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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 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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Confederate Party

by Gordon B. McKinney, 2006

The Confederate Party was active in political battles in North Carolina during the Civil War. In a real sense, the party was created by its opponents, who eventually called themselves "Conservatives." At the beginning of the war, a façade of unity existed in the state, with all prominent political leaders supporting secession from the Union. This surface unity could not hide the fact that virtually all of the state's political leaders still aligned themselves with organizations similar to the antebellum political parties.

The first indications of the survival of partisanship came with the appointment of officers in the North Carolina regiments of the Confederate army. Former Whig congressman Zebulon B. Vance of Buncombe County estimated that 90 percent of the generals from North Carolina were former Democrats. During the election for president of the Confederacy, dissatisfied former Whigs ran an opposition Jefferson Davis ticket that won approximately 40 percent of the vote against the regular slate. In an effort to head off the dissatisfied opposition, the incumbent group nominated former Whig William Johnston of Mecklenburg County for governor in the early spring of 1862. The leaders of the opposition group, now calling it the "Conservative Party," met later in 1862 and chose Vance as their candidate. Led by William W. Holden and William A. Graham, the Conservatives attacked their opposition, which they labeled the "Confederate Party." It is unclear whether the name was selected in an attempt to associate the party with the unpopular Jefferson Davis administration or because an anti-Conservative newspaper in Raleigh called itself the Confederate.

The Confederates failed to organize effectively for the 1862 gubernatorial election, and Vance overwhelmed Johnston in the popular vote for governor. From then on, the party rarely offered candidates. It is uncertain whether the party ever existed as a formal organization or whether the title was simply a convenience adopted for the vestige of the Democratic Party that survived into the Civil War.


Robin E. Baker, "Class Conflict and Political Upheaval: The Transformation of North Carolina Politics during the Civil War," NCHR 69 (April 1992).

John G. Barrett, "North Carolina," in W. Buck Yearns, ed., The Confederate Governors (1985).

William C. Harris, William Woods Holden: Firebrand of North Carolina Politics (1987).

Marc W. Kruman, Parties and Politics in North Carolina, 1836-1865 (1983).

Additional Resources:

Brown, William. "First Wednesdays - Political Strife." North Carolina Civil War 150: Civil War Sesquicentennial Blog of the North Carolina State Archives  (blog). December 7, 2011.