham, of Orange, the following resolution was adopted by a strict party vote:

The State of North Carolina,

The Senate of North Carolina,

March 22, 1871.

The State vs. William W. Holden

Whereas, The house of representatives of the State of North Carolina did, on the 26th day of December, 1870, exhibit to the  p160 senate articles of impeachment against William W. Holden, governor of North Carolina, and the said senate, after a full hearing and impartial trial, has, by the votes of two‑thirds of the members present, this day determined that the said William W. Holden is guilty as charged in the 3d, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th of said articles:

Now, therefore, it is adjudged by the senate of North Carolina sitting as a court of impeachment, at their chamber in the city of Raleigh, that the said William W. Holden be removed from the office of governor and be disqualified to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit under the state of North Carolina.

The rights of the people of North Carolina had been vindicated and the second step in the overthrow of Reconstruction was accomplished.

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