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Biography of Zebulon Baird Vance

Name: Zebulon Baird Vance
Bith Date: May 13, 1830
Death Date: April 14, 1894
Place of Birth: Buncombe County, North Carolina, United States
Nationality: American
Gender: Male
Occupations: senator, congressman, governor
Zebulon Baird Vance

Zebulon Baird Vance (1830-1894), U.S. senator and congressman, was Civil War governor of North Carolina. He is best known for his concern for the common Southerner and his noncooperation with Confederate authorities.

Zebulon Vance was born on May 13, 1830, in Buncombe County, N.C. He attended Washington College, Tenn. (1843-1844), and studied law at the University of North Carolina (1851-1852). After settling in Asheville, N.C., he was immediately elected county solicitor. Never a close student of the law, he won success at the bar because he understood his neighbors, who composed the juries.

After one term in the North Carolina House of Commons, Vance was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1858, where he served until March 1861. He had conservative views on the tariff, public lands, and pensions and opposed the secessionist sentiment then prevalent in the South. However, when the Civil War started and President Abraham Lincoln called for troops in 1861, Vance urged North Carolina to support the seceded states. He saw military action for about a year, rising to the rank of colonel in a North Carolina regiment.

In 1862 the conservative faction nominated Vance for governor of North Carolina. He won by an unprecedented large margin. The Confederate government, however, mistrusted his promises of a strong war policy, and Vance and the government were quickly embroiled in controversies over conscription, suspension of habeas corpus, desertions, and impressment of matériel. He consistently placed the interests of his state above other concerns, even providing funds to ships engaged in an extensive blockade-running enterprise supplying North Carolina troops and their families with needed articles. In 1864 Vance was reelected, defeating an avowed peace candidate.

At the end of the war Vance was imprisoned briefly. Upon his release he established a law practice in Charlotte, N.C. In 1867 he was pardoned and reentered politics as a Democrat. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1870 but resigned 2 years later amidst a controversy over the 14th Amendment. After an unsuccessful candidacy for the Senate in 1873, Vance was elected governor in 1876. His administration was marked by the encouragement of railroads, industry, and agriculture and the improvement of public schools and charitable institutions for white and black citizens of the state.

In 1879 Vance was again elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death on April 14, 1894. In the Senate he expressed a devotion to the South, combined with a genuine acceptance of the war's verdict and a true loyalty to the restored Union.

Further Reading

  • Glenn Tucker, Zeb Vance: Champion of Personal Freedom (1966), is sympathetic but uneven. Richard E. Yates, The Confederacy and Zeb Vance (1958), is a brief study of Vance's relationship with the Confederate government. Vance also figures in Burton J. Hendrick, Statesmen of the Lost Cause (1939).

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