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William Woods Holden

William Woods Holden was born in 1818 near Hillsborough, North Carolina. Holden was born to Priscilla Woods and Thomas Holden.  His parents were not wealthy or prominent members of society.  He was not raised by both of his parents because his father married another woman soon after Holden’s birth.  Holden did not speak of his childhood often, but he attributed his success to the challenges he faced during his childhood.  He often expressed contempt for those who spoke ill of his lower-class upbringing.  He was not born into a family that would guarantee a promising future.  Holden felt that men should work to achieve status in society, so he did not respect men who gained political significance based on their family heritage. Although North Carolina did not have public schools, Holden spent about three years gaining a formal education before he decided to become a printer’s apprentice. (Folk and Shaw 1982, 5-7)

Becoming a printer’s apprentice left a huge impact on Holden.  When he ended his schooling at the age nine or ten, he became an apprentice under Dennis Heartt, the editor of the Hillsborough Recorder.  Holden remained as an apprentice under Heartt for many years, but he soon realized that to move upward in his trade he would need to go to a bigger city like Raleigh.  He made his way into Raleigh in the fall of 1836.  Holden received his law degree in 1841 and began his practice in Raleigh.  After deciding to side with the Democratic Party, Holden bought the Standard, a North Carolina based Democratic newspaper.  In 1843, Holden became the editor and proprietor of the Standard. (Folk and Shaw 1982, 7-29)

As a member of the Democratic Party and editor of the Standard, Holden sought to ridicule members of the Whig Party.  The Standard engaged in many disagreements with other newspapers such as the Star, the Register, and the Fayetteville Observer.  These were all prominent newspapers that were affiliated with the Whig Party, so this newspaper dispute brought much attention to the Democratic Party.  Holden later broke with the Democratic party. The rift began when he lost the U.S. Senate election of 1858 to Thomas Clingman.  Holden lost the election in part because some Democrats felt that Holden had developed a sense of pretentiousness, which divided the Democratic Party into Holden and anti-Holden supporters (Folk and Shaw 1982, 11-109). After the war, Holden’s affiliation with the Republican Party grew in response to the Reconstruction Acts that protected freedmen, so Holden became a supporter of restoring the Union.  Holden supported the Republican Party because he began to feel a connection to the “common people,” which included newly freed slaves.

Before Holden became the governor of North Carolina, the state held a Constitutional Convention in 1868.  The North Carolina state convention dealt with reforming the government, which entailed actions to improve people’s lives.  The Constitution created public schools open to both African Americans and whites, and it also ratified the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.  The election of 1868 upset many Conservatives, or supporters of the Democratic Party, because they did not believe African Americans should have the rights to vote, to attend the same schools as whites, and to intermarry with members of other races. Democrats also viewed high taxes as a problem of Republican leadership.  Republicans raised taxes in an effort to improve citizen’s lives, especially African Americans’ lives.  After Holden took office, he called upon the legislature to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, and the federal government officially reinstated North Carolina into the Union.  The Constitutional Convention and Governor Holden’s election raised opposition against the Republican Party in the state, and Democrats centered their political goals on exterminating the Republican Party and reestablishing racial inequality. (Zuber 1969, 14-25) 

William Woods Holden