WILLIE PERSON MANGUM:
POLITICS AND PRAGMATISM IN THE AGE OF JACKSON
JOSEPH CONAN THOMPSON
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
UNIVERSITrY OF FLORiDA LURARIES
At long last this project is complete and I can begin the delightful task of thanking
all those who made what could have been a lonely exercise a pleasant experience. My first
debt is to William Cooper who suggested Willie Mangum as a dissertation topic. When
my mentor Bertram Wyatt-Brown approached Dr. Cooper on my behalf, he recommended
Mangum without hesitation. His quick response saved me countless hours of searching
by pointing me in the direction of a long-neglected public servant worthy of a scholarly
biography. Robert Kenser read an early draft of the first chapter and offered his special
insights. Lucy James, one of Mangum's few surviving direct descendants, brought her
unique perspective to the project, enabling me to flesh out the senator and better
understand his complex family life. Conversations with Larry Menna and Thomas Jeffrey
helped me place Mangum within the larger context of early national politics.
While researching Mangum's life I had the chance to work with people whose
professionalism made my job easier. The staffs at the Southern Historical Collection in
Chapel Hill, Duke University in Durham, the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh,
Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and the Library of Congress in Washington,
D.C. all expressed an interest in my work, helped me locate valuable material, and
generally made researching a pleasant experience. Special thanks to H. G. Jones and the
rest of the staff at the North Caroliniana Society at the University of North Carolina for
their financial support. Charlie and Sue Rice made life on the road easier by providing
me with a home away from home during my stays in Washington, D.C. So too did Pete
Troisi. These old friends fed me, drank with me, and listened to my tales of Willie late
into the night without complaint. My new friends, Bob and Maureen Lucas, along with
their dogs, showed me the way to Willie Mangum's long-neglected grave in the North
Carolina woods. Indeed, to all those anonymous souls in and around the town of Bahama
who pointed me in the direction of his final resting place, I say thank you.
I reserve special thanks for my dissertation committee. Ron Formisano brought his
special knowledge of nineteenth-century politics and superior editing techniques to this
project. His comments and criticisms of the final draft have already proven invaluable as
I prepare this work for the next stage. Jeff Adler and John Sommerville made important
contributions as both teachers and committee members. James Button of the Political
Science Department came to my rescue as a last minute addition to the committee, making
it possible for me to graduate on schedule. Hal Wilson sat in for one of his colleagues,
proving once again that he is a class act. The irreplaceable Betty Corwine and the rest of
the staff of the History Department at the University of Florida guided me through the
byzantine process of graduate school, asking only that I donate ten percent of my life's
earnings to them. You will not get my money Betty, only my gratitude.
While at the University of Florida I made friends whom I now count among my
dearest. They taught me to be a better historian, a better listener, a better friend, and a
better softball player. In my eight years in Gainesville I have had the chance to work with
people who I know will go on to become the leading lights of a new generation of
historians, including Jane Landers, Chris Morris, Stephanie Cole, Eric Rise, Jeremy Stahl,
Scott Sheffield, and Jeff Brautigam. Several others -- including Jack Henderson and John
Guthrie -- helped me survive qualifying exams, and for that and so much more I remain
forever in their debt. Another survivor of that process, Daniel Stowell, also led me
through that modern labyrinth we call the computer. He and his wife Miriam made
navigating this strange new world fun. Caleb and Beth Finegan read parts of this work and
offered their encouragement as I neared completion. My colleagues at Santa Fe
Community College have given me their personal and professional support during the latter
stages of this project. One of them, Doug Klepper, has given his support and friendship'
Two fellow graduate students merit special mention. Dave Tegeder and Steve Noll
went above and beyond the call of duty, listening as I read page upon page of this work
over the phone. Despite the occasional grumble, both offered excellent advice and
demonstrated incredible patience. Dave read the first draft of my prospectus. His advice
proved especially insightful and gave the project form it might not otherwise have had.
Another group of close friends, some of them able historians, others talented journalists,
all mediocre softball players, made life in Gainesville more fun than I could have imagined
and probably slowed down this process more than helped it along. Nevertheless, to all
those who have worn the "Ducks" uniform, I extend to you my thanks for reminding me
that there is life after dissertation. To Kevin Fritz and Christi Lane I say the same and
add that your friendship has meant more to me these past few years than words alone can
describe. My brothers and sisters -- Joanne, Jim, Lulu, Maggie, Kitty, Jackie, Peter --
my mother Joanne and stepfather John have given me so much support over an entire
lifetime. To my brother John who was there when I began my college career but left too
soon, and to my father James whose memory I try to do proud, I say God bless.
Finally, I save my most heartfelt thanks for the two people who have given me the
most during this period in my life. To Bertram Wyatt-Brown, a first-class scholar, an
editor of unmatched ability, and mentor in every sense of the word, I say thanks. You
pushed when I needed it, but never too hard and always with the best intentions. Your
editing has given this work style. If there are passages that stand out, you can be assured
they are as much your doing as mine. The awkward parts, on the other hand, are mine
alone. And to my wife Toni. For twelve years you have given me everything I needed.
Your financial support has allowed me to live better than any graduate student should,
your editorial remarks have made this work readable, your patience has made it possible.
Not once did you question my commitment to my work. Instead you allowed me to follow
my dream and make it a reality. But most of all, you showed me -- in your smile, your
laugh, your eyes, your passion -- what it means to be alive. I love you and it is to you that
I dedicate this work and my life.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ..................................... ii
ABSTRACT ............................................. viii
INTRODUCTION: THE AGE OF PRAGMATISM ..................... 1
1 RED MOUNTAIN ................................... 15
2 JUDGE MANGUM ................................... 34
3 THE PRESIDENTIAL QUESTION ........................ 63
4 RELUCTANT JACKSONIAN ............................... 96
5 PLAYING CHESS .................................. 135
6 ANTIPARTY PARTISAN .............................. 172
7 INSTRUCTIONS ...................................... 212
8 W ALNUT HALL .................................... 255
9 VINDICATION ...................................... 275
10 VICE PRESIDENT MANGUM ........................... 303
11 HOLDING ON .................................... 344
EPILOGUE: TWILIGHT OF THE PRAGMATISTS .................. 388
BIBLIOGRAPHY .......................... ............. 397
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .................................... 418
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
WILLIE PERSON MANGUM:
POLITICS AND PRAGMATISM IN THE AGE OF JACKSON
Joseph Conan Thompson
Chairman: Bertram Wyatt-Brown
Major Department: History
For most of his eighteen years in the United States Senate, Willie Mangum wielded
tremendous power and influenced the course of national politics. He served as president
pro tempore of the senate, oversaw political campaigns in every state, and advised those
who became paragons of their age. His current lack of historical notoriety, while
undeserved, can be explained by his political style. His important work took place in
committee meetings, cloakrooms, taverns, or boarding houses; all places far removed from
public view. However, it was here that Mangum and a generation of leaders orchestrated
the development and consolidation of modern political parties and fashioned the legislation
and the compromises that define the Age of Jackson. This dissertation examines the
transformation of elite antebellum American political culture through the lens of
Willie Mangum's informal style of management together with his long tenure in
Congress elevated him to the highest ranks of the national Whig organization. His career
demonstrates the varied ways in which the Whig elite brokered power and exchanged
favors to maintain political viability. Similarly, his evolution from an antipartisan
politician to a leader of a national organization illustrate the conflict in American politics
between rhetoric and reality. The republican traditions so warmly embraced by the
electorate and so eloquently defended by the officeseekers, were often ignored in the
closed-door sessions that produced public policy. Despite a genuine belief in the principles
espoused by the Revolutionary generation, Mangum and his contemporaries placed
practical concerns above potentially divisive ideals and employed both formal and informal
mechanisms to achieve what they regarded as workable solutions to complex problems.
His flexible definition of republicanism and pragmatic approach to power politics served
him well in an age when a market revolution was transforming American society.
THE AGE OF PRAGMATISM
Henry Clay's funeral procession moved solemnly down Pennsylvania Avenue and
into the senate chamber where the body of the great compromiser would lay in state. Six
United States senators filed alongside the caisson as honorary pallbearers, their faces and
reputations almost as well known to the American people as the man they had come to
mourn. Among those marching was Lewis Cass, the Democratic presidential nominee in
1848, and John Bell, former Speaker of the House. Willie Person Mangum, the senior
senator from North Carolina and one of Clay's closest friends and most trusted allies,
walked with them.1 Both Clay and Mangum enjoyed long careers in Washington and both
epitomized a generation of political leaders in America. In what could accurately be
described as the "Age of Pragmatism" -- the period between 1820 and 1848 -- the two
stood out as paragons of an age. Avoiding divisive issues, creating broad coalitions,
fashioning compromises, and building a national party system, these two pragmatists
guided American politics from the localism of the eighteenth century into the modern era.
SHis name is pronounced "Wylie Parson Mangum." See, Henry Thomas Shanks, ed.,
The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5 vols. (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and
History, 1950-1956), 5:762; Willie Person Mangum to Washington Hunt, 8 February
1844, Willie P. Mangum Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Robert
V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York: W.W. Norton & Company,
1991), pp. 782.
In carrying Clay to his grave, however, Mangum and the others were carrying political
pragmatism to its final rest. In effect, they were burying an age. Frail and bitter, the
sixty-year-old Mangum would remain in Washington for only one more year, ending more
than three decades of public service. While in better physical condition than Clay,
Mangum's political career was just as moribund. By 1852, the generation of pragmatists
had given way to a new breed of younger politicians. Mangum no longer fit in with this
crowd and so he left, a discarded remnant of the second party system.
Born in 1792 in Orange County, North Carolina, Willie Person Mangum rose from
the state legislature to the United States House of Representatives. In 1830, he entered the
United States Senate and served one term before resigning in 1836. Four years later he
was reelected to the senate, where he remained for more than twelve years. During that
time Mangum labored in the company of giants. He participated as a member of the most
prestigious committees, advised presidents, hosted foreign dignitaries, and served as the
president pro tempore of the senate. High ranking party officials looked on Mangum as
a man of national renown and often mentioned him as a possible contender for the highest
state and national offices. Rigidly partisan and chauvinistically southern in his public
utterances, he nevertheless enjoyed private relationships with men from both political
parties and every region. Two years before escorting the body of Henry Clay to the
Capitol, Mangum was a pallbearer in the funeral procession of John C. Calhoun, evidence
indeed of the breadth of his personal associations. Over the course of his long career,
Mangum earned the admiration and respect of those who knew him on a passing level.
Those who knew him well knew him to be an outgoing, honorable, and generous man.
He applied these virtues to a career noted for its longevity and success.2
Given his contemporary fame and importance, why, the historian asks, has Willie
Mangum all but vanished from national memory? He has been relegated to the
appendices of textbooks where historians faithfully record the eleven electoral votes he
received in the election of 1836. Little else of what he did is commonly known. Although
his current obscurity is undeserved, it is understandable in light of the fact that his
important work took place in private: in committee meetings, cloakrooms, taverns, or
boarding houses. While the lives of presidents and presidential aspirants of the Jacksonian
and antebellum periods have been noted, the deeds of those whose careers are similarly
noteworthy, if less dramatic, need also be documented. Political biographers are drawn
to the extraordinary and tend to ignore the routine; they look upon the beauty and grace
of the thoroughbred, only to miss the power and drive of the work horse.
This dissertation represents a partial atonement for prior historical neglect. It
covers the life of Willie Mangum from his boyhood up to the year 1849. Four historians
have started to write definitive, full-length biographies of Willie Mangum, but all failed
to complete the task. Stephen B. Weeks, Penelope McDuffie, William K. Boyd, and
Fletcher M. Green, each working independently, began biographies at one time or another.
Coincidentally, each died before they could finish. The fifty-four page McDuffie
2 Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union, Vol. 1: Fruits of Manifest Destiny (New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947), p. 314.
biography was published in 1925 and a draft of Boyd's work survives in the Mangum
Papers at the Duke University archives. Two graduate students, Edith Josephine Houston,
writing in 1960, and Julian Mclver Pleasants, writing in 1962, completed master's theses
dealing with parts of Mangum's career, but neither constitute a true biography and both
are dated.3 Mangum himself once intimated that the history of his life would never be
written because so much of what he did went unrecorded.4 The "want of a scribe,"
historian Glenn Tucker wrote in 1966, explains why Mangum has not been accorded his
due by subsequent generations of Americans.5
Ironically, Mangum's success as a party manager helps to explain the absence of
a full-length biography. During the 1830s he helped mold the North Carolina Whig Party
into an efficient organization. In 1840, 1844, and 1848 North Carolina gave all its
electoral votes to the Whig presidential candidate and for most of the decade they held
narrow majorities in state legislature and controlled the governorship outright. So, when
national party leaders met to name candidates to run for national office they passed over
3 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, l:vii; Penelope McDuffie, "Chapters in
the Life of Willie Person Mangum," The Historical Papers. Published by the Trinity
College Historical Society (Durham: Duke University Press, 1925); William K. Boyd, "A
Draft of the Life of Willie P. Mangum." Willie Person Mangum Papers, Special
Collections, Duke University Library, Durham, North Carolina; Edith Josephine Houston,
"The Bank of the United States and Willie P. Mangum." (M.A. thesis, Appalachian State
Teachers College, 1960); Julian Mclver Pleasants, "The Political Career of Willie Person
Mangum, 1828-1840" (M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1962).
4Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5:741.
