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North Carolina's Senate rights a very old wrong

April 12, 2011 |  6:16 pm

Here's a revealing little historical footnote you won't hear much about elsewhere.

That's because it involves politicians of both parties making good on a past wrong -- and doing it without conflict. In other words, unanimously. 

Whoever heard of such a thing in the 21st century?North Carolina Governor William Holden

The North Carolina Senate all voted yea today on a pardon for Gov. William W. Holden.

He was impeached and driven from office after a 44-day trial in the same chamber as Tuesday's vote 140 years ago during the tumultuous Reconstruction era of 19th century American political history.

The governor's offense: He stood up to the Ku Klux Klan.

Initially a supporter of secession, Democrat Holden became disillusioned with the Confederacy, eventually becoming a member of Abraham Lincoln's new Republican Party.

Obviously a silly man, Holden took office in 1868 on a unity platform that both whites and blacks could benefit from reconciliation and healing.

Soon after, the Klan launched a campaign of violent intimidation, including murder, against newly freed blacks and white Republicans. The governor, believing that such activities were unlawful, sent the militia into two Klan hotbed counties, arresting 100 men and suspending their rights to a court appearance, knowing sympathetic local judges would simply free them.

As Holden's historical luck would have it, however, not long after, the Democrats won control of the state Legislature. You'll never guess who they went right after. On a straight party-line vote, Holden was impeached and forced out of office.

An attempt to pardon him later collapsed when Holden rejected it, believing that he had done nothing wrong to pardon.

Holden, however, has since passed away. So he was in no position to resist the 2011 pardon effort. "Today," said state Sen. Neal Hunt, the Republican who led the modern-day rehab effort, "we right a 140-year-old wrong."

Tuesday's vote was bipartisan -- 48-0.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Caswell County Historical Association (Holden).