Pestiferous Carpetbag Ulcers
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Pestiferous Carpetbag Ulcers:
“With only a ninth of the South’s population, North Carolina had furnished a fifth of all the soldiers who fought, and a fourth of all that died in action. In that dying, the South learned a bitter but important lesson. It is possible to believe in a cause strongly, fight for it heroically – and lose.
The days of heroism were definitely past; valor had given way to venality. The very methods and conditions of warfare had obliterated the ideas for which it had been waged. There is as little chance of discovering high idealism in post-war generations as there is in finding a high sense of tragedy in an undertaker. Facing death is one thing. Disposing of corpses is another.
In North Carolina the State debt had soared in a few years from sixteen to forty million dollars. President Andrew Johnson, himself a native of Raleigh had appointed William Holden provisional governor. Pandora’s box was open.
By repudiating all past State debt, the 1865 Convention wrought havoc with colleges, banks, and all who held State bonds. When an angry citizenry voted to make Jonathan Worth, rather than Holden, governor, Northerners took this as a sign of continuing disloyalty. Organizing carpetbaggers and Negroes, the Republicans reinstated Holden.
The 1868 State convention saw one hundred and seven Republican run roughshod over the thirteen Democrats…[and] Corruption was most blatant in education and railroads. In the year of Lee’s visit , State schools received only $38,000 of the $136,000 allotted to them. George Swepson, [scalawag] president of the Western North Carolina Railroad, paid [former Northern General] Milton Littlefield $240,000 to influence the legislature.
Later on Holden would be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” found guilty and removed from office. Staunch Republican H.R. Helper admitted: “One of the greatest evils affecting society in North Carolina is the incompetent and worthless State and federal officials now in power. They are for the most part pestiferous ulcers feeding upon the body politic.”
(Lee After the War, Marshall W. Fishwick, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963, pp. 187-189)