5 Glenn Tucker, "For Want of a Scribe," North Caroiina Historical Review 43
Mangum, in part because they regarded his state as safely Whig. Customarily, the more
hotly contested states or those with larger populations won the right to place the names of
their native sons before the national electorate. Of those born in the Old North State, only
James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Johnson, three men who relocated elsewhere
prior to embarking on political careers, won spots on successful national tickets. Had
Mangum been picked to run on such a ticket, he would have caught the attention of a
biographer before now.6
The literature on antebellum southern politics in general and North Carolina in
particular is rich and places Mangum in a larger perspective. In The South and the Politics
of Slavery. 1828-1856, author William J. Cooper demonstrates how politicians like
Mangum suited their rhetoric to the whim of the electorate. Using Willie Mangum as a
yardstick, however, Cooper's thesis, that slave-related issues were almost always the
central focus of southern politics, is overstated. To be sure, Mangum proved a stout
defender of slavery and ultimately sided with fellow southerners on many questions
pertaining to slavery. Like most southern Whigs, however, he did his utmost to see to it
that the question rarely entered into the discourse and looked to party, not region, as the
unifying force in American politics at the height of the second party system. Historian
John Ashworth, in 'Agrarians & Aristocrats': Party Ideology in the United States. 1837-
1846, better captures the inherent complexities of southern Whiggery as typified by
Mangum's evolving outlook on key national issues, but relies too heavily on ideology as
6 Thomas E. Jeffrey, State Parties and National Politics: North Carolina, 1814-1861
(Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1989), p. 162.
an explanation for most Whig policies. So too does J. Mills Thornton in his study of
Of the studies relating specifically to antebellum North Carolina politics,
Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict: The Emergence of the Second American
Party System in Cumberland County, North Carolina, by Harry L. Watson, is best at
placing North Carolina within the broader context of national politics. It also comes
closest to naming pragmatism as a driving force in elite political behavior. Two recent
works on the second party system in North Carolina take opposing views of the importance
of pragmatism in the process of party formation. In Parties and Politics in North Carolina,
1836-1865, published in 1983, Marc Kruman brings the republican synthesis to the Tar
Heel state. Locating the source of party conflict in the ideology of the Revolutionary
generation, Kruman argues that the Whigs and Democrats battled continually over which
policies best preserved republicanism. Thomas Jeffrey, in State Parties and National
Politics: North Carolina. 1815-1861, views the partisan battles in antebellum North
Carolina as having more pragmatic antecedents. As he saw it, state and local issues had
become so divisive by the mid-1830s that leaders from both parties started to emphasize
national issues to unite easterners and westerners in true statewide parties. Where Kruman
is ready to accept the rhetoric of antebellum political leaders at face value, Jeffrey offers
7 William J. Cooper, Jr., The South and the Politics of Slavery. 1828-1856 (Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978); John Ashworth, "Agrarians" and
"Aristocrats": Party Political Ideology in the United States. 1837-1846 (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1983); J. Mills Thornton, III, Politics and Power in a Slave
Society: Alabama. 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978).
a more skeptical, and in my opinion, more realistic view of partisan politics in an age of
an expanding electorate.8
The use of the phrase "Age of Jackson" in the subtitle of this work is deliberate.
Although considered by some historians to be outdated, the phrase recalls how important
Andrew Jackson, as both an individual and an issue, was to the course of American
politics for more than twenty years. More importantly, it calls to mind the politics of
evasion that men like Mangum practiced throughout this period. In order to build national
coalitions in a nation of such great regional, social, and economic diversity, party leaders
had to mute the more divisive issues, particularly slavery, and focus less volatile questions
or mere symbols. The two major political parties to emerge during the second party
system were nonideological, as were most of their leaders. To appease their broad
constituencies, nineteenth-century political leaders, whom historian Edward Pessen has
referred to as opportunists par excellence, eschewed ideology. Instead, they focused
public attention on the quadrennial contest for the presidency. The "presidential game,"
as Richard P. McCormick noted, drew regional factions together in ways previously
unimagined and forestalled a constitutional crisis over the question that divided North from
South -- slavery. On those occasions when ideologues did get the public's ear -- the
8 Harry L. Watson, Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict: The Emergence of
the Second Party System in Cumberland County North Carolina (Baton Rouge: Louisiana
State University Press, 1981); Marc W. Kruman, Parties and Politics in North Carolina.
1836-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983); Jeffrey, State Parties
and National Politics.
nullification crisis, for example -- politics-as-usual came to a standstill and the pragmatists
had to reassert themselves by restoring banality to center stage.9
What little issue-oriented politics took place in America during this period took
place outside the mainstream. Reformers and idealists had to construct fringe parties or
leave politics aside to form private benevolent societies. According to the nineteenth-
century liberal paradigm, government was defined in the negative. The American people,
still devoted to the idealism of the American Revolution, wanted to limit the power of the
state. Any work beyond collecting taxes, delivering the mail, organizing the military, and
establishing diplomatic missions belonged to the private sector. The services provided by
the state needed civil servants, so those who entered politics were rewarded with control
of vast reserves of patronage. Therefore, government service attracted pragmatists like
Mangum, a man more concerned with power and position than with social uplift.
Laissez-faire government and the politics it spawned insured the rise of a generation
of pragmatists. The parties they built in the late 1820s were born out of personal cliques
9 Edward Pessen, Jacksonian America: Society. Personality, and Politics (Rev. ed.
Homewood Ill.: The Dorsey Press, 1978), pp. 232, 258, 287, 324, 326; Richard P.
McCormick, The Presidential Game: The Origins of American Presidential Politics (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1982); Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics
of Jacksonian America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1990), p. 10; Richard L. McCormick,
The Party Period and Public Policy: American Politics from the Age of Jackson to the
Progressive Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 160-61; David M.
Potter, The Impending Crisis. 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), p. 226;
Frank J. Sorauf, Political Parties in the American System (Boston: Little, Brown and
Company, 1964), pp. 61-65, 127; Glyndon G. Van Deusen, "Some Aspects of Whig
Thought and Theory in the Jacksonian Period," American Historical Review 63
(1958):322; Eric Foner, "Politics, Ideology, and the Origins of the American Civil War,"
in A Nation Divided: Problems and Issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction, ed.
George Fredrickson (Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company, 1975), pp. 15-16.
that had grown dependent on the good will of an ever expanding electorate. With an
innate distrust for activist governments, Mangum and others like him concentrated on
distributing the benefits of the state to these voters in the guise of keeping the state in
check. Tariff policy, incorporation laws, bank charters, internal improvements, and the
redistribution of proceeds from the sale of the public domain, all represented efforts by a
new professional class of politicians to broaden their own power bases while limiting the
reach of the state. As historian Richard L. McCormick has shown, "policies of allocation
and distribution proved remarkably conducive to the formation and persistence of parties."
They were also safe, an essential element in the process of party formation in a large
republic. Pragmatists like Mangum, Henry Clay, and Martin Van Buren built and
maintained the second party system with the belief that immutable principles had to remain
in the background and used distributive policies to guarantee its continuance.0t
While Mangum held strong opinions, he rarely let them interrupt the normal course
of business. In this regard he embodies a centrist tradition as old as the nation itself. For
all of its history the United States produced politicians with the same moderate proclivities.
Compromising individual principles for what was believed to be the greater good of the
nation, men like Mangum defined the nature of national politics for generations to come.
An informal style of management, coupled with his long tenure in the United States
Congress, elevated Mangum to the highest ranks of the national Whig organization. From
there he had a unique perspective on a dynamic era. His career illustrates the varied ways
o1 McCormick, The Party Period and Public Policy, pp. 139. See also, ibid., pp. 206-
in which the Whig elite brokered power and exchanged favors in order to stay in office and
maintain viability. Despite a genuine belief in the principles espoused by the
Revolutionary generation, Mangum and the other political leaders of the era often placed
practical concerns above principles and employed both formal and informal mechanisms
to achieve justifiable ends. Confronting the contradictions between the republican tradition
of an earlier generation and the demands of a society in the throes of a market revolution,
pragmatic politicians organized the electorate and guided American political organizations
from factions to parties.
Biographies humanize the past. For this reason several historians have raised a cry
for more political biographies. David Brion Davis wrote that biographies allow us to
"examine in detail how the personality crisis of a complex individual reflect tensions
within the general culture and how the individual's resolutions of conflict within himself
lead ultimately to transformations within the culture." As this biography will demonstrate,
Willie Mangum personified the dramatic shift in values of southern Whiggery between the
years 1830 and 1850 and so lends Davis' statement credibility." Ronald Formisano also
called for "studies of elite motivation." "The much heralded replacement of traditional
notables by a 'new class' of professional politicians," Formisano wrote in 1974, "should
be systematically studied" if we are to understand the broader political changes that
David Brion Davis, "Some Recent Directions in Cultural History," American
Historical Review 73 (1968):704.
occurred during the early national period.'2 More recently Peter Knupfer and Michael
Holt have made similar appeals.13
The scholarship of the past thirty years has redefined political history as the study
of political culture, constituent behavior, and the ideological basis of mass political parties.
Still, for all their achievements, students of the new political history and the republican
synthesis have replaced flesh and blood characters with abstractions and statistical
aggregates. Biography restores the participants to historical discourse and human agency
to the process of party formation. Indeed, this work represents a necessary corrective to
what I believe to be the overstatements of the republican synthesis. So much of that
literature mistakes political rhetoric for reality. This is not to suggest that Mangum's
generation rejected ideology. Instead, they understood that principles were often luxuries
they could ill afford as they tried, for example, to reconcile the antipartisan rhetoric of
republicanism with the need to organize an expanding electorate. Reviewing two books
on working-class culture in the early republic, both of which rely heavily on the republican
synthesis, critic Richard Stott remarked that he was "continually struck by how implausibly
high-minded artisans usually appear." The same can be said for the politicians of this
period. Like Stott, I believe that "by humanizing [politicians], we will make them more
12 Ronald P. Formisano, "Deferential-Participation Politics: The Early Republic's
Political Culture, 1789-1840," American Political Science Review 68 (1974):478.
13 Peter B. Knupfer, The Union as It Is: Constitutional Unionism and Sectional
Compromise. 1787-1861 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), p. x;
Michael F. Holt, Political Parties and American Development: from the Age of Jackson
to the Age of Lincoln (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992), p. 22.
real, and in some ways more sympathetic, than the relentlessly respectable [politicians] of
so much of the recent literature."14 This study reintroduces party managers to the study
of American politics without retreating to the old elitist perspective. It combines elements
of the new political history and the republican synthesis while seeking to avoid the
The career of Willie Mangum coincides with the early stages of what historians
have labeled the market and transportation revolutions. Many of my ideas about Willie
Mangum and his times have been shaped by the recent literature concerning the changing
political economy of the early national period. A commercial boom after 1815 brought
national and international market forces into local economies, carrying in their wake
important changes in the nature of American politics. Charles Sellers wrote that "a new
generation of realists" eased the transition to a market-driven economy by using the state
to promote economic development. Facing social and economic dislocation, many
Americans fell back on an outdated ideology to express their displeasure with the new
order. Astute rhetoricians like Mangum fashioned their words in such a way as to appear
sympathetic to their pain, champions of their lost cause. In reality, they were nothing of
the sort. Mangum thought that the long-term benefits of economic expansion would be
great for the country. In the meantime, he, along with the rest of the nation, stumbled
through a new age trying to fit old concepts to new problems with little success. Indeed.
14 Richard Stott, "Respectable Artisans," Reviews in American History 22 (1994):228;
See also, John P. Diggins, The Lost Soul of American Politics. Virtue. Self-Interest. and
the Foundations of Liberalism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 12-
14, 105-109, 112-113.
the tension between the promise of the republic and the demands of commercial capitalism
explain the disparity so often seen between Mangum's words and his deeds. Innovations
and inventions in transportation and communication technology only amplified them, as
railroad lines and telegraph wires drew more people into the vortex of national politics.1
The intellectual and ideological route travelled by Mangum closely parallels the
course followed by a generation of Southern Whigs. Like so many other southern Whigs,
Mangum emerged from the Federalist era with loose moorings and no particular political
affiliation. In 1824, Mangum, an advocate of states rights, aligned with the supporters of
William Crawford during the presidential campaign that year. After the Georgian had
suffered a nearly fatal stroke, Mangum reluctantly joined with Andrew Jackson and the
Democrats, once again following the path blazed by a generation of southerners.
Jackson's belligerent response to nullification and his war on the Second Bank of the
United States alarmed conservative southerners like Mangum, who regarded this expansion
of federal power as an encroachment on the rights of the individual states and a threat to
the republic. Eventually Mangum united the opposition in his home state under the Whig
banner and by 1840 had placed them in Henry Clay's hands. For the next decade he and
"5 Quote from, Charles G. Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America. 1815-
1846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 348. See also, Ronald P. Formisano,
The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 16; Daniel Feller, "Politics and Society: Toward a
New Jacksonian Synthesis." Journal of the Early Republic 10 (1990):155. The idea that
pragmatists often carry out the work of idealists is taken from, David Remnick, "The
Hangover," The New Yorker (22 November 1993):51-65. Remnick's observation that
post-Soviet Russia has suffered because ideologues, not pragmatists, lead the government
fits nicely with my ideas and shows them to be timeless.
the other southern Whigs worked side by side with their northern allies. When the alliance
began to deteriorate over the slavery issue, Mangum tried to force upon his fellow
southerners a settlement many could not stomach. The pragmatist did not fully understand
the passions that divided his party. Fittingly, Mangum's gradual physical decline mirrored
that of his dying party. He suffered a series of strokes in the 1850s but lingered until the
outbreak of the Civil War. The North Carolina Whigs also held on until the war, but, like
Mangum, their best days were behind them. He shrunk physically and emotionally to
become a crippled reminder of a bygone era. In September 1861, Willie Person Mangum,
the quintessential southern Whig, suffered his final stroke and died shortly thereafter.'6
6 Cooper, The South and the Politics of Slavery, pp. 163-64.
On May 10, 1792, Catherine Davis Mangum gave birth to her first child at her
home near Red Mountain, North Carolina. Catherine and her husband, William Person
Mangum, named their son Willie (pronounced "Wylie" in the eighteenth-century English
fashion). The new parents had decided to forgo customary naming practices which dictated
that the infant should take the name of a blood relative. Instead, they chose to honor one
of North Carolina's leading citizens, Willie Jones. Born in 1741, Jones represented North
Carolina in the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. Following the war,
he served in the state senate, where he played a leading role in drafting North Carolina's
first constitution. Appointed as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the
ardent anti-Federalist refused the commission and shortly thereafter retired to his spacious
plantation in Halifax. By naming their son for one of North Carolina's most esteemed
patriots, Catherine and William Mangum may have been expressing their own republican
sentiments. On the other hand, they may have simply been paying tribute to a local
aristocrat. In any event, the new parents observed traditional naming patterns with the
newborn's middle name, Person (pronounced "parson"), the family name of the child's
Willie Mangum grew to adulthood in the shadow of what was generously called
Red Mountain, a gradually rising slope situated along the northern border of Orange
County.2 Located in the central piedmont region of North Carolina, Orange was home to
scores of yeoman farmers and a handful of small-scale planters. In 1790 slaves accounted
for 17 percent of the population of Orange County, the vast majority residing with masters
who owned fewer than six chattel. The arable Durham, Wilkes, and Appling loam that
blanketed the rolling hills of northern Orange County proved especially suited to the
cultivation of tobacco, which the first settlers and their descendants produced in
abundance. Some households added to their income by raising small amounts of cotton.
Alongside nominal yields of these cash crops, local residents harvested enough wheat and
corn and reared sufficient quantities of livestock to lead lives of rugged self-sufficiency.
