The Unfortunate Fate of Benjamin Hedrick
In a letter written by M.S. Sherwood, uncle to Benjamin Hedrick, on August 20, Sherwood advised his nephew that it was a bad idea to make his political affiliations publicly known. Sherwood commented, “it is with extreme regret, that I learn you have turned public politician. The Faculty at the University, in my humble judgment, should have nothing to do with party politics.” Although written nearly two months before his nephew’s ordeal, Sherwood closed with a warning that foreshadowed his nephew’s future; “as one that wishes you well, I ask you most affectionately, to drop the subject. I fear you have already gone too far for your own good.” (Item #253) Instead of helping his cause, Hedrick’s October “defense” backfired and made his situation at the university and in North Carolina much worse.
University of North Carolina administrators reacted contemptuously to Hedrick’s editorial, as revealed through the personal correspondence between Charles Manly, the university board's secretary-treasurer, and David L. Swain, President of the University. In an October 4 letter from Manly to Swain, Swain comments that Hedrick’s political essay caused great pain to the friends and trustees of the university. Manly goes on to say that the Trustees unanimously agreed that, “you shall be requested to use your influence in persuading him to resign…if he has any sensibility or proper self respect…he shall resign…but if he wishes to be dismissed; that he may fly to Yankeedom as the great Proscribed; & find refuge in the bosom of Black Republicans with the blood of martyrdom streaming from his skirts, then he will resign and wait to be kicked out.” (Item #254).
Swain replied to Manly on October 7, commenting that Hedrick “has the courage of a lion and the obstinacy of a mule. He can neither be frightened, coaxed, nor diplomatized into anything…He will lie in the tracks without moving a muscle, and I am not certain that he does not covet the crown of martyrdom.” Swain suggested immediately dismissing Hedrick rather than waiting until after the election, justifying his dismissal as “violation of the usages of the institution, not as a free soiler, but as a partisan.” Swain’s October 7 letter also revealed the reaction of the students at UNC who, “exhibited transparencies, hung and burnt in effigy Saturday night and again last night.” (Item #257).
Amid this commotion and attacks against his reputation, Hedrick attempted to defend his actions one last time in an October 6, letter to North Carolina Governor, Thomas Bragg. In this letter Hedrick defends his publication in the Standard. Hedrick assumed the brief political discussion between himself and a few students would not go as far as it did. Hedrick writes,
I had supposed it would go no farther, until, a week ago, the article signed "an Alumnus" appeared. From the spirit manifested in that article I thought the Standard was bent on agitation, and as rumor would be busy with her thousand tongues, it would be better, and more honest to come out openly and avow my sentiments. That would at least prevent misrepresentation, and as I gave the reasons for my opinions, the reading public would easily judge of their soundness. (Item #256)
Hedrick’s letter to Governor Bragg fell on deaf ears, and had little effect on his future at UNC and in North Carolina. A little over one week after sending his letter to Governor Bragg, Hedrick was dismissed from UNC. In a letter to President Swain, Manly wrote, “as to Hedrick he is beheaded.” (Item #260) On October 28 in his final letter to Charles Manly, Hedrick dramatically concluded, “I thank you again for you kindness. You helped cut off my head but I know you made the blow fall as lightly as you could.” (Item #262)
Benjamin Hedrick’s ordeal in North Carolina was far from over. Through articles published throughout North Carolina’s newspapers, word of Hedrick’s political affiliations and dismissal from UNC spread. Following mob action and threats to tar and feather the former professor at an education conference in Salisbury, North Carolina, the professor was forced to flee the state. He would only return to his home state a handful of times before his death in 1886.