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Waddell, Alfred Moore

by James M. Clifton, 1996

16 Sept. 1834–17 Mar. 1912

Alfred Moore Waddell. Image courtesy of "Prominent people of North Carolina: brief biographies of leading people for ready reference purposes". Alfred Moore Waddell, lawyer, newspaper editor, congressman, and author, was born in Hillsborough, the son of Hugh and Susan Moore Waddell, both of distinguished Lower Cape Fear lineage; he was the great-grandson of three of the state's greatest Revolutionary leaders, Hugh Waddell, Francis Nash, and Alfred Moore. He attended Bingham's School and Caldwell Institute in Hillsborough, was graduated from The University of North Carolina in 1853, studied law with such distinguished lawyers and jurists as John L. Bailey, William H. Battle, Frederick Nash, and Samuel H. Phillips, and was admitted to the bar in 1855. Moving to Wilmington, the home area of his illustrious forebears, he began a legal practice. He remained there for the rest of his life, except for the year 1881–82, when he edited the Charlotte Journal-Observer. In 1857 he married Julia Savage, by whom he had two children, Elizabeth Savage and Alfred M., Jr. Following her death he married her sister, Ellen Savage, in 1878. A third marriage came in 1896 to Gabrielle de Rosset, of a prominent Wilmington family.

Waddell's first public office was clerk of the court of equity of New Hanover County (1858–61). At the same time, he became increasingly involved in politics, especially on the national level. Of a staunchly Conservative and Unionist bent, he backed the presidential ticket of the American party in 1856 and that of the Constitutional Union party in 1860, attending the latter party's convention as an alternate delegate from North Carolina. On the local level, he opposed the growing secession sentiment, even going so far as to purchase and edit a Unionist newspaper, the Wilmington Herald, in 1860–61. But with the coming of the Civil War he entered the Confederate service, first as adjutant and later (1863–64) as lieutenant colonel in the Third Cavalry, later designated Forty-first North Carolina Regiment, from which he was forced to resign because of ill health.

After the war Waddell advocated a readjustment of the Southern political system along Conservative lines, with limited Negro suffrage (a position that came back to haunt him in his own political career a few years later). On the Conservative-Democratic ticket, he was elected to the Forty-second Congress in 1870 and to the three successive Congresses. Democratic overconfidence and consequent inactivity, and especially a wide distribution of his 1865 speech advocating limited Negro suffrage (now very much resented in his home constituency), caused his defeat in the 1878 campaign and ended his congressional career.

Alfred Moore Waddell. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.During his four terms in the House of Representatives, he served with distinction, ever quick to defend in eloquent terms the position of the South and to advocate the end of partisanship and sectionalism and the working together of both sections for the solidification of the American Union. He resented the Radical Republican policies towards the South, especially the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which he regarded as both unconstitutional and unnecessary. However, he did vote for congressional investigation into purported Southern outrages and even served on the investigating committee in 1871, signing the minority report. During his last term in Congress, he was chairman of the House committee on post offices and post roads, where he worked for improvements in the postal service and the establishment of postal savings banks. When no longer an officeholder, he continued his strong affiliation with the Democratic party, serving as a delegate to the national conventions of 1880 and 1896, and as elector-at-large in 1888.

Retirement from public life gave Waddell an opportunity to engage in the other pursuits for which he had a considerable liking, oratory and historical authorship. His polished eloquence and commanding stage presence brought to him a continuous flood of requests throughout the state and elsewhere to deliver addresses of all kinds—commencement, patriotic, and historical. And he was ever sought after to assist in political campaigns—in the presidential contest of 1880 he campaigned in behalf of the Democratic ticket in Vermont, Maine, and New York. In the realm of historical authorship (inspired especially by his pride in his distinguished lineage and in the Lower Cape Fear as a region), he contributed three works of considerable merit: A Colonial Officer and His Times, 1754–1773: A Biographical Sketch of General Hugh Waddell of North Carolina (1890), Some Memories of My Life (1908), and A History of New Hanover County and the Lower Cape Fear Region, 1723–1800 (1909).

The trying times of the late 1890s in North Carolina and especially in the Wilmington area brought Waddell back to the political fore. With the Republican-Populist-Negro abuses rampant (and a fellow Wilmingtonian, Daniel Lindsay Russell, as governor), he came to the aid of the Democrats with fervent speeches in the bitter "White Supremacy" campaign of 1898. Leader of the white citizens group in Wilmington, he and his followers in November 1898 ousted from power a corrupt and unpopular municipal government and forcibly shut down a Negro newspaper (whose editorials had been quite inflammatory), precipitating perhaps the bloodiest race riot in North Carolina history, during which ten Negroes were reported killed, ten others jailed on charges of having instigated the riot, and the remaining Negro political leaders forced to flee the city. Elected mayor, Waddell quickly restored sobriety and peace, demonstrating his capacity to act with courage in critical times. He continued as mayor until 1905, providing for the city an honest and wholesome government no longer racked with racial turbulence, with which position his long and fruitful public career ended. He died in Wilmington and was interred in Oakdale Cemetery.


DAB, vol. 19 (1928).

Biog. Dir. Am. Cong. (1961).

J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina (1906) and North Carolina since 1860 (1919).

James Sprunt, Chronicles of the Cape Fear River (1916).

A. M. Waddell, Some Memories of My Life (1908).

Wilmington Messenger, 6 Jan. 1889.

Wilmington Morning Star, 19 Mar. 1912.

Additional Resources:

"Waddell, Alfred Moore, (1834 - 1912)." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Washington, D.C.: The Congress. (accessed June 10, 2013).

Alfred M. Waddell Papers, 1768-1935 (bulk 1875-1900) (collection no. 00743). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.,Alfred_M.html (accessed June 10, 2013).

Cape Fear Historical Institute:

"Alex Manly 1866-1944." N.C. Highway Historical Marker D-103, N.C. Office of Archives & History. (accessed June 10, 2013).

"How The Only Coup D'Etat In U.S. History Unfolded," NPR:

Image Credits:

Prominent people of North Carolina: brief biographies of leading people for ready reference purposes. Asheville, N.C. [N.C.]: Evening News Pub. Co., 1906. 1906. (accessed June 3, 2013).

Waddell, Hon. Alfred Moore of N.C. Delegate to Constitutional Union National Convention at Baltimore - 1860 (Bell & Everett) Lt. Col. of 3rd Cavalry, 41st N.C. Inf. Library of Congress:

Origin - location: 

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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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