After the Civil War, North Carolina was in a state of political and social upheaval. Reconstruction gave African Americans more rights as well as the ability to hold political office. As African Americans acquired more political power, they attempted to achieve equality with whites. This ensuing “equality” lead to further tension, resulting in a white rebellion and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Between the years of 1868-1870, their violence escalated tremendously and horrifically. By 1869, twenty-five hangings, shootings, drownings, and murders by other means, were reported from Alamance, Chatham, Jones, Lenoir, Orange, Robeson and other counties. (Wise 2010, 113) The violence of the Ku Klux Klan became more and more rapid with Alamance and Caswell counties becoming the epicenters of this terror. The violent and horrific deaths of two prominent state Republican leaders, Wyatt Outlaw and John Walter Stephens, near and in the county courthouses, were the final straw for Governor William Woods Holden. This was not only the final straw for Governor Holden but also for the Republicans of North Carolina. They declared it was time for the state to intervene. The state legislature enacted the Shoffner Act and Governor Holden called in military force. The struggle between the Ku Klux Klan, the state militia, Governor Holden and North Carolina Republicans led to the political war known as the Kirk-Holden War of 1870. This political war would lead to Holden’s impeachment and the defeat of the Republican Party in the state.
Many scholars argue that personal and political gain motivated Governor Holden. However he had the support from the state’s general assembly as well as the Republican Party to stop the violence. As targets of the Ku Klux Klan, many of these Republicans felt the violence first hand and knew state action was needed to suppress the Klan. The Republican Party in the state consisted of white Republicans, "carpetbaggers," and African American Republicans. While the primary focus was on Governor Holden, these Republicans shaped the actions he took. Their efforts--from authoring the Shoffner Act, to creating the Address to the Colored People of North Carolina--were important throughout the Kirk-Holden War, as well as during and after Governor Holden’s impeachment. Understanding the men who made up this diverse Republican Party are crucial in understanding the downfall of Governor Holden and the shift of political power within the state.