Seems that once more William W. Holden’s raising something of a ruckus in North Carolina, some 140 years after he was impeached and removed from the governor’s office. For now comes a story (courtesy of ASU graduate student Victoria Jackson) about an effort to grant Holden a pardon (which passed the state senate) on, of all days, April 12, 2011.
Holden had a rather interesting political career, from Whig to Democrat to unionist to Confederate politico to negotiated peace advocate to Andrew Johnson’s provisional governor to a Republican who battled the KKK in North Carolina (resulting in his impeachment and conviction when Democrats gained control of the state legislature. As one might guess, he picked up his share of enemies along the way. Nor was his opposition to the KKK the only reason cited by his foes for his removal from office: they pointed to questions about his role in railroad bond issues and the like, raising the question of corruption. However, it’s hard to deny the role of racism and terrorism in his downfall, even if one suspects that his conversion to black rights was grounded in the politics of pragmatism.
Much like Jefferson Davis, Holden did not seek pardon in his lifetime, believing he had done nothing wrong. And, just as in the case of Davis, someone over a century later decided that it was time to let bygones be bygones.
Not everyone agrees with the decision. Carlton Huffman launched a one-man campaign against it that received some attention. Of course, the cry of political correctness was raised, and let’s leave it at that.
Although I understand the symbolic value of such gestures, I’m not particularly a big fan of them in most cases. I’m more intrigued that Holden remains a figure of controversy among North Carolinians. The debate over the pardon reminds us that it was a divided South as well as a divided Union.