Little Bits of History

March 22

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 22, 2017

1871: William Woods Holden is removed from office. He was a native of North Carolina and at the age of ten, began an apprenticeship at a newspaper and was working as a printer and writer by age 19. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1841, aged 22. He belonged to the Whig party. Two years later he became the owner and editor of the North Carolina Standard and he changed party affiliation to the Democrats. He became politically active and was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons where he served one term. He was a leader of the Democratic Party in the state but was unable to win the gubernatorial nomination and then his party passed him over for a seat in the US Senate.

During the 1840s and 50s, he advocated for Southern state rights, expansion of slavery, and was even supportive of secession, but by 1860 his ideology had shifted to support the Union and his newspaper lost readers when he supported a unified country. He was sent by his County to vote against secession in 1861, but when President Lincoln asked for North Carolina to send troops to help suppress the seceding states, Holden changed his vote to secede.  As the Civil War dragged on, he became a critic of the Confederate government and joined the North Carolina peace movement. He lost a bid for governor in 1864 running on a peace platform. When the war ended in 1865, Holden was appointed governor by President Andrew Jackson.

Holden played a role in stabilizing the state during early Reconstruction efforts but lost an election later in 1865. Holden went back to his newspaper, but in 1868 he was elected as governor on the Republican ticket. At that time, he gave up his paper and began to track down Ku Klux Klan members using 24 detectives he hired to stop the KKK, the best record in the South. In 1870, after a new law was passed, Holden was able to use the state militia to combat the KKK and did so. Although the goal was to permit all legal voters to vote, the KKK’s tactics worked and Democratic Party regained majorities in both houses of the state legislation. With this power, they impeached Holden on December 14, 1870.

The main charges against Holden were rough treatment and arrests of North Carolina citizens by the state militia which Holden formed after several lynchings. Holden was defended by well known attorneys but was convicted of six of the eight counts against him with the Senate voting straight party lines. The Democrats were able to also remove Holden from his position, the first governor to be removed from office by impeachment. Holden moved to Washington, D.C. and worked on a newspaper there. President Ulysses Grant made him postmaster from 1873 to 1881. Holden died in 1892 at the age of 73. In 2011 the North Carolina Senate pardoned Holden with a vote of 48-0.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. – Abraham Lincoln

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. – Marcus Aurelius

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. – Lord Acton