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

By Gordon B. McKinney | Go to book overview

18 THE POLITICS OF RECONSTRUCTION

Reconstruction was a difficult period in North Carolina, and it was a period of frustration for Zebulon Vance. Predictably, the effort to repair the economic, political, and social fabric of the United States following a conflict that had killed 625,000 people in the military and tens of thousands of civilians did not go smoothly. There was uncertainty, miscalculation, and malfeasance at the national, state, and local levels. For those caught in the midst of this turmoil, and particularly for those in the South, the lack of certainty was often debilitating. The question of what role African Americans would play in the reunited nation remained particularly contentious. Many of the elite who dominated Southern society, including those in North Carolina, were strongly determined to retain their traditional position in the world to the greatest extent possible.

Between June 1865 and March 1867, Andrew Johnson's lenient policy toward the Southerners gave North Carolinians an opportunity to shape Reconstruction in their state. Under William W. Holden's provisional governorship, local administration was restored to most of the counties. The state's convention only partially accepted the results of the war; it ended slavery and accepted reunion but rejected the president's demands that the Southerners allow African Americans to testify in court and that they repudiate the Confederate debt. When Jonathan Worth defeated Holden in the November 1865 gubernatorial contest, the government returned to the control of the old elite. In the same election, North Carolina also selected congressmen and state legislators. The legislature in turn chose William A. Graham and John Pool as U.S. senators. Other states in the former Confederacy were less restrained in returning Confederate statesmen to power than North Carolina was, and an indignant U.S. Congress refused to accept the congressmen and senators from the South.1

Within North Carolina, the new legislature attempted to deal with the consequences of the social revolution created by the war. Its major responsibility was to create a code of laws that would integrate African Americans into the existing legal system of the state. According to the leading scholar of Southern self-reconstruction, the work of Bartholomew Moore and the

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