Henry Thomas Shanks, ed., The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5 vols. (Raleigh:
State Department of Archives and History, 1950-1956), l:xv; 5:762; According to
Bertram Wyatt-Brown, parents in the old South were more likely to name their sons for
a family member than for a prominent individual. Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern
Honor: Ethics & Behavior in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982),
pp. 120-21; William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, 4 vols. to date
(Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1979-1991), 3:330-31; Willie
Person Mangum to Washington Hunt, 8 February 1844, Willie P. Mangum Family Papers,
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
2 This area is now part of Durham County. The site of what had been the Mangum
homestead is approximately seven miles north of the town of Bahama, along the Hampton
Road between the Mount Tabor Methodist Church and the town of Rougement. Remnants
of a brick foundation, a dilapidated tobacco shed, and a small graveyard, all resting on
heavily-wooded, state-owned property, are all that remain of the old plantation.
Some of the more resourceful and less temperate inhabitants of Orange distilled goodly
portions of their grain into whiskey and corn mash to smooth over the rougher edges of
their wearisome frontier lives.3
In the 1740s and 1750s the first permanent European settlers arrived in Orange
County by way of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Primarily of Scotch-Irish and German
descent, they came to North Carolina looking for inexpensive land. Historian David
Hackett Fischer describes these backcountry settlers as violent and "intensely resistant to
change. "4 Striking a similar chord, Russel Nye notes that North Carolina was "a
Jeffersonian stronghold of small farmers," adding that the state "seemed hardly Southern
at all in comparison with its. .neighbors [Virginia and South Carolina]."5 The Regulator
Movement, an early expression of backcountry dissatisfaction with North Carolina's
provincial government, epitomized this tradition of self-reliance and violence. On May
16, 1771, the movement, which had spawned several bloodless riots since its inception in
1766, took a fatal turn when 1,185 militiamen equipped with artillery routed a band of two
3 Robert C. Kenzer, Kinship and Neighborhood in a Southern Community: Orange
County. North Carolina, 1849-1881 (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press,
1987), pp. 7, 23, 34-36, 38, 42; William Henry Hoyt, ed., The Papers of Archibald D.
Murphy, 2 vols. (Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission, 1914), 1:38
4 David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1989) p. 650; Thomas Jeffrey, State Parties and National
Politics: North Carolina. 1814-1861 (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1989), p.
12; Kenzer, Kinship and Neighborhood, p. 7.
5 Russel Blaine Nye, The Cultural Life of the New Nation. 1776-1830 (New York:
Harper & Row, 1960), p. 114.
to three thousand ill-trained Regulators along Alamance Creek in Orange County.6 In spite
of their apparent proclivity for lawlessness and civil disobedience, the people of Orange
County created stable communities characterized by strong kinship networks and very little
geographic mobility. Families tended to cluster in one of Orange's eight "neighborhoods,"
where, as historian Robert Kenzer demonstrates, "family and kinship ties," not wealth,
became the primary factors in determining one's status within the community.7 The people
of Orange also founded towns. Hillsborough, the largest settlement in Orange County,
became a center of social, political, commercial, and cultural activity for this largely rural
Planters in early nineteenth century North Carolina fed their offspring a steady diet
of corn pone, smoked bacon, and republicanism. While maize and pork had long been
staples in the Tar Heel larder, republicanism was a relative newcomer that succeeded in
redefining gender roles within the family. Functioning primarily as "the dominant unit of
6 The Regulator Movement began in August of 1766 and was centered in Orange,
Rowan, and Anson Counties. Its initial objective was to combat corruption in the
provincial government and place local authorities "under better and honester regulation."
A. Roger Ekirch, Poor Carolina: Politics and Society in Colonial North Carolina. 1729-
1776 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1981), pp. 164-65; Jeffrey,
State Parties and National Politics, p. 13; Ruth Blackwelder, The Age of Orange: Political
and Intellectual Leadership in North Carolina. 1752-1861 (Charlotte: William Loftin,
Publisher, 1961), pp. vii, 48. Fischer, Albion's Seed, pp. 651.
7 Kenzer, Kinship and Neighborhood, pp. 2, 6, 19.
8 William K. Boyd, "A Draft of the Life of Willie P. Mangum," 1:3, Willie Person
Mangum Papers, Special Collections, Duke University Library, Durham, North Carolina;
Penelope McDuffie, "Chapters in the Life of Willie Person Mangum," The Historical
Papers. Published by the Trinity College Historical Society (Durham: Duke University
Press, 1925), p. 9.
production and reproduction," the plantation household also became a venue for the
indoctrination of future citizens.9 Republican mothers, exemplars of morality and self-
sacrifice, worked to inculcate these same virtues in their sons and daughters. More
demonstrative than earlier generations, turn-of-the-century planters spoke of their children
in unmistakably sentimental terms, emphasizing the intrinsic worth of their progeny over
their potential value as laborers. Fathers displayed new signs of respect for their sons,
granting them great latitude when it came time for the young man to choose a career.
Evidently, the romanticism expressed in the art and literature of this period had found its
way into the domestic life of genteel North Carolinians.'o
The first Mangums to settle in Orange County were Arthur and Lucy Person
Mangum, Willie Mangum's grandparents. Born in the Spring of 1741 in Surry County,
Virginia, Arthur Mangum was of Welsh ancestry. His parents came to North Carolina in
the late 1740s as part of a great wave of migrants pushing south from Virginia in search
9 Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women
of the Old South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988), p. 48;
Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic. 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill: The
University of North Carolina Press, 1969), p. 48; For more on the southern diet see Jack
Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life. 1790-1840 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988),
10 Linda Kerber, Women in the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary
America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980), pp. 11, 52, 283;
Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household, 109, 287-88; Larkin, The Reshaping of
Everyday Life, pp. 52-52; Jane Turner Censer, North Carolina Planters and Their
Children. 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984), pp. xv-xvi,
16-18, 39, 62; Philip Greven, The Protestant Temperament: Patterns of Child-Rearing.
Religious Experience, and the Self in Early America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977),
of inexpensive and fertile land. That same exodus carried the family of Arthur's future
bride Lucy. In the early 1760s, Arthur Mangum purchased several tracts of land in the
Flat River neighborhood of Orange County. Arthur Mangum believed that in addition to
providing a richer soil, the higher elevation along the base of Red Mountain would protect
him and his family from the "fever and chills" that plagued folks in the lower lying areas
of the county. Raising tobacco, hogs, cattle, wheat, and corn and marketing their surplus
yield, Arthur and Lucy Mangum soon prospered. At the time of his death in March of
1789, Arthur Mangum's estate included an estimated 950 acres of land and seven slaves.
A substantial portion of this acreage would one day come into the possession of Willie
Lucy and Arthur Mangum raised seven children on their Orange County plantation.
Their first child, William Person Mangum, born in 1762, was Willie Mangum's father.12
Upon the death of his own father in 1789, William inherited 200 acres of land. Over the
course of his life he would augment this bequest by more than 2,300 acres and purchase
at least 21 slaves. An estate of this size placed William Mangum within the ranks of North
'1 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:84-85; 4:242; 5:746-47, 759; Kenzer,
Kinship and Neighborhood, pp. 8-9; Stephen B. Weeks, "Willie Person Mangum," in
Biographical History of North Carolina: From Colonial Times to the Present, Samuel A.
Ashe, ed., 8 vols. (Greensboro: Charles L. Van Noppen, 1905-1917), 5:238; Shirley
Jones Mallard, "Marcus Harris Mangum: His Ancestors and His Descendants," North
Carolina Collection, Durham County Public Library, Durham, North Carolina, pp. 6-15.
12 The exact date of William's birth remains uncertain. Most of the biographical and
genealogical studies relating to the Mangum family give the year as 1762, but always with
the qualifier "circa" placed before the date. McDuffie, "Chapters in the Life of Willie P.
Mangum," p. 12; Weeks, "Willie Person Mangum," p. 239; Mallard, "Marcus Harris
Mangum," p. 10.
Carolina planter society. His system of values, most notably his desire to provide his
children with formal education, reinforced his identification with the ruling element of the
Part of the responsibility for managing the family farm and raising the children fell
to William's wife, Catherine Davis Mangum. Born in the Schuylkill River region of
Pennsylvania, Catherine came with her family to Orange County when she was a child.
The exact date of her marriage to William Mangum is unknown. On April 3, 1795 she
gave birth to her second son, Priestly Hinton Mangum, and on January 28, 1798 delivered
a third, Walter Alvis Mangum. All three of her children survived to adulthood. Beyond
these facts little else is known of Willie Mangum's mother. In all probability, Catherine
was a conventional wife and mother who tried to instill in her three boys religious devotion
and republican principles.14 She may have also suffered periodic bouts of depression, a
condition her eldest son feared hereditary. When she died on March 11, 1829, Priestly
Mangum informed his brother Willie that their father was grief stricken and that "the best
and dearest of our family is taken from us."15
'1 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, l:xv; 5:747; Mallard, "Marcus Harris
Mangum," p.13; Federal Records, United States Bureau of the Census, 1800 and 1810;
Censer, North Carolina Planters and Their Children, pp. 42-42.
14 Censer, North Carolina Planters and Their Children, pp. xv, 16-18; Larkin, The
Reshaping of Everyday Life, pp. 52-53; Ariana Holliday Mangum, "A Short History of
the Mangum Family," North Carolina Collection, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, pp. 4-5.
"5 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:358-59, 368.
The obvious affection Priestly felt for his mother was equaled, if not surpassed, by
the strong attachment he and his brother Willie had for one another. Their close
companionship, which began in childhood, remained steadfast throughout both their lives.
As schoolmates at the University of North Carolina, Willie and Priestly belonged to the
same debating society and graduated together. As the two matured so did their
relationship. Priestly, who built a successful law practice in Hillsborough, became Willie
Mangum's most trusted confidant. The younger Mangum gave his brother political advice
and looked after his personal and financial affairs while the elder Mangum was away from
Red Mountain. The respective skills and temperaments of Willie and Priestly worked to
their mutual advantage. Priestly, the more scholarly of the two, expressed his political
views freely and without fear of offending his listeners, a habit that rendered him ill-suited
to a political career. John Chavis, a mutual acquaintance of the two brothers, attributed
Priestly's misfortunes at the polls to his "stubborn unyielding disposition" and his habit of
condescension.16 However, his legal expertise and social contacts made him a valuable
asset to his brother. Priestly also appears to have been more cautious in matters
concerning his personal health and safety. His rejection of excess in every form, for
example, contrasted sharply with the recklessness exhibited by his brother, who often
drove his sulky at high speeds and overindulged in alcohol. Surprisingly, their differences
proved more often to be a source of amusement then a cause for discord. As an expression
of his profound admiration and respect for his older sibling, Priestly named his second son
16 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:414.
Willie P. Mangum, Jr.'7 Shortly after Priestly's death in 1850, a deeply depressed and
dispirited Willie Mangum wrote of his late brother, that for "all his peculiarities" he was
"the best, & most honest male friend that I had in the world."'"
By way of contrast, Willie Mangum's relationship with his brother Walter could
best be described as ambivalent. The most mercenary of the three Mangum brothers,
Walter's quest for wealth carried him far from Red Mountain. He left home with few
regrets. His friends gone and the land "poor and barren," he could think of no reason to
stay. Even his involvement in a hunting accident that claimed the life of his brother-in-law
did not compel him to return to the comfort of his family."9 In 1832 he prospected for
gold in the mountains of western North Carolina. By the following year Walter had
relocated with his wife and children in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. There he earned
a living raising cotton, trading in slaves, and speculating in land. By 1856, Walter's
wanderlust had taken him to Louisiana by way of Alabama. Seven years later he fled with
his family to Texas to avoid the turmoil of the Civil War. After the war, the refugees
17 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:14; 5:99, 749-50; Evidence of Priestly
Mangum's role as a political and financial advisor to his brother can be found in all five
volumes of Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum. For just a few examples see, 1:97,
118, 300, 366; 2:117-18, 378-79, 395-97; 3:143, 191; 4:299-300, 377; 5:13, 177; Boyd,
"A Draft of the Life of Willie P. Mangum," 8:2; Nathan Sargent, Public Men and Events:
From the Commencement of Mr. Monroe's Administration. in 1817. to the Close of Mr.
Fillmore's Administration. in 1853, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1875),
'8 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5:200.
19 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 2:48, 339.
returned to Louisiana, where Walter died on January 20, 1868.20 The physical distance
separating Willie Mangum from his brother Walter may well explain an emotional
dissonance between the two. Writing to his wife in 1836, Willie Mangum said of Walter,
"I fear [Walter] is never to come to good & yet I feel the strongest & most painful anxiety
on his account."21 The passage of time did not bridge this gap. In 1854 Walter lamented
to his older brother, "I feel we live too cold & inattentive to each other."22 Despite
Walter's plaint, there is no evidence to suggest that their differences were ever completely
Like many planters in North Carolina, William and Catherine Mangum established
a general store on the grounds of their estate, near the intersection of the Oxford and
Hillsborough highways. The store may have generated additional income for the family,
but, more significantly, it placed the Mangums at the center of community life. On its
shelves customers could expect to see canisters of tea, coffee, sugar, spices, salt, candy,
and fruit as well as a wide array of nonperishables, soap, ribbons, cutlery, gloves, and
boots. The store was also a locus of social and political activity. Neighbors and strangers
20 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:571; 2:48, 338-39; 3:211, 287, 295-
96; 5:312; Weeks, "Willie Person Mangum," p. 239.
21 Willie Person Mangum to Charity Mangum, 17 April 1836, Willie Person Mangum
Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Walter's later involvement in
the slave trade may have contributed to his estrangement from his brother Willie.
Mangum family tradition alleges that Willie Mangum prohibited his daughter Mary from
marrying a slave trader because he found the occupation disreputable. Shanks, The Papers
of Willie P. Mangum, 5:760.
