Saturday, June 04, 2016

North Carolina Railroad 1848/1849: "The Baptist Enigma"

The "Baptist Enigma"

A major issue before the North Carolina Legislature during the 1848/1849 term was funding the North Carolina Railroad. Some favored a north-south line, while others supported extending the railroad to Charlotte to open the western parts of North Carolina.

When the bill proposing the east-west route to Charlotte came before the North Carolina Senate, Caswell County's Calvin Graves was Speaker. Following is Senator Rufus Barringer's account of the episode, which effectively ended the political career of Calvin Graves as his constituents favored a north-south route that would pass through Caswell County (on to Danville and Richmond):

"The chances in the Senate were all in doubt. That body was Democratic; and up to this time, no special effort had been made to draw the old ship from its Jeffersonian moorings. And such men as Henry W. Conner, John H. Drake, A. B. Hawkins, John Berry, George Bower, W. D. Bethel, George W. Thompson, and John Walker were hard to lead and could not be driven. And above them all sat Speaker Calvin Graves, a recognized force from a county just under the nose of Danville, and devoted to Richmond. The speaker was tall, angular, and singularly ugly in feature; but his character was high; he was strictly impartial, and with all courtesy in bearing.

"From first to last no one could divine a leaning either way. But now a mighty effort was made to teach these born men of the plow and of the people a new tenet of republican faith, an awakening to what the State owed the public. Judge Romulus M. Saunders [from Caswell County] and W. W. Holden [of Kirk-Holden War fame] both stepped forward and made strong appeals for the new departure [against the bill]. But all to no purpose. And then some of the Whigs, left out by the Ashe bill, stood aloof. From these and other causes, it was seen from day to day, in all the preliminary skirmishes, as also in the final struggle, the result would be very close, and that all might hang on the Baptist Enigma, Calvin Graves.

"By consent, the first and second readings were chiefly formal, to get the measure in shape, and to secure all sides and parties a just showing. This was after the old style, quiet North Carolina way, when, as a hundred years before, Dissenters and Churchmen were alike honoring King, Queen and Royal Governor by naming towns, counties and mountain peaks after them, but at the same time, solemnly resolved to hurl them instantly from power 'if they did not do exactly the fair thing.'

"So here, every courtesy was shown opposing parties and interests until January 25, when the bill came regularly up, after full debate, and was put on its third and final reading. The Senate chamber was packed with visitors and strangers from all quarters to see the fate of the momentous struggle, now so full of weal or woe to the dear 'Old North State,' and which might settle here once for all the mighty effort to awake North Carolina from the long sleep of her death-like 'Rip-Van-Winkleism.'

"Speaker Graves calmly announced: 'The bill to charter the North Carolina Railroad Company and for other purposes is now upon its third reading. Is the Senate ready for the question?' Feeble responses said, 'Question.' The roll call began; and as feared nearly every Democrat voted 'No.' The tally was kept by hundreds, and when the clerk announced 22 yeas and 22 nays, there was an awful silence. The slender form of Speaker Graves stood up, and leaning slightly forward, with gavel in hand, he said: 'The vote on the bill being equal, 22 yeas and 22 nays, the chair votes Yea. The bill has passed its third and last reading.'"

Source: "Party Politics in North Carolina, 1835-1860," Joseph Gregoire de Roulhac Hamilton (1916).

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