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Who Should Vote?

"Governor W. W. Holden," June 24, 1865

As the Civil War drew to a close, the Republican Party was divided on how to proceed. It was obvious to those in the party that the South needed to be reconstructed and assimilated back into the United States. However, Republicans could not unanimously agree on a strategy to reconstruct and incorporate the breakaway states. Many ideas were tossed around and topics such as states’ rights and voting rights for African Americans and former Confederates were all debated. North Carolina was not exempt from these debates and there were many questions and battles over which direction the state would take. The small population of North Carolina Unionists found themselves allied with more radical Republicans against the policies and goals of conservative Republicans, led by President Andrew Johnson and North Carolina governor William Holden. Both sides worked to transform the South using their own strategies.

The New York based Republican newspaper, Harper’s Weekly, followed the events of Reconstruction in North Carolina very closely. The paper astutely noted, “The State of North Carolina appears to be rent with factions”(Item 926). The position the newspaper supported during Reconstruction overlapped with more radical northern Republicans and their agenda. Harper’s Weekly believed North Carolina should be reconstructed into a place that fairly represented all men. They believed in expanding the Republican Party, not because it would increase the power of the party, but because they believed the Republican Party best represented the ideals of the Union. By interpreting the articles and their arguments in Harper’s Weekly, it becomes clear that Republicans were divided on the best path in reconstructing North Carolina. Although Republicans differed in their methods and beliefs on how far Reconstruction should go, they all had one goal in mind. The northern Republicans’ main focus was to expand the Republican Party and its ideals, for some that meant maintaining their grip on power, even though they disagreed on how far that power should extend and the means in attaining and retaining their power. They were also divided on how this political power should be used. Some Republicans, like those at Harper’s Weekly, believed the power of the national government and the party should be used to protect the rights of African Americans and the ideals of the Union, while other Republicans believed the power of the federal government should be used to secure the Republican Party’s success in the future. All of these differences were encompassed in the debate over suffrage. Deciding who should vote was very important in the success or failure of the Republican Party’s Reconstruction plan. Because of suffrage’s importance, both sides of the Republican Party fought hard for their respective beliefs, bringing their differences to light and their arguments full circle.

Who Should Vote?