The Capitol in the 19th Century

North Carolina's official entrance into the Civil War (1861-1865) took place in the Capitol on the floor of the Commons Hall (now known as the House of Representatives). A special convention called in May of 1861 produced an Ordinance of Secession, effectively withdrawing North Carolina from the United States and casting her lot with the Confederacy. During the war, the Capitol was the center of political activity and military command for the administration of NC Governor Zebulon Vance. The building was used as a supply depot, and Raleigh women met in the rotunda to make uniforms, haversacks, and bandages. Confederate troops came to the capital city for training and then were sent to the front lines. On April 13, 1865, U.S. General William T. Sherman's army, led by Judson Kilpatrick's Third Cavalry Division, marched into Raleigh, beginning the occupation of the city by the U.S. Army. While in Raleigh, U.S. troops headquartered at the Capitol. Only a few days later, the remainder of Confederate military forces surrendered to General Sherman at the Bennett farmhouse near present-day Durham.

Earliest known exterior view of the Capitol
The earliest known exterior image of the Capitol, taken in 1861

The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln during the war, freed enslaved people in ten Confederate states. A wartime measure, it was hard to enforce in areas of the South not under U.S. control. In early 1865 with victory in sight, a Republican dominated U.S. Congress approved a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment was sent to all the states for ratification. It passed the necessary number of states and was certified by the U.S. Secretary of State after the war’s end on December 18, 1865. The amendment officially freed about four million enslaved people, and more than 335,000 of these people, collectively known as “freedmen,” lived in North Carolina.

After the Civil War, the United States government had to decide how best to unify the nation and integrate a formerly enslaved population. During the war President Lincoln and Congress had discussed this question, struggling over a variety of approaches. Consensus on Reconstruction, as it was known, could not be easily achieved. It became even more difficult after Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, when Vice President Andrew Johnson became president.  Born very close to the Capitol in Raleigh, Johnson was a conservative southern Democrat and initially a supporter of slavery. Even as his views on ending slavery evolved, he remained convinced that the government was best suited to serve white people and felt that the voting rights of emancipated Black men were a state issue. As Johnson planned his strategy for Reconstruction, many northerners felt he was too lenient on the Confederate south.

Governor William Holden
North Carolina Governor William Holden

During the initial period known as Presidential Reconstruction, Johnson issued two proclamations designed to bring North Carolina back into the United States. On May 29, 1865, the first, called the Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon, pardoned any citizen - excluding the highest-ranking Confederates - who would swear an oath to protect the United States, its laws, and its governing documents. In the second proclamation, Johnson appointed William W. Holden as provisional governor of North Carolina. Governor Holden called a convention to write a new state constitution. The convention met in two sessions in the Capitol, in October of 1865, and May and June 1866. At the meetings, delegates discussed the requirements for North Carolina to re-enter the Union, which included nullifying its secession from the U.S. and officially abolishing slavery. 

The Fourteenth Amendment, first proposed by the U.S. Congress in 1866, granted citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” and guaranteed full legal and citizenship rights for African Americans. Congress sent the amendment to the states for ratification, but all former Confederate states refused to ratify, except for Tennessee. In 1867, Congress seized control of the process of Reconstruction from President Johnson, initiating a period known as “Radical” or “Congressional” Reconstruction. They passed the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which required former Confederate states to enshrine universal male suffrage in their constitutions and approve the Fourteenth Amendment. In July 1868 the new North Carolina assembly, which included Black male lawmakers, ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. With that and with a new state constitution in place, North Carolina officially returned to the Union with Congressional representation. Beginning in 1868, North Carolinians elected Black men to the General Assembly for the first time. Over the next 30 years, 25 won seats in the state Senate and nearly 100 in the state House. These men supported more funding for public education, biracial charitable institutions, and a statewide railroad. 

Abraham H. Galloway was born into slavery in 1837 in Brunswick County. In 1857 he sought freedom by escaping to Canada, but he returned to North Carolina in 1862 to become a U.S. spy during the Civil War. After the war, he traveled across North Carolina, advocating for equal rights and helping to organize the 1865 Freedmen’s Convention. New Hanover County chose him to attend the 1868 State Constitutional Convention and elected him to two consecutive terms in the NC Senate, where he supported women’s suffrage and labor rights. He died unexpectedly at the age of 33 while still in office. Six thousand people attended his funeral, an event the Christian Recorder called “the largest ever known in this state.”

For a time following the Civil War, North Carolina had a “Fusionist” government, with a majority of voters represented by a coalition of the Republican party and the newly formed Populist party. However, the Democratic party, then home to former Confederates and white supremacists, ran vicious smear campaigns against Black North Carolinians and any white supporters as they sought to regain the state’s total political authority. The Democrats told voters that only white men were fit to hold public office, referring to the Republican and Fusionist government as the home of “Negro Rule.” This terror campaign, marked by violence, newspaper propaganda, and race-baiting, was particularly aggressive in the 1890s, and many of the individuals involved worked in the Capitol as members of the Assembly or Governors. 

Their efforts culminated in an armed insurrection in Wilmington, NC in 1898. The Wilmington Massacre and Coup was a violent overthrow of the legitimately elected local government of Wilmington and the only successful coup in U.S. history. A mob of white men marched to the office of The Daily Record, a local Black newspaper, and set it on fire. The violent mob then marched into the city’s Black neighborhoods, wounding and murdering Black citizens. Local elected officials were then forced to resign their positions and were replaced by white supremacists. The Wilmington Massacre effectively marked the beginning of the Jim Crow system in North Carolina. By 1900, the passage of poll taxes and literacy tests effectively prohibited Black people, American Indians, and other minorities from voting in general elections and holding public office.