22 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5:298.
gathered there to read newspapers, drink spirits, converse, and gamble. On election day
the Mangum's place served as the local polling center and throughout the year it
functioned as a post office. In his youth, Willie Mangum worked at the store, where he
learned the art of debate from customers who would sit for hours and argue about the latest
political controversy or local event. Willie Mangum rapidly acquired a flair for oratory
and an ability to joke and mingle with people that would prove useful in his public life.23
Young Willie Mangum's responsibilities at the store included more than simple
clerking. His name appears alongside his father's in an account receipt dated May 30,
1807, suggesting that local merchants recognized the younger Mangum as a partner in the
business. His father also entrusted him to collect debts from customers who had left the
area without meeting their obligations. In 1808, Willie and one of his father's slaves
traveled to eastern Tennessee to retrieve a man who had defaulted on his debt to the elder
Mangum. Willie Mangum's journey into the Tennessee wilderness was not his first
adventure away from Red Mountain. Late in 1802, he had stowed away aboard a tobacco
wagon bound for market in Petersburg, Virginia. Once the party had gone too far to make
the boy's return home impractical, Willie made his appearance, but William gave his son
a lesson by placing him on horseback, where the cold autumn air gave the boy reason to
regret his mischief. Despite such minor challenges to parental authority, William Mangum
allowed his son to decide for himself which career he would pursue. When Willie
23 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, l:xvi, 1; 5:748; Kenzer, Kinship and
Neighborhood, pp. 20, 37; Guion Griffis Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social
History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937), pp. 98-99; Larkin, The
Reshaping of Everyday Life, p. 174.
confessed that he was "not cut out to handle a yardstick, and never expected to be a
merchant," his father apparently never questioned his decision.24
Having learned the rudiments of farming and business at Red Mountain, Willie
Mangum left home to begin his formal education. In 1809 and 1810, Mangum attended
the Fayetteville Academy, where he studied under the Reverend Colin Mclver. Before
that, he had trained privately under Thomas A. Flint and a local African-American
educator named John Chavis.25 He studied briefly at the Hillsborough Academy before
enrolling at the Raleigh Academy early in 1811. There he worked under the tutelage of
the Reverend Dr. William McPheeters. One of the finest preparatory schools in the state,
the Raleigh Academy offered courses in reading and writing at a cost of three dollars per
quarter. Students willing to invest two dollars more were also taught "advanced" English
and the classics. Mangum's test scores indicate that he had paid the higher sum. On June
24 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:1; 5:747-49; Censer, North Carolina
Planters and Their Children, pp. xvi, 62.
Mangum's exact relationship to John Chavis has been a subject of debate. Edgar W.
Knight, Chavis' biographer, contends that the pedagogue's lifelong correspondence with
both Willie and Priestly, particularly the manner in which he addressed the two, suggest
a teacher-student relationship. Chavis referred to his former pupils as "my sons," a phrase
he used frequently when referring to the Mangum brothers. The fact that neither Willie
nor Priestly ever protested the use of this informal expression lends circumstantial support
to Knight's contention. Dr. Archibald Henderson, author of a biographical sketch of
Mangum published in the Durham Herald Sun, argued that the Chavis-Mangum connection
was a fiction concocted by Knight in order to exaggerate the importance of his subject.
Henderson offers no evidence to back his claims. Similarly, Mangum Turner, Willie
Mangum's great-grandson, refutes Knight's contention without offering contradictory
evidence. Edgar W. Knight, "Notes on John Chavis," North Carolina Historical Review
7 (1930): 326, 345; Herald Sun (Durham) 6 October 1935; Shanks, The Papers of Willie
P. Mangum, 1:315-318, 506-508, 574-576; 3:478; 4:186-188; 5:753.
21, 1811, the Raleigh Star reported that he had "excelled" in the academy's semi-annual
examinations, earning distinction for his comprehension of the "Odes of Homer" and
"Greek Testament. "26
Mangum's intellect also impressed Archibald Haralson, his roommate during his
first term at the University of North Carolina at nearby Chapel Hill. On September 13,
1811, Haralson wrote that Mangum had "a mind of a speculative turn and was gifted with
more than ordinary sagacity." Together the two young students studied Hume, Lucian,
and others and discussed the "arguments and accuracy of their deductions." And while
their conversations often digressed into the realm of "absurdity," Haralson found them to
be enjoyable and beneficial.27 The following spring, Mangum returned to the Raleigh
Academy, this time as an instructor. While there, he again caught the attention of the
local press. Representing the Raleigh Polemic Society, Mangum delivered a Fourth of
July oration before an audience at the state capital, which the Raleigh Register described
as "handsome and appropriate. "28
Mangum attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1811 to
1815. At the time the institution was small, employing a staff of three professors and one
tutor. Like most southern colleges in the early nineteenth century, the University of North
26 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, l:xvi; 2:44-45; Weeks, "Willie Person
Mangum," p. 239; Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina, pp. 286-288; Raleigh Star, 21
June 1811. Hillsborough Recorder, 11 September 1861.
27 Hoyt, The Papers of Archibald D. Murphy, 1:54.
28 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:3; 5:417, 460; Raleigh Register, 10
July 1812; Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina, p. 323.
Carolina continued to emphasize classical Greek and Latin literature and theology.
University rules required students to attend public worship every Sunday. Tuition, room,
board, and other expenses amounted to about fifty-eight dollars per session. The academic
year was divided into two sessions: the first running from early January to late May, and
the second extending from the middle of June to the middle of November. The students
enjoyed active social lives, carefully balancing their schedules to accommodate both their
lessons and the young women of Chapel Hill. In later years Willie Mangum would recall
his days at the University as the happiest of his life, "when in 'sweet dalliance' we pluck
the gay primrose & scarcely feel the thorn. "29
Mangum most enjoyed his association with the Dialectic Society, one of the
campus' two debating clubs. "The Dialectic Society," he wrote in 1838, "is more
endeared to my memories & more interesting to my affections than perhaps even our
venerable 'Alma Mater.'"3' When he joined the organization in 1811, Mangum found
himself in the company of young men who shared common intellectual, social, and
regional backgrounds. The Dialectic Society drew its members primarily from the
piedmont and western part of the state, while its opposite, the Philanthropic Society,
recruited its members from the eastern counties. Clearly, the regionalism that defined
29 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:5-6; 2:529; Wyatt-Brown, Southern
Honor, pp. 92-94; McDuffie, "Chapters in the Life of Willie P. Mangum," p. 15; Kemp
Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, vol. 1: From Its Beginning to the
Death of President Swain. 1789-1868 (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company,
1907), p. 230.
30 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 2:529.
North Carolina politics during this period was evident in the social intercourse that
prevailed at the University. The political alliances of the late 1820s were also partly
determined by former club membership. Many young men whose names appeared on the
rolls of the Dialectic Society would later occupy the highest offices in state and national
politics. Among its distinguished alumni were future President James K. Polk, future
United States Senators William Henry Haywood and Bedford Brown, future United States
Representative Romulus Sanders, and future North Carolina Governors John Motley
Morehead and Charles Manly. The connections Mangum made as a member of the society
would serve him well in his political career.31
Beyond affording Mangum important professional and social contacts, the Dialectic
Society gave him an opportunity to improve his debating, oratorical, and writing skills.
He also learned about parliamentary procedure. Members conducted their weekly
meetings with great formality, tolerating only the most innocent breaches of etiquette.
Repeated violations of the organization's bylaws resulted in expulsion from the society.
During Willie's tenure, the organization dismissed only one member while admitting
scores of applicants. Willie served on several committees, including one created to
establish a code of moral conduct for society members, and from March 17 to April 7,
31 University of North Carolina Dialectic Society Records, Minutes, 1812-1818,
University of North Carolina Archives, Chapel Hill; "Catalogue of the Members of the
Dialectic Society Instituted in the University of North Carolina June 3, 1795, Together
with Historical Sketches," Printed for the Society, 1890, Southern Historical Collection,
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:7;
Max R. Williams, "William A. Graham: North Carolina Whig Party Leader, 1804-1849,"
(Ph. D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1965), pp. 28-29.
1814 he acted as presiding officer. The society sponsored a library for the private use of
its members. There they would prepare their debates, the highlight of the weekly
assembly. A review of the topics assigned, as well as the conclusions reached, reveals the
character of the club's members. On August 26, 1813, romantics won the day with the
assertion that love had a "greater effect on the minds of men" than fear. Such idealism
appears to have been the exception, not the rule. One week earlier the polemicists had
answered the question, "Is the prosperity of a nation promoted by continual peace?" in the
negative. The group also decided that it would be impolitic to emancipate the slaves or
grant foreign-born citizens the same privileges reserved for native-born Americans. The
conservative bent of society members is evident in both the questions they chose to debate
and the answers they agreed to record.32 In 1858, more than forty years after leaving
Chapel Hill, Mangum professed that "many of my most happy and agreeable
reminiscences are most interestingly entwined" with the Dialectic Society. His sympathy
for its collegial function and political principles remained undiminished by the passage of
The onset of war with Great Britain in 1812 disrupted Mangum's idyllic interlude
at Chapel Hill. The conflict exacerbated divisions between critics and supporters of the
Madison Administration. These differences were especially acute in North Carolina,
where Federalism remained a viable political force. Despite their genuine attempts to
32 University of North Carolina Dialectic Society Records, Minutes, 1812-1818,
University of North Carolina Archives, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
33 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5:356.
appear supportive of the American war effort, Federalists were unable to dissociate
themselves from the antiwar sentiments they had expressed before the outbreak of
hostilities. As the war dragged on and victory seemed more elusive, Tar Heels polarized
into pro- and anti-Administration camps. These divisions eventually found their way onto
the campus of the University of North Carolina and into the home of university president
Robert Hett Chapman." Chapman's frequent criticism of the war enraged his Republican
students. In January of 1814 a group of pro-war activists ransacked the president's home,
ran off with some of his property, and broke into the president's stable, where they cut the
tail off his horse. Outraged, Chapman conducted a thorough investigation of the crime,
but the hearing soon degenerated into a witch-hunt, as Chapman allowed hearsay and
conjecture to implicate several innocent students. Among the witnesses called to give
evidence was Willie Mangum, whose testimony included speculative answers to leading
questions.35 Mangum's cooperation with the sham trial led some of his contemporaries to
question his allegiance and condemn him as an informer and a collaborator. Years later
his political opponents revived the episode in the Jacksonian press in an attempt to portray
34 Federalists occupied as many as 40 percent of the seats in the North Carolina House
of Commons during the war. James Broussard, "The North Carolina Federalists, 1800-
1816," North Carolina Historical Review 55 (1978): 19, 36-37, 39; James Broussard, The
Southern Federalists, 1800-1816 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978),
p. 154-56, 176; Daniel M. McFarland, "Rip Van Winkle: Political Evolution in North
Carolina, 1815-1835," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1954), pp. 15-16,
35 Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, p. 233-36.
their rival as a reactionary and a "blue light federal speechifier."36 Mangum never tried
to hide his early political sympathies. On September 24, 1814, fellow student Stephen
Sneed was pleased to inform Mangum that "the good old cause of Federalism continues
triumphant" on the campus of the University of North Carolina.37 In fact, Mangum's
affiliation with the Federalist Party would continue as long as the party remained intact.
On June 16, 1815, Willie Person Mangum graduated from the University of North
Carolina. The day-long commencement ceremony featured speeches, an oration on
"natural philosophy" and four debates. Of the eighteen students to graduate that day,
Willie Mangum was the only one who did not participate in any of the presentations.
Mangum's absence from the podium suggests that he was the only member of his class to
be denied academic honors. Despite his meager record, Mangum's affiliation with the
University did not end on that summer day. In 1818, he earned a Master of Arts degree.
That same year he became a trustee, a post he would hold until 1858. As a member of the
prestigious board, Mangum helped restore solvency to the institution after years of
declining enrollment and decreased funding. In 1845, the University rewarded his
achievements with the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. Ironically, two of Mangum's
most powerful political adversaries, President James K. Polk and Attorney General John
Young Mason, received similar honors that same day. Throughout his life Mangum would
36 North Carolina Standard (Raleigh), 15 December 1835; Shanks, The Papers of
Willie P. Mangum, 2:365-66.
37 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:5; Broussard, The Southern Federalists,
pp. 181-82, 192.
remain loyal to his alma mater, advising friends to educate their sons at Chapel Hill and
working to promote the interests of his fellow alumni.38
At the time of his graduation Mangum looked ahead to a bright future. His
optimism was well founded, for his early training and experiences had adequately prepared
him for the legal career he anticipated. From his first days on the family farm at Red
Mountain to the long hours spent at the general store, he had gained a unique
understanding of the people of Orange County. Local kinship networks gave him the
support and influence needed by every new applicant to the bar. His academic training
was likewise sufficient to the task set before him. By the standards of his neighbors,
Mangum was a child of privilege. He had been given a good education and made
important social contacts along the way. As he grew older these assets would prove
invaluable. The foundation set at Red Mountain and elsewhere enabled him to move
comfortably in elite social circles and provided him access to the highest reaches of power.
38 Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, pp. 247, 325-26, 496, 788, 823;
General Alumni Association, The University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: Alumni
Directory (Durham: Seeman Printery, Inc., 1954), p. 590; Shanks, The Papers of Willie
P. Mangum, 4:240, 306-307; 5:461.
Within ten years of his graduation from the University of North Carolina, Willie
Mangum was already becoming one of the most influential figures in state politics. The
protege of the well-connected Duncan Cameron, he had established a successful law
practice, started a family, and served in both the state and federal governments. His rise
to the North Carolina Superior Court in 1819 at the age of twenty seven won him the title,
"Judge," an honorific which he never relinquished, despite future achievements. The
appellation elevated his status beyond his ordinary lineage. The work, however, involved
inconveniences that sometimes seemed to mock the deference due his judicial robes. He
frequently complained about squalid living quarters, poor health, and dangerous roads --
so much so that Mangum never seemed happy riding the circuits and looked impatiently
for an advancement far from such discomforts. At this juncture Willie Mangum developed
his public persona. A favorite in courtrooms and on the hustings, he possessed an uncanny
knack for anticipating the public will and adapting his mannerisms and voice accordingly.
This receptiveness to change served him well in a time of political flux, as politicians
scrambled to adjust to new circumstances.'
Henry Thomas Shanks, ed., The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5 vols. (Raleigh: State
Department of Archives and History, 1950-1956), 1:28-31, 35-36; 5:461, 750-751, 754-
Willie Mangum left the University of North Carolina bent on pursuing a life in
politics. Like many others of his generation, he thought legal training the most
appropriate way to prepare for that career. The custom of the day dictated that he find a
patron with whom to study the law and aid his ambitions. Such a mentor was Duncan
Cameron, a neighboring planter with ties to the state leadership. The son of an Anglican
minister, the Virginia-born Cameron had made his fortune in agriculture before entering
the North Carolina House of Commons as a Federalist in 1802. By 1824, he had served
five terms in the lower chamber and three in the state Senate. An advocate of state
funding for internal improvement projects, he also served intermittently as the president
of the Bank of North Carolina, sat as a trustee of the University of North Carolina, and
was once the clerk of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Between 1814 and 1816
Cameron, who was also a prominent attorney, served as a judge on the Superior Court.
