First Wednesdays – “…the institution of slavery having been destroyed…”

As noted in a previous post, Provisional Governor William W. Holden had called for a statewide convention in October 1865 to complete North Carolina’s restoration to the Union. That convention had a very simple, but critical, charge to vote to reject the ordinance of secession that was passed in May 1861 and to abolish slavery as a fulfillment of one of several requirements as stated in President Andrew Johnson’s proclamations in May 1865. Provisional Governor Holden now faced the task of finding qualified citizens to serve in this convention. One of the problems that Holden faced was that many of the political leaders of the state had thrown their hat in the ring to support the Confederacy during the late war, and those men would have to be pardoned to be allowed to participate in the statewide convention. President Johnson stated that any Tar Heel citizen, who were requesting to receive a pardon, would have to make application through the Provisional Governor’s Office and will have be recommended by Holden himself to President Johnson. Unfortunately, the political turmoil that existed in North Carolina in 1864-1865 erupted again as Holden refused to approve pardons for many of his political adversaries in Post war North Carolina.

In a letter to the Raleigh Sentinel dated September 21, 1865, former Governor William A. Graham posted a letter disapproving of Holden’s action of refusing to approve a number of pardon applications by his former political adversaries. Graham’s reasoning was that there should be no restriction placed on representatives of the people to be their advocate in elected assemblies either by religion or former political persuasion. In addition, he felt that the issue of emancipation was settled by the war, and that no convention was needed to approve the abolishment of slavery. Despite previously receiving a pardon from Holden, Graham refused to participate in the upcoming statewide convention as a matter of principle.   Upon seeing Graham’s letter, Holden sent a message to President Johnson to ask whether “Am I am right or wrong” to deny seats to what he called “unpardoned persons” in the statewide convention. President Johnson responded by telegraph to approve Holden’s actions by stating “Your decision is correct that under the proclamation they cannot vote for members or sit in convention as members without first being pardoned on taking the Amnesty Oath.” His response settled the matter temporarily, but the issue served to be another mark against Holden in future events in North Carolina politics.

On October 2, Holden assembled the statewide convention in the House of Commons in Raleigh, North Carolina, after receiving permission by the local U. S. Army commander. The convention consisted of 120 elected delegates similar in number to the membership in the previous assemblies in the House of Commons. The convention immediately took up the issue of voting to reject the ordnance of secession, and then to settle the issue of the abolition of slavery. After much debate, the membership struggled to approve a resolution to reject the ordnance of secession. However, the resolution to abolish slavery was approved by the convention on October 7, 1865 by stating “That the institution of slavery having been destroyed in the State of North Carolina, hereafter neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in this state, excepted as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

N. C. Secretary of State Records, Series XX, Volume 7, State Convention of 1865, page 4

N. C. Secretary of State Records, Series XX, Volume 7, State Convention of 1865, page 4

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