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Message from Governor Holden to the General Assembly, December 16, 1869


Message from Governor Holden to the General Assembly, December 16, 1869


This message delivered by Governor Holden to the General Assembly spoke of violence (presumably by the Ku Klux Klan) taking place in certain counties. Governor Holden asked for executive power, by use of the militia, to stop the increasing violence and restore order. He claimed that the citizens of these counties were living in a state of terror. This message is important because it led to the passage of the Shoffner Act. This act gave the governor power to declare counties in a state of insurrection, which led to Holden declaring Alamance and Caswell counties in a state of insurrection. After this act passed, Holden sent in militia units to restore order in these counties.


William Woods Holden


"Memoirs of W.W. Holden," Documenting the American South, accessed November 4, 2014,




Jessie Byrd




North Carolina
Alamance County
Caswell County

Original Format



December 16, 1869.

To the Honorable, the General Assembly of North Carolina.

Gentlemen: - Allow me respectfully and earnestly to call your attention to the necessity which exists for such amendments to the militia law as will enable the executive to suppress violence and disorder in certain localities of this State, and to protect the persons of citizens, their lives and their property.

Since my last annual message, dated Nov. 16th, 1869, numerous outrages of the most flagrant character have been committed upon peaceable and law-abiding citizens, by persons masked and armed, who rode at night, and who have thus far escaped the civil law. I have adopted such measures as were in my power to ferret out and bring to justice all breakers of the law, without reference to their color or to the political party or parties to which they belong, and I am satisfied that Judge and solicitors in the various circuits have been prompt, energetic and impartial in the discharge of their duties. Notwithstanding this, Gentlemen, the outrages referred to seem to be rather on the increase in certain localities in so much that many good citizens are in a constant

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state of terror and society in said localities is in a deplorable condition. It is for your honorable body to apply the remedy by so strengthening the arm of the executive as to enable him to repress these outrages and restore peace and order. I have confidence in your wisdom, in your regard for law, and in the disposition which I feel sure exists in every member of your honorable body to adopt such measures as will speedily put an end to the evils complained of.

I have the honor to be, Gentlemen, with great respect,

Your obedient servant,
W. W. HOLDEN, Governor.

This message of the Governor, of the 16th of December, 1869, led to the enactment of what is called the Shoffner law. This law authorized the Governor to declare certain counties in insurrection. That is, it suspended civil law and authorized the arrest of suspected persons. The reader will perceive that at last my duty required me to do this, as this message states. The violation of law and the outrages referred to, seemed to be rather on the increase in certain localities, and left me therefore no alternative, but to proclaim Alamance and Caswell in a state of insurrection. The gist or substance of the Shoffner act was to authorize me to suspend the civil law when in my judgment it was necessary to do so. I was fully aware of the great responsibility, but human life was above all price. As I said to Mr. Albright of Alamance, I did not care how the elections of 1870 went if by what I did I saved one

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human life. The civil and military are alike constitutional powers; the civil to protect life and property when it can, and the military only when the former has failed.


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William Woods Holden, Message from Governor Holden to the General Assembly, December 16, 1869, Civil War Era NC, accessed May 21, 2024,