Zeb Vance: North Carolina's Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader

By Gordon B. McKinney | Go to book overview
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1 WHAT MANNER OF MAN?

The Senate galleries were packed, as was usually the case when Zebulon Baird Vance was the center of attention. Many of the better known personages in the nation's capital were present. They were unusually somber, acting as if there would be no clever remarks from the most popular speaker in Congress. Dressed in dark clothing, the crowd sat in resigned silence. Seated below them were the entire Senate and the House of Representatives, with the Speaker of the House and the vice president of the United States seated at the front. Slowly, the chief justice and the associate justices of the Supreme Court entered the chamber and took seats in the second row. They were soon followed by President Grover Cleveland and his cabinet. According to a contemporary account, this was only the president's second personal appearance at this type of ceremony during his tenure in office. Finally, the distinguished British ambassador Sir Julian Pauncefote and members of the diplomatic corps entered the hushed room and were seated in the front row.1

Then the Reverend Dr. Moses D. Hoge of Richmond, Virginia, began the funeral service for Zebulon Vance. Vance's second wife, Florence, and his son Charles joined the public officials in this impressive ceremony to the memory of the junior senator from North Carolina. Many seated on the Senate floor had clashed with Vance on public issues, but few bore any grudges, and most considered him their friend. In fact, many faces on the floor of the Senate and in the galleries bore smiles as Vance's remarks and actions were recalled, but soon thereafter these countenances reflected the sorrow of losing a valued colleague. Vance's journey from the mountains of western North Carolina to this seat of national power had not been an easy one, but most of the people in the room recognized that his presence among them was the result of his ability, ambition, and the needs of his state and nation. Even though Hoge's message emphasized that "there is nothing great but God," the ceremony and the assembled dignitaries signified that Vance had achieved a measure of greatness. After the brief service, the president and the ambassador personally comforted Vance's widow. The diplomat took several minutes to relate his personal feelings of loss as well as his official condolences.2

-1-

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