Zeb's election to the U.S. Senate fulfilled many needs for him. It provided him with an opportunity to start life anew after the deaths of his mother and his wife had caused him great pain. It also allowed him to escape the daily pressure to bestow patronage that was associated with being governor of North Carolina. It meant that Zeb was no longer responsible for the detailed administration of the many state programs that his office directed. By giving up the office of governor, moreover, he also escaped the frustration of being a chief executive without a veto who was unable to influence the course of legislation. But Zeb's return to Washington gave him much more than simply a way to escape. It vindicated him. The Senate seat was his reward for accepting his defeats in 1870 and 1872. Zeb must have been deeply satisfied to serve as an honored official across the street from the prison where he had been ingloriously housed in the summer of 1865. Many former Confederates, when they returned to Congress during and after Reconstruction, felt the same vindication as Zeb did. Perhaps they had failed to create and sustain an independent nation, but their subsequent election to the Congress of the United States indicated that they had spoken and acted with the backing of popular support during the crisis of 1861 and the war that followed it. While Zeb rarely articulated his feelings about having been elected to the Senate, brief comments in his letters and public addresses indicate that all of these sentiments were present when he was sworn in as senator in March 1879.
Like the good practical politician that he was, Zeb did not evade the opportunities and obligations that his new responsibilities brought. One of his first accomplishments was to get his son Charles, formerly his secretary in the governor's office, appointed clerk of the U.S. Senate Committee on Enrolled Bills. Not coincidently, Zeb was the newly appointed chairman of that committee. Zeb soon discovered that the life of a U.S. senator was not all glamour. In September 1879, he traveled to Kansas to hear three weeks of testimony in a disputed Senate election case. The work was apparently very tedious, and as soon as the hearings ended Zeb traveled further west to the Rockies for some badly needed rest. When he returned to Charlotte