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W. W. Holden (William Woods), 1818-1892
Memoirs of W. W. Holden
Durham, NC: The Seeman Printery, 1911.


William Woods Holden was born in 1818 near Hillsborough, North Carolina. Holden started working for newspapers when he was ten years old, first as a printer's apprentice at the Hillsborough Recorder and later as a typesetter for a newspaper in Raleigh. He married Ann Young in 1841. In 1843, he became the editor and proprietor of the North Carolina Standard, a Democratic publication that became a powerful political force in the state. By 1848, Holden was the state director of the Democratic Party, which gained control of the capitol two years later. His first wife died in 1852, and in 1854 he married Louisa Virginia Harrison. In 1858, Holden sought the Democratic nomination for governor but did not receive the party's bid.

After Lincoln was elected, Holden did not support secession and broke with the Democratic Party, which did. After Fort Sumter, however, Holden changed his mind and supported the Confederacy, even though he often criticized Jefferson Davis and his administration. In 1862, he organized the Conservative Party and supported Zebulon Vance, who won the state election for Governor that year as a Conservative candidate. When war casualties rose sharply in 1863, Holden initiated "peace meetings" across North Carolina. These demonstrations, which urged North Carolina to stop fighting the Civil War, prompted Confederate soldiers to raid Holden's Raleigh newspaper office. In 1864, Holden made a second bid to become governor but lost by a large margin.

Immediately after the war, President Andrew Johnson appointed Holden as North Carolina's governor. However, when elections were held later that same year, he again failed to gain popular support. Thereafter he became a Republican and wrote many editorials in support of that party. Finally, in 1868 he was elected governor by his appeal to both black and dissident white voters. His success led to more disappointment, however. When the Ku Klux Klan tried to forcibly remove Republican rulers from a local government, Holden asked for federal troops to put down the insurrection. The federal government declined troops, and Holden then ordered the state militia to restore elected officials. This use of military force created an uproar that resulted in Holden's impeachment. He was the first state governor to be impeached, and although he spent many years trying to obtain a reversal, he never succeeded.

Memoirs of W.W. Holden, published in 1911, begins with a description of the Democratic Party's rise to power in 1850. The narrative, written by Holden and edited by William K. Boyd, discusses Holden's involvement with politics, including the Democratic victory of 1850 and the subsequent actions of that government. He also focuses on the changes and challenges brought about by the Civil War and his frustrations with the Confederate government and its refusal to allow members of his Constitutional Union party to hold office. Finally, Holden describes his experiences as governor, focusing particularly on the KKK uprising, his decision to use military force, and his impeachment. The narrative closes with his "last letter to the public" in which he emphasizes the importance of upholding the law rather than focusing on political party differences.

Work Consulted: Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Harris Henderson

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