Reconstruction-era leader’s pardon on hold
Efforts to pardon Reconstruction-era Gov. William Woods Holden of North Carolina, the first governor removed from office in the United States, were put on hold Wednesday because Senate Republicans aren’t unified on whether to absolve him for actions stemming from his opposition to the Ku Klux Klan.
The state Senate sent a bipartisan resolution about Holden scheduled for a floor vote two straight days without action to the chamber’s Rules Committee, where unpopular or controversial bills have been known to die over the years, according to the Associated Press.
It’s unclear whether the pardon will be considered again this session.
Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said the division comes from a small group of GOP senators. One senator represents the counties where Holden sent a militia in 1870 to put down what the governor called an insurrection.
Holden gained infamy in post-antebellum North Carolina for his efforts to combat the Klan. In the late 1860s, he hired two dozen detectives to try to thwart the intimidation tactics of the group.
The detective unit was not overly successful in limiting Klan activities, but Holden’s efforts exceeded those of other Southern governors.
Holden eventually called out the militia against the Klan in 1870, imposed martial law in two counties, and suspended the writ of habeas corpus for accused leaders of the Klan in what became known as the Kirk-Holden war.
Not surprisingly given the poisoned atmosphere of the Reconstruction period, some local residents believe Holden warranted impeachment and removal from office on March 22, 1871, largely for jailing citizens without due process rights.
Holden’s impeachment took place months after Democrats — the party that had favored secession and the formation of the Confederacy — took back control of the statehouse from Republicans.
Republicans did not gain control of the NC Senate again for 140 years, until this year.
“Democrats were angry with Holden for bringing in a state militia to quell an insurrection by the Klan that killed newly freed slaves and other Republicans, both black and white,” according to the Associated Press.
“The House approved eight impeachment articles against him, including several for jailing Klan supporters without due process rights,” the wire service added. “The Senate convicted him on six of the articles following a seven-week trial and removed him from office.”
Years after his impeachment, Holden said he acted “purely as a defensive measure to save human life and to protect and secure free suffrage to all.”
“I had solely in view the vindication of the law, the protection of the citizen and the good of society,” Holden said, according to a historical review article.
Supporters of the resolution to pardon Holden say the Senate’s debate will help set straight an injustice during a painful chapter in the state’s history.
“He definitely warrants a pardon,” Hunt said. “He was standing up for what is right. He was impeached by people who had very bad views about appropriate treatment of citizens, whether they were black or white people supporting black people.”
Holden never sought a pardon before his death in 1892 at age 73.
A pardon was something Holden “viewed that as some admission that he had done something wrong, which he said he didn’t do,” said Arch Allen, a Raleigh attorney who made the case to legislators to consider the resolution, according to the Associated Press. “The new General Assembly has provided an opportunity for bipartisan sponsorship of this resolution.”
Allen’s effort received support after the present-day Republicans last November grabbed a majority in the Senate for the first time since 1870.
The Democrats of the 1860s and ’70s were angry with the leanings of Republicans like Holden for promoting equality among all races and his handling of Klan activity in North Carolina.
Holden, a former Democrat, had favored secession during the Civil War but later pressed for peace with the North and switched parties.
He called in a militia to put down Klan violence after GOP victories in the 1868 elections, including Holden’s ascendancy to the governorship.
The Klan hanged a black Republican near the Alamance County courthouse and stabbed a white Republican senator to death in an adjoining county, according to historians. The militia brought the region under control with little opposition.
A former newspaper editor, Holden wasn’t helped by his political past. Holden had run on a peace platform and lost the 1864 election for North Carolina governor when the state was in the Confederacy.
President Andrew Johnson named him provisional governor at the close of the Civil War, but Holden was defeated a few months later by a Conservative-backed candidate.
The conservative Democrats used the insurrection and issues of habeas corpus to pass eight impeachment articles, which Harris said were largely political in nature, to ruin Holden.
(HT: Waldo Lydecker’s Journal)