At the time of his death in 1853, he was one of the wealthiest men in the state, with
several plantations and more than one thousand slaves.2
Duncan Cameron and his family made their home at Fairntosh, a plantation located
approximately eight miles from Mangum's place of birth. It was here that Mangum
2 Biographical sketch of Duncan Cameron, Cameron Family Papers, Southern
Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; William
S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, 4 vols. to date (Chapel Hill: The
University of North Carolina Press, 1979-1991), 1:311-312; Harold J. Counihan, "North
Carolina 1815-1836: State and Local Perspectives on the Age of Jackson," (Ph. D.
dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1971), p. 64; James H.
Broussard, "The North Carolina Federalists, 1800-1816," North Carolina Historical
Review 55 (1978): 40; Sharon Kettering, "The Historical Development of Political
Clientism," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (1988): 425-26.
studied law. In exchange for his patronage, Cameron asked that Mangum tutor his two
young sons, Thomas and Paul. The nature of Mangum's relationship with Thomas, the
older of the two boys, is unclear. Born mentally disabled, Thomas never married and
apparently did not have much contact with Mangum after he left the services of the
Cameron family. Conversely, Paul developed a special rapport with his preceptor and the
two became fast friends. Mangum's lifelong obligation to the Cameron family appears to
have been a debt he paid without complaint. A grateful client, he would later use his
political influence to assist both Duncan and Paul. He promoted Duncan Cameron's
political fortunes, at times at some personal sacrifice, and often turned to his patron for
council during election campaigns. Throughout his life, Paul Cameron, who would later
inherit and expand his father's estate, advised Mangum on matters of local importance and
lent financial assistance to the Mangum family.3
Willie Mangum excelled in his legal studies. An eager student, he spent his
afternoons reading in the law office of Duncan Cameron and his evenings privately
reviewing the day's lessons in his room at Fairntosh. Working well into the night, often
by the light of a single candle, his alacrity won him the admiration of his mentor. The
study of law in early nineteenth century North Carolina was an inexact science. The time
allotted for aspiring lawyers to complete their education was indefinite. Applicants simply
took the bar exam when they felt ready. As a judge of the Superior Court, Duncan
Cameron had the authority to administer the state bar exam to his pupil. It remains
3 Powell, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, 1:312; Shanks, The Papers of Willie
P. Mangum, 1:69, 82-84, 88-89; 2:291, 435, 528.
unknown if he chose to exercise this right; what is known is that Mangum passed the test.
According to one historian, Mangum's success was not unusual, for the test was a mere
formality. Nearly every student who took the bar exam during this period passed it.4
On March 2, 1817, the Superior Courts of Law and the Courts of Equity for the
state of North Carolina granted Willie Mangum a license to practice law. The new
advocate wasted little time in establishing a name for himself. Riding the fourth circuit,
he moved from one courthouse to the next, building a reputation and making important
contacts. He took on both criminal and civil cases and quickly mastered the art of
manipulating his audience. Tall, good looking, and well dressed, the eloquent young
attorney impressed jurors with his colorful, sometimes theatrical, displays. His face
contorted, his lips quivering, his arms waving, Mangum would begin closing arguments
in a whisper that rose with each syllable until the courtroom echoed with the sound of his
deep voice. An ability to express complex ideas without ever condescending to listeners
sat well with folks who appreciated the show of respect. When defending his kin,
Mangum held nothing in reserve: any tactic was fair game when his client's freedom or
life was at stake. One appreciative cousin claimed that Mangum's unrelenting cross-
4 Fannie Memory Farmer, "The Bar Examination and the Beginning Years of Legal
Practice in North Carolina, 1820-1860," North Carolina Historical Review 29 (1952):
160-163; Hillsborough Recorder, 11 September 1861; Shanks, The Papers of Willie P.
examination of an unfriendly witness kept him out of prison. In time, Mangum's hard
work would pay handsomely. For now, however, his thoughts turned to politics.5
Willie Mangum made his first bid for elective office at a time when the first party
system, such as it was, had disintegrated. Prior to 1815, Federalism had been an
important force in North Carolina. Strongest in the eastern counties, party lines in North
Carolina mirrored long-standing regional divisions. Although reduced to a minority party
after the election of 1800, Federalists continued to hold seats in both houses of the state
legislature. As late as 1815, one third of state officeholders identified themselves as
Federalists. Following the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans and the
conclusion of the war against Great Britain, many North Carolina Federalists began to
assert that the absence of a foreign threat had rendered political parties obsolete and had
ushered in an "era of good feelings." Skeptics saw this as an attempt by the North
Carolina Federalists to distance themselves from their counterparts in New England and
the discredited Hartford Convention; perhaps, but the debate had changed. During the
1790s, competing forces within President George Washington's cabinet polarized over the
conduct of American foreign policy. This factionalism gradually reached the state level,
giving rise to an embryonic party system. With the Treaty of Ghent, old questions
5 J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, Party Politics in North Carolina. 1835-1860 (Durham:
Seeman Printery, 1916), p. 32; Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:9-10, 15, 34,
53; 5:417, 433-434; Hillsborough Recorder, 11 September 1861; Priestly Mangum's
License to Practice Law, Willie P. Mangum Family Papers, Library of Congress,
appeared settled and many officials in North Carolina and elsewhere found themselves in
search of a cause around which they could rally the faithful.6
The postwar nationalist agenda of Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and other up-and-
coming politicians proved to be the stimulant for political realignment in North Carolina.
Naturally suspicious of any attempt to expand the powers of the central government,
former Federalists formed the core of southern opposition to a national bank, the tariff,
and federally funded internal improvements. Economic issues had eclipsed foreign policy
as the primary source of dissonance in American politics. One constant factor in this
atmosphere of uncertainty was the leadership. Despite new issues, new alliances, and
egalitarian pretensions, the same class of men responsible for guiding North Carolina
through the first party system would guide her through the second. Constitutional limits
on suffrage, property qualifications for office holders, and the "voluntary deference" of
the electorate assured that power would remain in the hands of the landed elite.7
6 James H. Broussard, The Southern Federalists, 1800-1816 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana
State University Press, 1978), 181-183; Richard P. McCormick, The Second American
Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era (Chapel Hill: The University of
North Carolina Press, 1966), pp. 200; For the best account of party formation during the
1790s see Richard Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate
Opposition in the United States. 1790-1840 (Berkeley: University of California Press,
7 Quote from Harry L. Watson, Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict: The
Emergence of the Second Party System in Cumberland County North Carolina (Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981), p. 91; Broussard, The Southern
Federalist, p. 183; Thomas E. Jeffrey, State Parties and National Politics: North Carolina.
1815-1861 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989), p. 51; Marc W. Kruman, Parties
and Politics in North Carolina. 1836-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Press, 1983), p. 11.
The old lines dividing Federalists and Republicans had lost their significance.
Leaders drifted from one faction to the next without regard to previous affiliation.
Increasingly, personalities became the focal point of state and local elections, as office
seekers and voters adjusted their allegiance with each new contest. Even before the
collapse of the first party system, partisan identification among the electorate in North
Carolina had been weak. Officials failed to create enduring organizations. Besides facing
formidable logistic barriers -- most notably inadequate transportation and communication
networks -- potential organizers confronted a populace hostile to the very idea of party.
Most Americans regarded them as unnecessary, antithetical to republican institutions, and
a threat to liberty. This prepartisan political culture dictated the nature of political
discourse in early nineteenth century North Carolina. Candidates avoided any action that
could be interpreted as advancing the interests of the few at the expense of the many. So
while partisan identification remained a loose determinant of voting behavior during
presidential elections, local elections continued to center on the personalities of the
8 Watson, Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict, pp. 66, 70, 80-81, 87;
McCormick, The Second American Party System, pp. 177, 200; Richard L. McCormick,
The Party Period and Public Policy: American Politics from the Age of Jackson to the
Progressive Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 157; Max R. Williams,
"Reemergence of the Two Party System," in The North Carolina Experience: An
Interpretive and Documentary History, eds. Lindley S. Butler and Alan D. Watson
(Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 242; For an excellent study
describing the role modern transportation and communication networks played in the
formation of mass political parties see, Ronald P. Formisano, The Transformation of
Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties. 1790s-1840s (New York: Oxford University
Political power in North Carolina rested in the legislative branch of the state
government and in the county courts. The state Constitution of 1776 provided for a weak
executive, elected annually by the state legislature. Really nothing more than a
figurehead, the governor had no veto power and controlled very little patronage. By way
of contrast, the state legislature was "almost omnipotent. "9 Invested with the authority to
appoint members of the judiciary, legislators also recommended local justices of the peace,
who in turn dominated the county courts. The average North Carolinian rarely had any
contact with state and national officials. To them, government meant the county courts,
which had jurisdiction in most criminal and civil suits, performed essential legislative and
administrative duties, and levied 75 percent of the taxes paid into state coffers. In effect,
the bicameral legislature controlled, either by direct or indirect means, all levels of
government within the state. Membership within that body was extremely fluid.
Freshmen lawmakers comprised 40 to 45 percent of each new assembly. Despite the high
turnover, the demographic makeup of the State House changed little from one year to the
next. Property qualifications of three hundred acres of land for state senators and one
hundred acres for commoners, precluded most Tar Heels from seeking elective office.10
Willie Mangum entered this milieu in 1818 with his first run for North Carolina
House of Commons, the lower chamber of the General Assembly. The former farm boy
9 Kruman, Parties and Politics, p.45.
'1 McCormick, The Second American Party System, pp. 199-200; Counihan, "North
Carolina 1815-1836," pp. 42-43, 170; Kruman, Parties and Politics, pp. 12, 45-46;
Jeffrey, State Parties and National Politics, p. 50.
proved well suited to the rough and tumble of rural Orange County politics. In an age
when voters expected their politicians to be both entertaining and edifying, campaigns took
on a carnival atmosphere. As candidates debated on makeshift platforms, potential voters
listened with rapt attention. During lulls in the formal proceedings, townsfolk could be
found wrestling, wagering on horse races and other games of chance, or picnicking on the
fare provided by their hosts. "Treating," a custom whereby office seekers provided their
audiences with hard liquor and food, remained a common practice, despite having been
outlawed at the turn of the century. Candidates also took advantage of court days, Sunday
sermons, militia musters, and any other ready-made gathering, to deliver their messages
or confront opponents."
Willie Mangum felt at ease in these surroundings. Listeners appreciated his refusal
to alter his speaking style with each new crowd. He abhorred the disingenuousness of
well-heeled speakers who adopted folksy language when addressing rural audiences.
Instead, he proudly displayed his erudition. Mangum's candor provided a welcome
change. His impressive physique, mellifluous voice, and ready wit endeared him to local
audiences. In addition to engaging voters from the stump, he often canvassed from house
to house, concentrating on dwellings rumored to be unfriendly to his candidacy. Clearly,
he was one of them, a local plebeian who had risen by the dint of his own labor to become
a member of the ruling class. He embodied both the promise of democracy and the
McCormick, The Second American Party System, p. 201; Daniel M. McFarland,
"Rip Van Winkle: Political Evolution in North Carolina, 1815-1835," (Ph. D. dissertation,
University of Pennsylvania, 1954), pp. 27-28.
paradox of an egalitarian society; he had become a man of the people by rising above the
people. They granted him their deference and allowed him to shape public opinion. In
August of 1818, the citizens of Orange honored Mangum by electing him one of their two
representatives to the House of Commons.12
In November of 1818, Mangum journeyed to Raleigh to take his seat in the
assembly. The dusty streets of the little state capital were lined with brick and wooden
buildings. A four-story brick tavern called Casso's stood as the tallest structure in town,
and the three-storied Eagle Hotel offered visitors the most comfortable accommodations.
Legislators who did not stay at the Eagle or one of the city's four other hotels, took
lodgings at private rooming houses. In the evenings, lawmakers would gather at Casso's,
the Indian Queen, or one of several other local taverns near the Capitol to drink, dine and
relax after the day's work. Conversation often turned to politics, as debates begun at the
State House concluded in the ale house. Politicians cemented their alliances over an apple
brandy or glass of whiskey. Raleigh's informal style of politics aided newcomers like
Mangum, whose personal charms worked to a much greater effect when lubricated by
alcohol. Receptions at the Governor's mansion and "subscription balls" offered additional
opportunities for young assemblymen to ingratiate themselves with senior officials outside
the formal confines of the State House.13
12 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5:430, 434; Martha Person Mangum,
Diary, 12 June 1853, Willie P. Mangum Family Papers, Library of Congress,
Washington, D.C.; North Carolina Standard (Raleigh), 21 August 1818.
13 Counihan, "North Carolina 1815-1836," pp. 34-36.
In taverns and in the Capitol, Mangum forged alliances with some of North
Carolina's leading statesmen. Orange County state senator Archibald DeBow Murphey
proved an important ally during Mangum's first term. A close friend of Duncan Cameron,
Murphey championed state funding for internal improvements at a time when many North
Carolinians were reluctant to fund expensive projects. Mangum also associated with
William Gaston, who, like Murphey, was a Federalist of long-standing repute. Bartlett
Yancey, the powerful Speaker of the State Senate, likewise worked with the first-term
commoner, albeit in an unofficial capacity.4
Clearly, Mangum had acted in his own best interests when selecting his
confederates. Powerful men one and all, Murphey, Gaston, and Yancey would later assist
Mangum in his ascent up the ladder of state and national politics. However, these
alliances must also be understood within the context of regional factionalism in North
Carolina. Divisions between wealthy eastern counties and the less prosperous west formed
the basis of factional disputes as old as the state itself. Intermittent regional conflict, in
evidence during the colonial period, became more pronounced with the collapse of the first
party system. East vied with West over questions concerning state funding for internal
improvements, judicial reform, and constitutional revision. The more conservative
elements in the state, represented primarily by the eastern counties, subverted repeated
efforts by western lawmakers to rewrite the state constitution. At issue was the question
14 Ibid., pp. 73-75, 103-105; Julian Mclver Pleasants, "The Political Career of Willie
Person Mangum, 1828-1840," (M.A. Thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
1962), p. 7.
of representation. The Constitution of 1776 stipulated that each county, no matter the
number of inhabitants, was entitled to one state senator and two commoners. In time, the
twenty-five counties of the rapidly expanding west outstripped the thirty-seven eastern
counties. Westerners resented the disproportionate power of the east and fought to make
population the basis of representation in the lower house. Unwilling to bear the burden
of higher taxes, wealthy Eastern leaders used their numerical advantage to block funding
for expensive improvement projects, thus retarding the economic growth of the entire
state. As a spokesman for Western interests, Mangum naturally gravitated toward
lawmakers who shared his neighbors' desire to reform the constitution and finance the
construction of roads and canals. So while his early associations may have been personally
advantageous, they also benefited his constituency."
