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Governor William W. Holden's Impeachment


Governor William W. Holden's Impeachment


“By the Constitution of this State I was empowered to be commander-in-chief to call out the militia, to execute the law, suppress riots and insurrections, and to repel invasion.” (Holden 1911, 120) This was Holden’s statement in regards to the terror and violence that the Ku Klux Klan was carrying out. Holden had reached out to the federal government requesting federal troops to help regain control, but that request was denied because local law enforcement and political officials could not stop the Ku Klux Klan. So Holden called out the militia; it was an act of desperation. He had exhausted all other options, and in order to fulfill his duty, he had to enforce the laws to prevent the state from lapsing into anarchy.

Unfortunately, this decision was Holden’s downfall. This critical decision, which he made to protect the citizens of North Carolina, led to his impeachment as well as his conviction in criminal court. Governor Holden was the only governor in North Carolina to be impeached. His impeachment was the first in the nation’s history and the second time that an impeachment of a governor occurred in all of United States history. In 1870 the Conservative Party won many elections; the key victory was the defeat of the Republican Electoral. Conservatives therefore gained political power in the state. The first thing they did with their power was not to rebuild the state or suppress the chaos but instead they impeached Governor Holden. Governor Holden’s policies infuriated the Conservatives, mixed with the issue of the Kirk-Holden War of 1870. In order to disgrace him, Holden’s Democratic political enemies brought eight separate charges against him. These included declaring martial law, unlawfully raising troops, and illegally arresting citizens. The key charges were seizing, detaining, imprisoning and depriving those citizens of their liberty and privileges as freemen, and refusing to obey the writ of habeas corpus. His trial lasted seven weeks, and with a vote of 36 to 13, the Senate removed Holden from office and declared him unable to hold office again. (Holden 1911, 164-165)


Holden, William W. "Governor Under the Reconstruction Acts." In The Memoirs of W. W. Holden. Vol. 11. Durham: Seeman Printery, 1911. Accessed September 18, 2014.

---. "Impeachment." In The Memoirs of W. W. Holden. Vol. 11. Durham: Seeman Printery, 1911. Accessed September 18, 2014.

Trelease, Allen W. White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995. Accessed September 18, 2014.


Shanlyn Wagoner


North Carolina


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Shanlyn Wagoner, Governor William W. Holden's Impeachment , Civil War Era NC, accessed June 6, 2023,