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W. W. Holden: A Political Biography


W. W. Holden: A Political Biography


This biography looks at Holden's political career prior to and after the Kirk-Holden War. He discusses his rise to power and his fall. The biography covers Holden's actions against the Ku Klux Klan while also talking about the Klan's intentions and motivations. In this discussion it brings forward how the Ku Klux Klan defeated the Republicans and Governor Holden and made him the first Governor to be removed from office in America's history.


Bynum Shaw


Bynum Shaw,






North Carolina


Two matters connected with Holden's administration need to be noted: the Reconstruction frauds perpetrated by the legislature and the deadly confrontation with the Klan, as the agent of white supremacy, which led directly to his impeachment.
Corruption probably reached its peak in the legislative session of 1868-1869, the principal frauds being connected with the issuance of railroad bonds for state aid in the construction of Western Division of the Western North Carolina Railroad. In a program pushed by Milton Littlefield, who had been a Federal officer and had come to Raleigh as a carpetbagger after the war, the legislators authorized $27,850,000 in railroad bonds, of which $10,190,000 were not issued and $4,345,000 were returned to the state, leaving $13,315,000 added to the state's debt. Some of these bond issues were initiated by George W. Swepson, president of the Western Division, in accordance with a state promise to subscribe two-thirds of the stock for building the road. Littlefield, as a reward for shepherding the issue through the legislature, is said to have obtained a commission of ten percent; he also was charged with obtaining additions bonds for other roads and with being involved in other frauds which strongly affected the state's credit.
Holden, it should be noted here, was never seriously accused of benefiting personally in the wave of looting and speculation - which had its roots in the election to the legislature of men unschooled in the law, no doubt unqualified for office and certainly ill-equipped to cope with lobbyists and crooks. Nevertheless, in the eyes of many, Holden as governor was fraternizing with and protecting men who were plundering the treasury. There was considerable feeling that he might have prevented much of the fraud, although he insisted that he was innocent of connivance and was acting for the public good in the matter of providing internal improvements - something in which he had been interested for years.


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Bynum Shaw, W. W. Holden: A Political Biography, Civil War Era NC, accessed June 20, 2024,