As a first-term Commoner, Mangum backed his powerful friends while retaining
some degree of independence. He voted with the majority in favor of William Gaston's
bill creating a state Supreme Court. Unquestionably the most meaningful legislation
passed that session, Gaston's Judicial Reform Bill enjoyed wide support in western North
Carolina. Mangum's affirmative vote, therefore, could only enhance his reputation with
the people of Orange. He also voted "yea" on the issue of constitutional revision. This
time his efforts came to naught: the General Assembly rejected a proposal to place the
convention question on an upcoming ballot. Distancing himself from the pro-Bank stand
15 Jeffrey, State Parties and National Politics, pp. 49-54; William S. Hoffman, "Willie
P. Mangum and the Whig Revival of the Doctrine of Instructions," The Journal of
Southern History 22 (1956): 339.
of his patron Duncan Cameron, Mangum opposed a move to increase the capital reserves
of three state banks. Mindful of popular prejudices, he spoke to his constituent's deep-
seeded suspicion of powerful institutions when he harangued "banking institutions in
general.""6 His work on the Committee on Public Education reunited him with his old
classmate, Romulus Saunders. It submitted a plan to build schools in the outlying counties
of the state. The assembly adjourned without acting on the measure, but not before
Mangum had established himself as a friend of both education reform and western
interests. In his first attempt at writing legislation, Mangum sponsored a bill designed to
streamline the state's byzantine inheritance codes. Again, the act died with the end of the
session. Finally, he acted on behalf of private citizens who had grievances with the state
government. Over the course of the session, Mangum presented at least two petitions from
individuals demanding payment on debts owed by the state. To be sure, he understood the
reciprocity essential to reelection in a district as small as his own. On December 26,
1818, the session that began with high hopes ended in disappointment. Mangum had
learned firsthand that politics in the Old North State moved at an excruciatingly slow
16 Raleigh Register, 24 December 1818.
17 North Carolina, General Assembly, Journal of the House of Commons (Raleigh:
State Printer, 1818), pp. 1, 16, 47; McFarland, "Rip Van Winkle," pp. 75-78, 80;
Stephen B. Weeks, "Willie Person Mangum," in Biographical History of North Carolina:
From Colonial Times to the Present, Samuel A. Ashe, ed., 8 vols. (Greensboro: Charles
L. Van Noppen, 1905-1917), 5:239-40; Raleigh Register, 27 November; 4, 11, 18, 24
The impatient young attorney could hardly wait to resume his practice. Within four
months of his return from Raleigh, he had turned a tidy profit. On April 20, 1819, he
reported his good fortune to his brother Priestly, who had started his own practice nearly
two years earlier. That Spring alone, he crowed, he had earned "upwards of $1900 in
actual receipts." This new-found wealth enabled Mangum to travel in a style befitting the
country squire he aspired to be. No longer did he ride on horseback with his legal briefs
stuffed in saddlebags. Now he traversed the country roads in an "elegant," yet durable,
sulky. "My prospects in the practice," he added optimistically, "continue to grow more
flattering." Unfortunately, his prosperity proved short lived: Throughout his life,
Mangum would be burdened with debt. Ever the romantic, he closed his letter with the
news of his impending marriage. "I may be married this summer," he informed Priestly,
adding that he would know better once he had concluded urgent business that awaited him
in Raleigh. "You see what a romantic lover I am," he quipped, "[I] speak of settling the
business when speaking of love, how cold, how business like, & how ridiculous. "'
The object of Mangum's awkwardly expressed affection was Charity Alston Cain,
the daughter of Sarah Alston Dudley and William Cain of Orange County. Born February
16, 1795, she had courted Willie for a short time before he asked for her hand. Family
tradition tells of young Willie's persistence with Charity's father, who twice turned away
the eager suitor before sanctioning the union. A wealthy planter from the Little River
neighborhood, William Cain considered the struggling attorney a poor match for his
18 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Manzum, 1:14-15.
daughter. Mangum's family background, future prospects, and youth worked against him,
for Cain had hoped to strengthen his own standing in the community by marrying his
daughter to an older gentleman of means. A shared animosity between William Mangum,
Willie's father, and William Cain only complicated the romance. Mangum did not share
his prospective father-in-law's pessimism. To him, the future looked bright. The money
generated by his practice, he thought, was enough to support a family. Indeed, Mangum
agreed that no man should marry until his finances were in order. In any event, the two
were in love. The practical and financial concerns of William had little meaning for
As the daughter of one of the largest landowners in the county, Charity Cain
enjoyed superior wealth and status to that of her beau. In denying Mangum's first two
applications, William Cain had acted in what he thought were the best interests of his
family. His caution was understandable. Planter society abounded with fortune hunters
trying to attach themselves to wealthy families. Mangum's decision to seek a bride outside
his Flat River neighborhood might have lent him the appearance of one of these ne'er-do-
wells, giving William Cain good cause for trepidation. Traditionally, matches between
couples from different neighborhoods meant that one or both of the families involved were
trying to establish favorable social and economic ties. Men and women interested solely
in strengthening kinship networks married within their own neighborhoods. Surely,
Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:14-16; 5:265, 461, 759; Martha Person
Mangum, Diary, 30 January 1853, Willie P. Mangum Family Papers, Library of
Congress, Washington, D.C.; Ariana Holliday Mangum, "A Short History of the Mangum
Family," North Carolina Collection, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, p. 8.
Mangum, who had no blood ties to the Cain family, stood to benefit by the arrangement.
So while Cain would not go so far as to arrange his daughter's marriage, he did reserve
the right to interview hopeful bridegrooms. Having received Cain's begrudging consent,
Willie proposed to Charity. She accepted and on September 30, 1818, the two were
At their first meeting, Mangum might very well have regarded Charity's pedigree
as her finest feature. If that were the case, it was a short-lived infatuation. Letters written
over the course of both their lives reveal a deep, abiding love affair. Much enamored of
his wife's beauty and sexuality, Willie often favored her with eloquent expressions of his
adoration. "Indeed my dear," he wrote shortly after their marriage, "absence teaches me
how rich a jewel my heart has treasured up, in my Dear lovely Wife.""2 The sexual
allusions in his prose are unmistakable. "Indeed you must not think it romantic that my
bosom would throb with pleasure's purest ecstacy, while my wayward fancy would hover
around your pillow where all my hopes, my happiness & love lay in the sweet embrace of
20 Ruth Blackwelder, The Age of Orange: Political and Intellectual Leadership in North
Carolina. 1752-1861 (Charlotte: William Loftin, Publisher, 1961), pp. 79; Robert C.
Kenzer, Kinship and Neighborhood in a Southern Community: Orange County. North
Carolina. 1849-1881 (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1987), pp. 14, 42-
44, 200; Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics & Behavior in the Old South
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 206, 209, 273-75; Jane Turner Censer,
North Carolina Planters and Their Children, 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State
University Press, 1984), pp. 68-79; Brent H. Holcomb, compiler, Marriages of Orange
County North Carolina (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1983), p. 200.
21 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:19.
sleep."22 Her image invaded his dreams. Recounting what he called "the sweetest love
dream that I have had in years," he described how he and Charity "opened a courtship"
in a carefully manicured garden. The vision climaxed with Willie pulling Charity into his
embrace and kissing her "over & over again.""23 Willie featured prominently in Charity's
dreams as well, but the details of her subconscious were not committed to paper.24 The
sting of cupid's arrow infused Mangum with a renewed appreciation of outdoor scenes like
the garden he visited in his dream. "Nature seems to have delighted in the grand &
magnificent," he wrote during a visit to the mountainous western part of the state, "when
she was piling in such whimsical combinations the vast allighenies [sic]."25 At times his
letters lacked their typical panache. After telling Charity of his desire to hold her in his
arms, he asked bluntly, "are you growing fat?," possibly a reference to her pregnancy.26
Charity's responses, also marked by passion, carried more restraint. She wrote
mournfully, telling of her loneliness and expressing concern for Willie's safety. "I cannot
bear to think of the distance that we are from each other perhaps never to meet again
should you be taken from me in the prime of life," went one such lament.27 Part of her
22 Ibid., 1:24.
23 Ibid., 1:539.
2 Charity A. Mangum to Willie P. Mangum, 21 December 1823, Willie P. Mangum
Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
25 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:22.
26 Ibid., 1:487.
27 Charity A. Mangum to Willie P. Mangum, 24 August 1820, Willie P. Mangum
Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
pain came from the knowledge that her husband was unhappy riding the circuits. In
August 1820, she referred to his "disagreeable circuit," and prayed for his safe and speedy
return.28 Her compassion touched Mangum and called to mind the scene of their most
recent parting. "At this very moment," he wrote, "my fancy draws with painful accuracy
your very look & countenance at the instant I left you and my heart almost melts at the
picture." The bitter image of her "eyes swimming in tears" haunted him, but he took
comfort in her promise to remain strong and await his return.29
While the passage of time did not extinguish their passions, it did bring a change.
Their letters retained characteristic expressions of longing, but the pain of separation
seemed less acute. Habitually late with his correspondence, Willie often opened letters
with an apology. He assured Charity that his failure to write did not mean that his ardor
had cooled. "You are never to suppose for a moment," he wrote after one particularly
long silence, "that I neglect to write...because I do not feel all [of] the affection & love
that I had in our younger & happy days. "3 It seems Charity also found less time to write,
for Willie frequently inquired as to the whereabouts of long-promised letters. In 1841, at
the age of 49, Willie Mangum continued to speak with the voice of a young man in love.
"I desire to see you very much," he wrote from his from his rooming house in
Washington, D.C., adding, "I love you very much, and never know how much I love you
29 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:28-29.
30 Ibid., 3:299.
... until I leave you."31 Unlike the notes written years before, this one combines the
musings of the romantic with the self-confidence of a middle-aged man happy in a mature
relationship with his wife. Shorter and more direct, his letters now featured as many
references to the weather, his health, his children, and his plantation, as they did to matters
of the heart. Similarly. Charity's letters included less pining and more talk of her children
and the plantation. Like her husband, she continued to profess her love and complain
about the long separations, but not with the pathos of previous years. Responding to her
cousin's assertion that Mangum would make a good president, she joked that he "would
not get [her] vote" because it would mean even longer hours and less time together.3
For much of their married life, Willie and Charity lived apart. Willie's law
practice and long tenure in public service kept him away from the family plantation for
months at a time. Charity's fear of steamboats may have been one reason for her
reluctance to accompany her husband on his travels. Her duties at home presented a
second, more practical justification. In her husband's absence, Charity assumed the task
of administering the estate. With occasional help from her father, her brother William,
and her two brothers-in-law, she looked after day-to-day operations of their 1,600 acre
farm. Charity relayed her husband's instructions to his overseers and supervised the
construction of their new house. When it came time to ship goods to market, she alerted
her husband and asked for instructions as to what quantities were to be sold and what were
31 Quote from Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 3:176; see also, ibid., 1:225;
32 Ibid., 3:190.
to be used for private consumption. She also settled debts and purchased farming tools in
her husband's stead. Business communiques between the two suggest that Willie Mangum
considered his wife a trustworthy plantation mistress. Their companionate marriage also
proved to be a useful business arrangement. The respect he granted her on matters of
finance, however, did not extend to the realm of ideas. The recipient of a formal academy
education, Charity's letters show her to be an intelligent woman capable of managing a
business and raising a family. Be that as it may, her new husband thought that some
topics, politics for example, were too complex for women and so made only passing
references to the subject in his letters. He would later contradict himself, however, by
insisting that his adult daughters read newspapers and keep abreast of current affairs.
Doubtless this change in outlook came about as a result of the examples set by Charity and
his three daughters.3
Private obligations did not interfere with Mangum's public commitments. As a
county road supervisor, the pragmatic Mangum initiated construction of a three-quarter
mile long spur that connected his homestead to an existing thoroughfare. This selfish
allocation of public funds apparently went unchecked, for his popularity in Orange
continued unabated. In April 1818, he predicted that he would defeat his opponent in his
33 Charity A. Mangum to Willie P. Mangum, 21 December 1823, Willie P. Mangum
Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Shanks, The Papers of Willie P.
Mangum, 1:225, 229; 2:18; 4:7-8; 5:759; Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor, p. 214; Censer,
North Carolina Planters and Their Children, p. 72; For more on southern women and
plantation management see, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household:
Black and White Women in the Old South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina
Press, 1988) and Catherine Clinton, The Plantation Mistress: Women's World in the Old
South (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982).
next run for Commons. Brimming with confidence, he added that it was only a matter of
time before the people of the Eighth District elected him their representative to the United
States Congress. He confessed to Priestly that he was frightened by his ambition. Public
approval had filled him with a dangerous sense of pride, and only "sound judgement"
prevented him from grasping for the "dangerous diadem flitted before my vision &
ambition."34 The sin of pride was very real to his generation and any appearance of
arrogance could hurt his career. Mangum faced the dilemma of seeking public office
without seeming too eager to win. His reelection to the House of Commons in August of
1819 proved that he kept his desires well hidden.35
In November 1819, Mangum returned to Raleigh to begin his second term in the
House of Commons. Joined by his mentor, Duncan Cameron, then serving Orange
County as a state senator, the seasoned Mangum took a more active role in the Assembly.
