Monday, July 05, 2010

Gov. Edward Stanly

I hope everyone had a good Fourth of July! It was pretty quiet here on my mountain in western North Carolina.

Recently, I finished reading a book titled Edward Stanly: Whiggery’s Tarheel “Conqueror” by Norman D. Brown, and thought I would give a little review. Yes, I know, the book was published in 1974, but who says we can only review new books?

Edward Stanly was a Tar Heel native (1810-1872), and important political figure in North Carolina history. He hailed from Beaufort County, was a lawyer, a Whig, and served five terms in the United States Congress (1837 – 1843 and 1849-1853). In the in-between years, he served in the General Assembly, as speaker of the State House (1844 to 1846), and briefly in 1847, as State Attorney General. Stanley is considered “North Carolina’s greatest orator of his generation.” After finishing his term in 1853, Stanley chose not to run again, but moved to California (San Francisco) where he practiced law and made an unsuccessful bid for the governorship.

Stanly’s time in the US House is full of intrigue. It seems that almost daily there were fisticuffs and challenges for duels sent and received. Stanly fought a duel with Alabama Democrat Samuel W. Inge in 1851, and later that same session of Congress, came to blows with fellow North Carolina representative Thomas L. Clingman on the floor of the House.

Stanly is somewhat of an enigma. In 1838, on the floor of the House, he told his colleagues that:

I am a Southern man. I thank God that I am. Next to learning the Lord’s prayer and the ten commandments, I was taught to venerate the character, protect the interests, and defend the honor of North Carolina. I still cherish the recollections of these early lessons. They ‘grow with my growth, and strengthen with my strength.’ And, sir, I regard it as a duty I owe my State and my country to avoid creating sectional feelings. In doing so, we forget the advise of the Father of his country, and the dignity which becomes the Representatives of sovereign States.

In 1850, fellow representative David Outlaw wrote that Stanly “ought to be from the North instead of the South side of Mason and Dixon’s line.” In many instances, Stanly sided with the South in issues on the floor, however, when it came to slavery, he voted most often with the northern Whigs, who later became Republicans. All very interesting, because Stanly was a slave owner.

After Stanly went to California, he again dabbled in politics, and even canvassed the state for Lincoln’s election, even though he never joined the Republican party.

In the spring of 1862, after much of the east coast of North Carolina had fallen under Union control, Lincoln tapped Stanly to be military governor of that section of the state. Stanly believed that most of North Carolina was still pro-Union and had been led astray by a few errant politicians. Stanly worked hard to bring North Carolina back into the Union, but never really achieved any success. He resigned on March 2, 1863, due to a disagreement with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Stanly returned to California, practiced law, and dabbled once again in politics.

Brown’s book on Stanly is a really good read. It is a good blending of state and national issues that took place during Stanly’s life and political career. My biggest question is this: Brown makes mention of Stanly’s ownership of slaves, but never tells us what happened to those slaves: did Stanly sell them, were they set free, and when did this happen?

If you get a chance, and like biographies of a political nature, give Brown’s book, Edward Stanly: Whiggery’s Tarheel “Conqueror” a read.

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