Vance, Zebulon (1830-1894)

views updated May 29 2018

Zebulon Vance (1830-1894)


North carolina governor

Tarheel Whig. The background of Zebulon Vance shares many features with the emergence of Abraham Lincoln and that of their mutual hero, Henry Clay. Vances home in western North Carolina was similar to Kentucky and Illinois, and he, too, was a self-made man (a phrase coined to describe Clay) who had achieved success as a lawyer after a spotty formal education. Like Clay and Lincoln he had considerable charisma and a striking personal appearancehis photograph was selected for inclusion in an elementary geography textbook as the ideal of the Caucasian race. He also possessed an excellent sense of humor that not infrequently overstepped contemporary standards of good taste. Like Clay and Lincoln, Vance was a devout believer in the Whig Party; his chief political mentor would become William A. Graham, the state party leader who served at various times as North Carolina governor, U.S. senator, member of Millard Fillmores cabinet, and Confederate senator. When the Whig Party disintegrated while Vance was in his early twenties, he aligned himself with the American Party rather than join the Democrats and entered Congress in 1858.

Crisis of the Union. Vance tried while in Congress to promote Unionism, adopting a moderate course in the 18591860 speakership struggle centered on the anti-slavery polemic Impending Crisis of the South (1857) by Hinton Rowan Helper of his state. In the presidential election of 1860 Vance supported the Constitutional Union ticket of John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. He vigorously and effectively opposed secession by North Carolina until Lincoln called for troops following the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Vance then urged his state to join the Confederacy, and he organized a regiment which he led with distinction in the New Bern campaign during the spring of 1862 and at Malvern Hill, Virginia, the following July. His military heroism and his attractiveness to former Whigs propelled him into the governors chair at the age of thirty-two as a substitute for William A. Graham, who declined to run.

Confederate Governor. Vances tenure as governor, like that of such counterparts as Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, was dominated by conflicts with the Jefferson Davis administration. Vance sought to protect the state-controlled recruitment of regiments from the centralizing process of conscription, and he blocked the Confederacy from drafting state officials. He took particular pride in his resistance to the Confederate suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, citing as the greatest achievement of his administration that no North Carolinian was denied the privilege of the writ or the right to trial by jury, and he angered Davis by his lenient treatment of army deserters. Vances Whig antecedents and his controversies with Davis brought him into cooperation with newspaper editor William W. Holden, but the relationship shattered when, following the Confederate reverses of 1863, Holden called for North Carolina to negotiate a separate peace with the Union government. Vance crushed Holden to win reelection in 1864 and remained in office until he surrendered the following May to Union troops who had marched into North Carolina with Gen. William T. Sherman.

Return to Power. Briefly imprisoned in Washington, D.C., at the end of the war, Vance resettled in Charlotte, a city with railroad connections that promised future growth. He resumed the practice of law and sought to reenter politics, now aligning himself with the Democratic Party. The state legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1870, but Congress refused to seat him. In 1876 he won a hard-fought race against Thomas Settle to redeem the state from Republican rule as governor. His administration emphasized traditional Whig policies that now found a home in Southern Democratic organizations, including support for public education and charitable institutions, energetic promotion of railroad projects, and protection of the interests of the holders of state bonds. The state legislature sent him to the United States Senate in 1879, and for fifteen years until his death he remained in Washington as a spokesman for Southern acceptance of defeat without bitterness or apology.


John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery, and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989);

Glenn Tucker, Zeb Vance: Champion of Personal Freedom (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).

Zebulon Baird Vance

views updated May 14 2018

Zebulon Baird Vance

Zebulon Baird Vance (1830-1894), U.S. senator and congressman, was Civil War governor of North Carolina. He is best known for his concern for the common Southerner and his noncooperation with Confederate authorities.

Zebulon Vance was born on May 13, 1830, in Buncombe County, N.C. He attended Washington College, Tenn. (1843-1844), and studied law at the University of North Carolina (1851-1852). After settling in Asheville, N.C., he was immediately elected county solicitor. Never a close student of the law, he won success at the bar because he understood his neighbors, who composed the juries.

After one term in the North Carolina House of Commons, Vance was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1858, where he served until March 1861. He had conservative views on the tariff, public lands, and pensions and opposed the secessionist sentiment then prevalent in the South. However, when the Civil War started and President Abraham Lincoln called for troops in 1861, Vance urged North Carolina to support the seceded states. He saw military action for about a year, rising to the rank of colonel in a North Carolina regiment.

In 1862 the conservative faction nominated Vance for governor of North Carolina. He won by an unprecedented large margin. The Confederate government, however, mistrusted his promises of a strong war policy, and Vance and the government were quickly embroiled in controversies over conscription, suspension of habeas corpus, desertions, and impressment of matériel. He consistently placed the interests of his state above other concerns, even providing funds to ships engaged in an extensive blockade-running enterprise supplying North Carolina troops and their families with needed articles. In 1864 Vance was reelected, defeating an avowed peace candidate.

At the end of the war Vance was imprisoned briefly. Upon his release he established a law practice in Charlotte, N.C. In 1867 he was pardoned and reentered politics as a Democrat. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1870 but resigned 2 years later amidst a controversy over the 14th Amendment. After an unsuccessful candidacy for the Senate in 1873, Vance was elected governor in 1876. His administration was marked by the encouragement of railroads, industry, and agriculture and the improvement of public schools and charitable institutions for white and black citizens of the state.

In 1879 Vance was again elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death on April 14, 1894. In the Senate he expressed a devotion to the South, combined with a genuine acceptance of the war's verdict and a true loyalty to the restored Union.

Further Reading

Glenn Tucker, Zeb Vance: Champion of Personal Freedom (1966), is sympathetic but uneven. Richard E. Yates, The Confederacy and Zeb Vance (1958), is a brief study of Vance's relationship with the Confederate government. Vance also figures in Burton J. Hendrick, Statesmen of the Lost Cause (1939). □