He displayed his new-found poise early in the proceedings by motioning for a minor
procedural change. This maneuver would be the first of many that marked Mangum a
crafty parliamentarian. Much of his later success was predicated on his special ability to
34 Quote from Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:15; see also, ibid., 5:749-
35 Watson, Jacksonian Politics and Community Conflict, pp.72-73; John L. Cheney,
Jr., ed., North Carolina Government, 1585-1974: A Narrative and Statistical History
(Raleigh: North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State, 1975), p. 275; Raleigh
Register, 20 August 1819.
turn the rules governing debate and procedure to his own advantage. In the national
legislature this skill would help elevate him to the highest post in the Senate.36
Following Cameron's lead in the Senate, Mangum presented a series of resolutions
calling for a constitutional convention. Submitted December 1, 1819, his plan outlined
the terms by which freeholders would elect delegates and the issues these officials would
debate. As with earlier drives for reform, this one reflected the power struggle between
eastern and western legislators and centered on the issue of representation. Mangum
proposed that "the representation of the people in the General Assembly shall be equal and
comfortable to the principles of republican government." In other words, population
should be the standard of representation.37 Additional proposals included the popular
election of the Governor and local sheriffs, provisions for the removal of inept or corrupt
Supreme and Superior Court Judges, and biennial, rather than annual meetings of the
General Assembly. Mangum's planned alterations to the state constitution reiterated a
mistrust of centralized power, first revealed in his anti-bank philippics of the previous
year. With these reforms he sought to limit the power of the state by making it more
responsive to the public will. Again, this attempt to rewrite the constitution suffered
defeat at the hands of conservative eastern lawmakers.38
36 Raleigh Register, 26 November 1819.
7 Quote from North Carolina, General Assembly, Journal of the House of Commons
(Raleigh: State Printer, 1819), p. 39; See also, Raleigh Register 26 November; 3
38 McFarland, "Rip Van Winkle," pp. 97-98; North Carolina, General Assembly,
Journal of the House of Commons (1819), pp. 38-40; Raleigh Register, 10 December
The rift between east and west also featured prominently in the debate over an
internal improvements bill. Unlike previous battles, the opposition failed to maintain a
united front and the legislation passed by a vote of 72 to 54. Designed to diversify the
state's stagnant economy, the bill established a board of oversight charged with distributing
funds for internal improvement projects. Mangum, a proponent of economic diversity.
voted for the measure. He shared the sentiments of like-minded southerners who wanted
to wean the region from its dependence on plantation agriculture. Their only salvation,
he believed, was a modern transportation infrastructure built, in part, with state, not
federal, money. Mangum did not share the agrarian idealism of his opponents. How he
planned to finance these ambitious plans without the aid of lending institutions and without
expanding the power of the state remained to be seen. The young assemblyman was too
concerned with practical matters to perfect a consistent political philosophy.39
Mangum soon tired of life in the capital. Shortly after his return there, he
complained to his new wife that "Raleigh is as dull & uninteresting to me as the squeaking
of a scotchman's bagpipes." The carefree bachelor of a year before was now a lovesick
newlywed. He looked with amazement at the changes he experienced since the previous
winter. "At that time I plunged into the vortex of fashionable dissipation," he recalled,
as time "sped away on swiftest wing." Now he described his company as "vapid." He
39 Harry L. Watson, "Squire Oldway and his Friends: Opposition to Internal
Improvements in Antebellum North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review 54
(1977):119; McFarland, "Rip Van Winkle," p. 96; North Carolina, General Assembly,
Journal of the House of Commons (1819), p. 82.
whiled away his free hours, which seemed endless, alone in his bedchamber reading "tales
of fiction." Official business offered little relief. Frustrated by the inaction of the
legislature, Mangum seemed ready for a change.4 Fortunately, his colleagues rescued him
from the tedium. On December 22, 1819, the General Assembly elected Mangum a Judge
of the Superior Court of Law and Equity.4'
Mangum rose to the bench through the influence of Duncan Cameron. Initially,
the senator tried to land William Norwood in the post. Opposition from rival power-
broker John Stanly, who wished to see his relative George E. Badger win the honor,
produced a stalemate. Eventually, Cameron induced Mangum to be his compromise
candidate. In the General Assembly, the official records tell a simpler story. On
December 20, 1819, the Senate placed James J. McKay's name in nomination and the
House added Badger's to the slate. Apparently, Cameron dumped his first choice before
the Assembly took any official action. Two days later, the House submitted Mangum's
nomination and began balloting. After all three candidates failed to win a majority in the
first round, McKay withdrew his name and the voting recommended. Mangum won on
the second ballot. Cameron and Mangum's back-room deal caused a brief stir within the
opposition camp. Word of the episode did not reach the press, however, sparing both men
40 All quotes from Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:19.
1 Raleigh Register, 24 December 1819.
potentially embarrassing allegations of cabalism or some other act popularly understood
to be incompatible with republican government.42
Established in 1777, the Superior Court of Law and Equity exercised jurisdiction
over both civil and criminal suits. Judges also discharged administrative duties that placed
a variety of patronage posts at their disposal. The original Act of 1777 created six
districts: subsequent addenda increased the number to eight and divided each into eastern
and western "ridings." Courts convened for six-day sessions, concluding on the final day
regardless of whether or not a trial was in progress. Even capital cases ended without a
verdict if a jury had not finished its deliberation within the allotted time. A shortage of
justices and the vast distances between courthouses necessitated such abrupt scheduling.
Barring misconduct, judges retained their posts for as long as they pleased.43
At the age of 27, Willie Mangum had been guaranteed lifetime tenure in a highly
respected profession. Unfortunately, he never enjoyed the job and contemplated resigning
almost from the start. His first assignment took him to the Sixth Judicial Circuit, a
territory encompassing hundreds of square miles in the mountainous counties of western
North Carolina. He found the region rich in breathtaking vistas but little else. "Rambling
42 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5:750; Penelope McDuffie, "Chapters
in the Life of Willie Person Mangum," The Historical Papers. Published by the Trinity
College Historical Society (Durham: Duke University Press, 1925), p. 20; Weeks, "Willie
Person Mangum," 5:240; Raleigh Register, 24 December 1819; Hamilton, Party Politics
in North Carolina, p. 32; J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, ed., The Papers of Thomas Ruffin,
4 vols. (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1918-1920), 1:234.
43 Guion Griffis Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1937), pp. 622-25.
among the knolls" and the lush green hills encircling the village of Lincolnton, Mangum
relished a rare moment of serenity. "Spring is rapidly clothing in her rich & verdant robes
. the weather is soft & delightful."" Nothing, however, could alleviate his sense of
isolation. "My desire to get home disturbs the sweet serenity of the scene," he reported
from the isolated hamlet. To his relief, the people of that town displayed more refinement
and culture than the folks he had encountered in the backcountry. Unable to hide his
disdain, he described the latter as "a population as little congenial to my habits & tastes
as the wild savage." It seems he found the rugged beauty of the landscape more to his
liking than the men and women who made it their home.45
Mangum also suffered the ill effects of the cold, damp mountain climate.
Unspecified health problems plagued him throughout the term. Spring storms washed
away already treacherous roads, rendering many impassable. Unaccustomed to driving
in such conditions, Mangum often found himself lying face-down in the mud beside his
overturned gig. Surrendering to the elements, he gave up the comforts of his coach for
the safety of the saddle. Overwork compounded his aggravation. "My labors have been
most arduous," he complained, telling his wife that he had put in more hours in his four
months as a judge than he had during an entire year as an attorney.46 Mangum would not
allow exhaustion to affect his demeanor. Presiding from the bench he cut an impressive
44 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:22-24.
45 Ibid., 1:24.
6 Quote from Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:24; See also, ibid., 5:570.
figure, exhibiting the same bearing that had won him esteem as a lawyer.47 All his hours
before a jury, however, could not prepare the young magistrate for the grim task of
deciding matters of life and death. "It is not within the scope of my powers of language
to describe my feelings on the first occasion that a man was tried before me for his life,"
he wrote shortly after handing down a decision in his first capital case. "I have just passed
through two trials of that awful character," he confided to his wife, "the first was so
critical that the weight of a hair would have saved or lost a life, & in that trying moment
I was compelled to decide." The overwhelming responsibility was almost too much for
the 27-year-old judge to bear: his depression was impossible to conceal.48
Reassignment failed to relieve Mangum's unhappiness. Late in the Summer of
1820 he was posted to the First Judicial Circuit in the northeastern part of the state.
Impressed as he was with the vastness of Albemarle Sound and the nearby canals, he could
not help but notice that the Edenton Circuit, as it was more commonly known, offered its
own special kind of annoyance: mosquito-infested swamps. Again, his letters home stress
a familiar litany of miseries; loneliness, illness, and discomfort. He painted an
unflattering picture of his new environment as "a country filled with swamps, flies
& musquitoes [sic]." "It is very unhealthy," he added, stating that he had lost nine pounds
since setting off on his journey. Inevitably, these conditions proved unbearable. In
47 Hillsborough Recorder, 11 September 1861.
48 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:21.
November 1820, less than a year after his appointment, Mangum stepped down from the
bench and returned home to Charity and his law practice.9
Privately, Mangum told those closest to him that his father's recent financial
setbacks had provided an additional incentive to relinquish his judgeship. Mangum's
ability to bail out his father was compromised, however, by his own pecuniary distress.
Falling commodity prices and marginal harvests eroded part of his estate. Risky
investments consumed even more. In 1819, Mangum, using receipts from his legal
practice, purchased land in Haywood, North Carolina, a town situated at the confluence
of the Deep, Haw, and Cape Fear Rivers. Initially, this venture turned a profit. Rumors
that the state capital would relocate in Haywood, proposed bridge and canal projects, and
long-promised improvements to the Cape Fear, stimulated land speculation in the area.
The promise of further rewards led him to form a partnership with Archibald Haralson.
The two purchased seven more lots in Haywood and part interest in a proposed toll bridge
that would span the Deep River. When Haralson defaulted on his share of the note, his
uncle, Archibald Murphey and Mangum assumed partial liability. Additional land
purchases in Hillsborough and the collapse of the Haywood land boom put Mangum deep
in debt. The ramifications of his bad investments would be felt through the end of the
decade: financial security would elude him for the rest of his life.50
49 Ibid., 1:30, 32-33.
50 Ibid., l:xxiii-xxiv, 11-14, 17-18, 37-40.
To satisfy his creditors, Mangum solicited loans from friends and family members.
His father-in-law William Cain became his most generous benefactor. The relationship
between the two men had gone through some profound changes since their first encounter.
Mangum used his position in Commons to promote Cain's views, encouraging him to visit
Raleigh before important votes. Always deferential, he insisted that Cain come at his own
convenience and not concern himself with Mangum's schedule. As a judge, Mangum
made a habit of visiting with his father-in-law before setting off on his circuit. Ties
between the two men grew stronger with the birth of Willie and Charity's first child.
William Cain hosted his granddaughter during extended visits to his home and looked in
on Charity while Mangum was away. On October 21, 1822, William gave his daughter
eight slaves. The added hands surely made life on the plantation easier for the Mangums
and improved their chances of generating revenue. Cain's tacit approval of Mangum's
decision to stake his financial recovery on farming was not shared by Mangum's brother.
Priestly objected to his brother's decision to remain a country lawyer and urged him to
move to Hillsborough. "If you continue where you are," he warned, "[you will] gradually
sink in the public estimation." The younger Mangum also felt that a residence in town
would help Willie's political career by assuring "a better chance for a participation in the
distributions of public favor." Mangum disregarded his brother's advice, choosing instead
to launch the next phase of his political career from his estate at Red Mountain.5"
51 Quote from Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:44: See also, ibid., 1:xxiv,
19, 29, 43, 247, 337-38.
THE PRESIDENTIAL QUESTION
On June 4, 1823, Willie Mangum announced his intention to run for a seat in the
United States House of Representatives in an election to be held that August. The race,
between Mangum and General Daniel L. Barringer, soon degenerated into personal
vilification, innuendo, and a narrowly averted duel. None of these features was alien to
the voters of the Eighth Congressional District. Historian Harry Watson argues that this
"predilection for gutter politics" served a higher purpose. Officeseekers, he insists, fell
to undignified tactics to preserve the higher principles of republicanism. Any
electioneering device was acceptable so long as it prevented unfit men from gaining control
of the state. According to Watson's paradigm, candidates temporarily set aside their own
virtue for the sake of the commonweal. The behavior of Willie Mangum and his cohorts
suggest different motives. To them, ideology was something to be exploited. Every
candidate, regardless of his factional affiliation or political viewpoint, invoked the same
rhetoric, rendering the republican ideology of an earlier era so elastic as to deprive it of
meaning. Instead of speaking to real concerns, candidates manipulated symbols and
language to arouse their followers and confound those loyal to their opponents. Editors
and printers participated in the game. Newspapers and broadsides functioned as
propaganda sheets, devoid of any purpose beyond electing their favorites and reaping the
benefits of power.'
Mangum's declaration of his candidacy caught Barringer off guard. The general
told supporters that Mangum had privately assured him that he would not be a candidate.
Mangum, in turn, denied the charge, insisting that he had personally communicated his
plans to the General. In either event, the two had made a silent accord that showed how
meaningless republican virtue -- as modern historians interpret it -- had become. Once
underway, the two began the business of campaigning. Convention prescribed that neither
man openly seek office, but like Cincinnatus, officeseekers were supposed to enter the fray
only because an alarmed citizenry demanded that they serve when the Republic was
thought endangered. Again, Mangum and Barringer ignored the dictates of custom, which
in fact had been eroding for some years. Whether in the guise of an apolitical meeting or
through surrogates, the two campaigned up to election day.2
Constitutional reform quickly emerged as the most divisive issue of the campaign.
On May 29, 1823, reform-minded leaders from Orange county met in Hillsborough to plot
their course. The rump selected Mangum and four others to serve as their delegation to
a statewide assembly scheduled to met in Raleigh that November. Speaking before a
friendly crowd, Mangum reconfirmed his commitment to modifying the document, linking
Hillsborough Recorder, 4 June 1823; Harry L. Watson, Jacksonian Politics and
Community Conflict: The Emergence of the Second Party System in Cumberland County.
North Carolina (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981), p. 77.
2 Henry Thomas Shanks, ed., The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 5 vols. (Raleigh: State
Department of Archives and History, 1950-1956), 1:51-52.
constitutional revision to internal improvements. By accepting the nomination, Mangum
invited the disapproval of a considerable portion of the electorate. The Eighth District
straddled both pro- and anti-reform counties. While most voters in Orange and Person
counties advocated revision, a majority in Wake stood opposed. Realizing that this would
cost him support in Wake, Mangum attempted to counter Barringer's influence there by
painting him as a friend of reform. The General denied the allegation as the debate
degenerated into a series of charges and countercharges. Mangum verified his claims by
assembling corroborative statements from several of the district's leading citizens and
releasing them in a circular letter.3
The testimonials of local merchant Thomas Clancy, former assemblyman James
Mebane, and other highly-placed members of the community attested to the duplicity of
Mangum's opponent. Each admitted that Barringer had indeed voiced qualified support
for constitutional revision during recent visits to Hillsborough, the county seat of Orange.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the circular is what Mangum chose to exclude. In
the official release, Mangum stated that he and Barringer had agreed to curtail public
appearances, emerging from the comforts of domestic duty only to attend Sunday sermons,
visit relatives, or to run "errands of charity." "I was utterly astonished," he alleged in the
circular, "to understand that Gen. Barringer was, on Sunday the 3d instant, thirteen miles
from home, not attending to divine worship, but talking to the people on the subjects
3 Ibid., 1:51-57; Hillsborough Recorder, 11 June 1823.
of elections and amending the state constitution."4 To his friend Seth Jones, however,
Mangum admitted that this self-imposed exile from public functions applied to Sundays
as well. "I thought proper to omit that fact lest it might hurt the feelings of some
religious people."5 Mangum's candor offers a glimpse at the discrepancies between what
officials often said and how they actually behaved. It also calls into question the value of
newspapers, pamphlets, and speeches as barometers of the ideological commitment
professed by elite figures in early nineteenth century American politics. If both Barringer
and Mangum were willing to tailor their statements to public notions of proper conduct
vis-a-vis the church, what was to prevent them from doing so with regard to secular
ideologies and institutions? Whether uttered by politicians or published by equally partisan
editors, public pronouncements shrouded in the language of republicanism or any other
popular conviction must be viewed with a jaundiced eye.
