North Carolina Peace Party
Nathaniel W. Stephenson

The peace illusion centered in North Carolina, where the people were as enthusiastic for state sovereignty as were any Southerners. They had seceded mainly because they felt that this principle had been attacked. Having themselves little if any intention to promote slavery, they nevertheless were prompt to resent interference with the system or with any other Southern institution. Jonathan Worth said that they looked on both abolition and secession as children of the devil, and he put the responsibility for the secession of his State wholly upon Lincoln and his attempt to coerce the lower South. This attitude was probably characteristic of all classes in North Carolina. There also an unusually large percentage of men lacked education and knowledge of the world. We have seen how the first experience with taxation produced instant and violent reaction. The peasant farmers of the western counties and the general mass of the people began to distrust the planter class. They began asking if their allies, the other States, were controlled by that same class which seemed to be crushing them by the exaction of tithes. And then the popular cry was raised: Was there after all anything in the war for the masses in North Carolina? Had they left the frying-pan for the fire? Could they better things by withdrawing from assocation with their present allies and going back alone into the Union? The delusion that they could do so whenever they pleased and on the old footing seems to have been widespread. One of their catch phrases was "the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was." Throughout 1863, when the agitation against tithes was growing every day, the "conservatives" of North Carolina, as their leaders named them, were drawing together in a definite movement for peace. This project came to a head during the next year in those grim days when Sherman was before Atlanta. Holden, that champion of the opposition to tithes, became a candidate for Governor against Vance, who was standing for reelection. Holden stated his platform in the organ of his party: "If the people of North Carolina are for perpetual conscriptions, impressments and seizures to keep up a perpetual, devastating and exhausting war, let them vote for Governor Vance, for he is for 'fighting it out now'; but if they believe, from the bitter experience of the last three years, that the sword can never end it, and are in favor of steps being taken by the State to urge negotiations by the general government for an honorable and speedy peace, they must vote for Mr. Holden."

As Holden, however, was beaten by a vote that stood about three to one, Governor Vance continued in power, but just what he stood for and just what his supporters understood to be his policy would be hard to say. A year earlier he was for attmepting to negotiate peace, but though professing to have come over to the war party he was never a cordial supporter of the Confederacy. In a hundred ways he played upon the strong local distrust of Richmond, and upon the feeling that North Carolina was being exploited in the interests of the remainder of the South. To cripple the efficiency of Confederate conscription was one of his constant aims. Whatever his views of the struggle in which he was engaged, they did not include either an appreciation of Southern nationalism or the strategist's conception of war. Granted that the other States were merely his allies, Vance pursued a course that might justly have aroused their suspicion, for so far as he was able he devoted the resources of the State wholly to the use of its own citizens. The food and the manufactures of North Carolina were to be used solely by its own troops, not by troops of the Confederacy raised in other States. And yet, subsequent to his reelection, he was not a figure in the movement to negotiate peace.


The Day of the Confederacy by Nathaniel W. Stephenson, pages 169-172
Yale University Press, New Haven, 1920