As tensions among proponents of both the North and South increased at the start of the 1860s, many North Carolinians faced a question that would determine their political and cultural ideologies for the rest of the century: Would North Carolina citizens join their fellow southern states in supporting the Confederacy? By 1861, the Confederacy had already asserted itself within the political landscape and its attack on Fort Sumter prompted four more southern states to secede from the Union, one being North Carolina. (“Confederate States of America,” last modified 2009, www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/confederate-states-of-america) Yet despite the North Carolina state government’s decision to endorse the Confederacy, many North Carolinians remained loyal to the federal government of the United States, believing the Union as “designed by its founders for the whole American people as a bond of brotherhood and mutual justice between the States.” (Item #2805) As the war persisted, these ideologies hardly changed. Rather than fearing an embarrassing loss to the North, some citizens—white and black—actually welcomed Unionists and their progressive philosophies. (Browning 2011). Indeed, these citizens were a minority among most southerners who regarded the federal government as abusive in its power and favorable toward African Americans rather than southern whites. These reasons varied among southerners, but the destruction of the southern agricultural economy and the increased interest in racial and economic equality—especially in the South—seemed most prominent in the public discourse of the decade, whether or not citizens truly advocated the inclusion of blacks in southern society.
By 1865, the end of the war seemed near but the future of the South uncertain. In North Carolina, many citizens had believed that their state was in “better condition than any other Southern State.” (Item #2806) Perhaps their unwillingness to abandon the Union had instilled in these North Carolinians an excitement for the future of the state, relative to the roads ahead of other secessionist states. Moreover, some of these citizens claimed the most important step following the war as the disposition of southern men to “acquiesce in reunion and make the best of the situation,” as Yates noted no signs of opposition to “federal authority.” (Item #2807)
By the time northern troops had extinguished remaining Confederate forces, most southerners anxiously awaited the federal government’s plan to restore the Union. Yet rather than simply restoring the old government which endured a sectional rebellion lasting nearly five years, President Lincoln—with the help of his advisors and respective Congress members—promoted a reconstruction of the South. This renovation of the eleven Confederate states focused mainly on reshaping the southern economy by excluding the racial subjugation of African Americans in manual labor, which ideally would improve the status of both blacks and possibly poor whites in the South. Unfortunately, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln suddenly following the war foiled the plans of racial harmony within the United States and brought Andrew Johnson into office. With less effort spent on the plight of African Americans under Johnson, the federal government focused on recovering the South’s economic prosperity once the secessionist states were reinstated to the Union. Yet, with a long road ahead of them, North Carolinians’ eagerness to regain their federal recognition through political and economic means rendered the racial advancements of the Reconstruction era useless.
In the first five years of Reconstruction, three amendments had been ratified by the federal government to improve the racial—and class structure—problems of the country, especially in the South. By deferring authority to state government officials, these amendments were overshadowed by the true interests of southern whites. In North Carolina, the lack of attention and credibility offered by the state’s newspapers regarding these amendments ultimately perpetuated the backward thinking of southern whites. As the Union’s influence in North Carolina disappeared after North Carolina’s readmission, the state government assumed unchecked authority in political, racial, and economic matters. Although newspapers were the best source of information during this period, the topics that editors chose to publish suited the interests of esteemed whites in North Carolina. In any case, North Carolina’s inability to understand and conform to the main goals of Reconstruction forced the state to return to its previous habits, thus preserving white superiority in political, financial, and cultural contexts.