When I first started working on Zeb Vance as a research topic, I had an opportunity to share some of my ideas with a group of senior citizens at a meeting in Black Mountain, North Carolina. During the discussion period that followed my presentation, one woman made several very insightful comments. After the end of the formal program, she came forward and introduced herself as Mrs. Glenn Tucker, the wife of the best scholarly biographer of Vance. She shared with me some of the challenges that she and her husband had faced in working on Zeb Vance: Champion of Personal Freedom, a work that has stood as the finest study of Vance's life for nearly four decades.1
Unfortunately, the challenges that the Tuckers faced forced them to neglect the period after the Civil War. Since the publication of Zeb Vance, the amount of scholarship on the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Gilded Age has expanded enormously. Making use of new analytical approaches and ideas, including gender analysis and modernization theory, scholars have developed much different perceptions of topics such as the role that race played in shaping the United States during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The result is the need for a new biography of Zebulon Vance that places him in the context of historians' rapidly changing perceptions of the American South. Many of the interpretations in this study that differ from those offered by the Tuckers were first presented by other scholars in articles and monographs. I have sought to convey the breadth and depth of this exciting new work as accurately as possible. Where I disagree with some scholars on a point, I have tried to explain why in some detail, using primary sources to support my assertions.
The Tucker biography was not the first scholarly attempt to understand Vance's historical reputation. As early as 1914, J. G. De Roulhac Hamilton discussed important parts of Vance's career in his highly partisan Reconstruction in North Carolina. In this detailed account of events between 1861 and 1876, Hamilton wrote approvingly of virtually everything that Vance did during the period, and he used quotations from Vance letters to support his analysis. Unfortunately, Hamilton's determination to attack African Americans and Republicans—especially William Woods Holden—at every point limited the value of his study. In 1925, Frank Owsley took the opposite stand on the value of Vance's contribution during the Civil War.