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William Woods Holden Passes Away

Today in Masonic History William Woods Holden passes away in 1892.

William Woods Holden was an American politician.

Holden was born on November 24th, 1818 in what is now Eno River State Park, Orange County, North Carolina. When he was 10 he was apprenticed into the newspaper business. By the age of 19 he was working as a writer and printer at the Raleigh Star in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was also studying the law and was admitted to the bar in 1841. He also became a member of the Whig Party. The first of many party affiliations he held.

In 1843, Holden became the owner of the North Carolina Standard. At the same time he became affiliated with the Democratic Party. He made the Standard a Democratic newspaper and was one of the most widely read papers in North Carolina. It was also in 1843 Holden became a delegate to the Democratic state party convention. There he was elected to the North Carolina Democratic Party state executive committee.

In 1846, Holden was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons representing Wake County. He did not seek reelection. Over the next decade Holden was active in Democratic politics in the state. In 1858, Holden became the Chairman of the Democratic party. The same year he was passed over by the party for a nomination to the United States Senate and lost the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. This began a shift, again, in Holden's politics. In the 1840's and 1850's Holden supported Southern Rights to expand slavery and even championed secession. By 1860 he had shifted his opinion toward the Union. Became of this Holden, who had been called "eloquent propagandist" of the Democratic Party, and the Standard fell out of favor with Democrats. He was also removed as the state's printer when he wrote and printed a cautious editorial against secession.

In 1861, Holden was sent by Wake County as a delegate to a State Convention to vote against secession. When President Abraham Lincoln called on North Carolina to send troops to suppress the secession states, he changed his vote, and North Carolina seceded on a unanimous vote.

During the American Civil War, Holden was an outspoken critic of the Confederate Government. He also became a leader in the North Carolina peace movement. In 1864, he tried unsuccessfully to win the Governor's office again, this time as a peace candidate. The following year, when the American Civil War ended, President Andrew Johnson appointed Holden the 38th Governor of North Carolina. He held the position until December of 1865 when Holden lost the special election.

In 1868, Holden, now a Republican, was elected at the head of the ticket as the 40th Governor of North Carolina. Holden felt one of the biggest threats to the state was the presence of the Klu Klux Klan and in 1870 suspended habeas corpus for accused leaders of the Klan. This was all part of the Kirk-Holden War where the Klan attempted to prevent newly freed slaves from exercising their right to vote. In the 1870 vote, the Republicans lost their majority in the state legislature. This allowed for the impeachment of Holden by the now Democratically controlled legislature. Holden was impeached on six of eight charges. The main charges revolved around Holden's use of the militia to enforce Reconstruction legislation. He also called on the militia to respond to the assassination of Republican senator John W. Stephens, the lynching of Wyatt Outlaw, an African American police officer in the town of Graham in Alamance County and several attacks by the Klan.

Holden holds the dubious distinction of being the first governor in American history to be impeached, convicted, and removed from office. Prior to Holden being removed from office, a governor of Kansas was the first to be impeached. The Governor of Kansas was not convicted or removed from office.

In 1873, Holden was appointed as Postmaster of Raleigh by President Ulysses S. Grant. He served until 1881 when members of the Raleigh Republican party convinced President James Garfield not to re-appoint him. Holden then left the Republican Party.

Holden passed away on March 1st, 1892.

Holden affiliated with  New Light Lodge No. 215, presumably in Raleigh, after being made a mason on sight in 1865 by the Grand Master of North Carolina. Interestingly he had petitioned Hiram Lodge No. 40 in Raleigh and was rejected as a petitioner. It is unclear why he was rejected as the records of the lodge were destroyed in a fire. Holden demitted from the fraternity in 1877.

This article provided by Brother Eric C. Steele.