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

By Gordon B. McKinney | Go to book overview

4 LAWYER AND APPRENTICE POLITICIAN

Zebulon Vance's sudden reentry into Asheville's political and legal scene in the March 1852 solicitor's race was the prelude to several stormy years for him in both law and politics. Never one to avoid the limelight, Zeb thrust himself into the middle of several controversies and carefully kept his name before the people. His driving ambition led him to commit errors of excess that threatened his position, but his good humor and generally genial disposition helped him to retain the goodwill of most of the people with whom he came in contact. Nevertheless, he made powerful enemies among the elite who worked with considerable vigor to undercut his position. While both friends and relatives found him to be insufferable upon occasion, Vance's personality and public persona were attractive to many yeoman farmers from the mountains, and he began to build a powerful following that would last for the remainder of his life.

Writing to Hattie just three months before their wedding, Zeb offered the following assessment of himself: "To day I am just twenty three years old…. It seems but yesterday when I was a prattling mischievous school urchin, without any serious thought or anything else to indicate the man that was to be—, celebrated only for wickedness and wildness! And now I am in my twenty fourth year, at mature manhood, on the eve of matrimony and the duties and cares of life crowding upon me and driving sleep from my pillow! And what have I done in all this time to make myself admired or respected! Alas, little, very little." There is no doubt that his contemporaries shared the same opinion of the young lawyer-politician. Augustus S. Merrimon wrote a brief character sketch of Vance seven months later that confirmed Vance's own feeling that he had not accomplished enough with his life. Merrimon observed: "I consider him a sprightly man, though not talented. He is not an ordinary man however. He has had some advantages, some of which, he has not improved as he should." Merrimon went on to conjecture that Vance could become a "respectable" but not a "profound" lawyer.1 Clearly, there was little indication early in his career that Zeb would achieve great things.

A scholarly study of lawyers in antebellum Virginia suggests that Zeb's

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vi
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • 1: What Manner of Man? 1
  • 2: A Mountain Boyhood 5
  • 3: Scholar and Suitor 16
  • 4: Lawyer and Apprentice Politician 31
  • 5: Congressman 49
  • 6: Secession Crisis 65
  • 7: Colonel of the Twenty-Sixth Regiment 78
  • 8: Campaign for Governor 97
  • 9: Building a Strong North Carolina 110
  • 10: Relations with the Confederate Government 130
  • 11: Growing Challenges 152
  • 12: Protest 168
  • 13: Challenges to the Compromise 185
  • 14: Campaign for Reelection 200
  • 15: Returned to Office 217
  • 16: Defeat with Honor 231
  • 17: Prisoner 248
  • 18: The Politics of Reconstruction 264
  • 19: Frustrated Politician 283
  • 20: The Battle of Giants 302
  • 21: Governor Again 324
  • 22: United States Senator 345
  • 23: Party Leader 366
  • 24: Farmers' Alliance and Reelection 384
  • 25: Decline 397
  • 26: Monuments and the Man 406
  • Notes 417
  • Index 467
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