Barringer responded to Mangum's assault with an equally caustic circular. Dated
August 9, 1823, it alleged that the affidavits included in his opponent's handbill had been
written by Mangum's allies. With the election only a few days off, Barringer said he had
no time to compile his own "certificates." Instead, his offered an "unbiased" account of
events that would show that "trick and stratagem" were "the most prominent features in
[Mangum's] character." He averred that the Judge intentionally altered his speeches so
that they would conform to the opinions of his listeners. In Wake County, for example,
4 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:61.
5 Ibid., 1:63-64.
Mangum was said to have spoken unenthusiastically about constitutional revision: in
Orange he expressed himself otherwise. Responding to Mangum's insinuations that he
championed the unpopular Bank of the United States, Barringer pointed to Mangum's long
association with its leading proponent, Duncan Cameron, as evidence of guilt by
association. As for the ban on electioneering, Barringer returned Mangum's charge of
duplicity. While in Raleigh, Barringer chanced upon Mangum's overseer as he delivered
campaign literature for his master, an obvious breach of their earlier pact.6 Whether
rooted in fact, fiction or both, the General's circular proved too little too late. The mid-
August elections gave Mangum a 794 vote majority over his rival.7
Questions surrounding the authorship of Barringer's "scurrilous handbill" continued
to surface long after the last votes had been tallied.8 In a series of letters written between
September 30 and October 17, 1823, Mangum and Henry Seawell, a local politician and
judge, exchanged allegations of slander and improper conduct in connection with the
circular. Only the intercession of their seconds averted a duel. The episode began when
Seawell reproached Mangum for publicly maligning his name when he accused him of
writing the document. Mangum admitted that he believed Seawell to be the author, but
denied having made any remark that could be interpreted as derogatory. However, he did
state that Seawell's participation in the matter came after he had pledged his neutrality in
6 Ibid., 1:65-69.
7 Raleigh Register, 22 August 1823.
8 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:70.
the election. Misunderstandings heightened their mutual animosity, as each man
stubbornly postured to appear the more aggrieved party. Eventually the two discontinued
direct communication and began speaking through intermediaries. Mangum even went so
far as to go to Raleigh in anticipation of a duel that never materialized. In the end, the
two settled their differences without resorting to violence. The incident showed Mangum's
political immaturity. The newly-elected Congressman risked public censure and personal
injury over a minor misunderstanding, one that could have been cleared up much sooner
had either man issued an unqualified apology. It also earned Mangum the enmity of an
important power broker. Later in life he learned to settle his disputes quickly, defusing
troublesome situations before they became unmanageable.9
Before taking his seat in the national legislature, Mangum went to Raleigh to attend
a constitutional convention. The extra-legal conference met at the urging of a caucus of
western legislators, who had scheduled the event during the previous session of the
General Assembly. Mangum arrived on November 11, 1823, the day after the conference
began. Montfort Stokes, the venerated Revolutionary War veteran, presided over the
proceedings and assigned Mangum, Bartlett Yancey, and five others to the Committee on
Amendments. As with earlier efforts to alter the charter, this one turned on the question
of representation. The relative absence of eastern obstructionists did not ease the process.
The slaveholders in the central piedmont region found themselves at odds with the non-
slaveholding yeomen who dominated the western delegation. While the entire body agreed
9 Ibid., 1:70-79.
that population should be the basis of representation, piedmont delegates favored counting
slaves as three-fifths of a person when calculating population figures. Westerners argued
that only free whites should be counted. Mangum spoke in favor of the latter position and
also moved to reduce property qualifications for office holders. Piedmont representatives
emerged the victors, but in the process had created ruinous divisions within the reform
movement. After five days of meetings, the convention put together a list of proposals
drawn up by Bartlett Yancey and presented them to the incoming legislative assembly.10
The new General Assembly quietly tabled the plan submitted by the convention.
Twelve years passed before advocates succeeded in revising the constitution. Mangum
would not have to wait as long for his rewards. His actions at the assembly once again
caught the attention of the press, which came to regard him as the chief spokesman for
western interests. His motives were both noble and selfish. Clearly, the causes of
democracy and representative government would have been better served by his initiatives.
Equally true, however, is the fact that by expanding the power of the west he augmented
his own reputation and power. The correlation between one's geographic power base and
their support for constitutional revision was hardly a random coincidence. Western leaders
like Mangum pledged themselves to lofty principles when speaking about revision, but
knew very well the practical consequences of their mission."
"o Raleigh Register, 14, 21 November 1823; William Omer Foster, "The Career of
Montfort Stokes in North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review 16 (1939): 253-
254; Daniel M. McFarland, "Rip Van Winkle: Political Evolution in North Carolina,
1815-1835," (Ph. D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1954), pp. 148-150.
Foster, "Montfort Stokes," pp. 255-256; McFarland, "Rip Van Winkle," p 151.
On the morning of November 26, 1823, Mangum boarded a stagecoach bound for
the nation's capital. Shortly after he arrived he took the oath of office and began his
inaugural term in the United States House of Representatives.12 His first impression of
official Washington was one that would stay with him for life. "So little of principle
enters into the context of ambitious men for power," he wrote to his friend and mentor
Duncan Cameron.13 On December 10, 1823, Mangum relayed to Cameron news that "the
Presidential question is here a topic of frequent, I might almost say, constant
conversation."14 With less than a year to go before the next presidential election, Congress
buzzed with rumors as the leading contenders jockeyed for the first office. The official
business of the congress, he believed, was subordinated to the unending struggle for
power. Mangum saw little of the party spirit and devotion to ideals that he believed
guided the founders of the republic. In their place stood ambitious men leading personal
factions. The events of his first month in office were not all disenchanting. Surrounded
by the greatest orators of his generation, Mangum made special note of the talents of
Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. He wrote admiringly of the Kentuckian's "superior
qualifications and transcendent abilities," and thought that maybe his ascension indicated
that merit would determine who led in the post-partisan age."
2 Willie P. Mangum to Phillips Moore, 26 November 1823, Stephen Moore Papers,
Special Collections, Duke University Library, Durham North Carolina.
13 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:84.
4 Ibid., 1:83.
15 Quote from, ibid., 1:82; See also, ibid., 1:109.
Listed as a Federalist in the official records, Mangum was in reality as
uncommitted to old party lines as the men he had disparaged in his letter to Cameron.'6
As a conservative dedicated to protecting the rights of the states against what he saw as the
encroaching power of the federal government, Mangum looked to fellow North Carolinian
Nathaniel Macon as a natural ally. The aging senator proved a useful friend to the
newcomer. Hailing from the eastern part of the state, Macon embodied conservatism and
old republican ideals like no other man in North Carolina. He mistrusted banks, credit,
and paper currency. A strict constructionist, he vehemently opposed federally funded
internal improvements and articulated his resistance as part of a defense of slavery. "If
Congress can make canals," he reasoned, "they can with more propriety emancipate."'7
Although Mangum never phrased his objections with such dexterity, he agreed that
responsibility for internal improvements should be left to the individual states. Amiable
and outgoing, Mangum also developed a friendship with nationalist John C. Calhoun of
16 John L. Cheney, Jr., ed., North Carolina Government, 1585-1974: A Narrative and
Statistical History (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State, 1975),
17 Quoted in Harry L. Watson, "Squire Oldway and his Friends: Opposition to Internal
Improvements in Antebellum North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review 54
(1977):107; See also, ibid., p. 116; Robert E. Shalhope, "Thomas Jefferson's
Republicanism and Antebellum Southern Thought," Journal of Southern History 42
(1976):548; Harold J. Counihan, "The North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835:
A Study in Jacksonian Democracy," North Carolina Historical Review 46 (1969):358;
Henry M. Wagstaff, State Rights and Political Parties in North Carolina. 1776-1861,
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1906), p. 42; Elizabeth S. Hoyt, "Reactions in
North Carolina to Jackson's Banking Policy, 1829-1832," North Carolina Historical
Review 25 (1948):172; Max R.Williams, "The Foundations of the Whig Party in North
Carolina: A Synthesis and a Modest Proposal," North Carolina Historical Review 47
(1970):115; Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:305.
South Carolina. The ideological spectrum represented by Mangum's companions shows
his willingness look beyond political differences in his private affairs, a tendency that
stayed with him all his life and proved useful in furthering his political objectives."
When not distracted by the impending presidential contest, members of the first
session of the Eighteenth Congress occupied the majority of their time with internal
improvements legislation and a new tariff. Early in 1824 Congress debated a measure that
would grant the Army Corps of Engineers authority to survey roads and canals for military
use or as postal routes. Mangum viewed the proposal as part of a scheme to expand the
power of the federal government at the expense of constitutional literalism. As he saw it,
the "ultra republicans," led by his friend Calhoun, had drawn up their plan with the full
blessing of President James Monroe. "The new school has taken the principles of the old
Federalists," Mangum worried, "but press their principles much further I mean on the
subjects of internal improvements, etc., and especially in a latitudinous construction of the
constitution generally." The nationalism of the old Federalist Party had been appropriated
by men who called themselves Republicans. Strict construction, once the centerpiece of
Jeffersonian ideology, had been laid to rest. Mangum refused to accept this new
orthodoxy. On February 10, 1824, after nearly a month of discussion, he cast his vote
with the minority against the bill."9
18 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, p. 1:xx, 109.
19 Quotes from, ibid., 1:109; See also, United States Congress, Annals of the Congress
of the United States, 18th Cong., 1st. sess., pp. 1399, 1468-69.
Mangum's opposition to the Tariff of 1824 demonstrated his practical commitment
to southern economic development. Unlike his attack against internal improvements, he
phrased his objections to high import duties in economic and sectional terms, rather than
in constitutional terms. First submitted on January 9, 1824, the new tariff was conceived
as the keystone of Henry Clay's American System. The initial proposal enumerated a long
list of finished products subject to the levy. With ad valorem rates as high as 25 to 35
percent on certain raw materials -- wool, cotton, silk, hemp, and flax, for example --
southern lawmakers like Mangum complained of being trapped in a system that placed
their region in a state of dependency. Forced to sell their cotton in an open market and
to purchase Northern goods in a closed market, they denounced northern capitalists who
colluded with the federal government to impose their repressive system. Mangum and
others understood the necessity of generating revenue, but failed to see the wisdom of
protecting domestic manufacturing if it meant higher prices for southern consumers and
lower profits for southern planters.? In one of his few recorded statements of the session,
Mangum mildly rebuked the tariff, "professing his general objections to the bill" on the
floor of the House.21 To his friend Seth Jones he offered a more colorful protest. "The
Yankees will make the Southerners hewers of wood and drawers of water for them," he
cautioned, adding with resignation that the lines had already been drawn, the North "will
20 Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York: W.W. Norton
& Company, 1991), pp. 228-29; Annals of the Congress, 18th Cong., 1st. sess., pp. 959-
21 Annals of the Congress, 18th Cong., 1st. sess., p. 1627.
be converted into a great workshop & the slave holding states will be compelled to pay
them tribute. "22
On April 16, 1824, the House passed the new tariff, which retained its most
important protectionist features. Mangum joined the rest of the southerner delegation and
voted against the final version. However, alterations to the original draft quieted some of
Mangum's initial anxieties.23 The day before President Monroe signed the bill into law,
Mangum confided to Jones, "the bill as passed is not exceedingly objectionable, instead
of being a law for the protection of Domestic Manufacturers, it is a revenue bill It was
gutted in the Senate."24 He was wrong. The Tariff of 1824 was a protective tariff, with
duties on most raw materials remaining as high as when first proposed.2
Little of what Mangum said or did during his first term in Washington was
captured in the official records. Except for an occasional vote or brief remark, Mangum
was a silent participant. His forte was watching and listening to those around him as they
went about the business of governing. An eager student of power politics, Mangum
learned that one of the first responsibilities of a new congressman was to bolster the good
will of those who had sent him to Washington. Patronage seemed the most direct way to
achieve that end; favorable relations with the press back at home was another. Sometimes
22 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:116.
3 Annals of the Congress. 18th Cong., 1st. sess., p. 2675, appendix, pp. 3221-3228;
Remini, Henry Clay, pp. 232.
24 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:146.
25 Remini, Henry Clay, p. 233.
he found he could combine the two tactics by establishing postal routes in his district that
would be used to carry newspapers to more people. On December 15, 1823, Mangum
reminded Thomas D. Bennehan, the brother-in-law of Duncan Cameron, of an already
agreed upon plan to establish a 48 mile postal route extending from Raleigh to Roxborough
via Fish Dam and Staggville. Mangum urged his friend to start a petition drive in support
of the "Fish Dam" road so that he could present the idea to the House. In January,
Mangum's neighbor and kinsman, John J. Carrington, described the project in politically
expedient language. A new route, he implied, might extend the reach of Mangum's
influence into the remote parts of Wake and Person Counties. Voters there would gain
access to pro-Mangum literature. That February Mangum submitted to the House a
proposed postal route that covered the same ground suggested in his letter to Bennehan.26
Residents of the Eighth Congressional District, like most people in North Carolina,
obtained the bulk of their political information from broadsides and pamphlets. Ordinarily
printed on a single sheet of paper, they were often reproduced in newspapers or distributed
through the mail or by hand. Evidently, Mangum did not use his franking privileges to
deliver this material when he first came to Washington. Later, after he had mastered the
finer points of political management and organization, he used the entitlement regularly.
Newspapers carried little information of local interest. Usually published weekly,
periodicals tended to ignore the events taking place in their immediate vicinity, preferring
26 Annals of the Congress, 18th Cong., 1st. sess., pp. 798, 1627, 2654, 2659-60;
Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:88-89, 104-105; Raleigh Register, 20
instead to print fiction, poetry, and national news.27 An avid newspaper reader himself,
Mangum regarded the local weekly as an excellent source of intelligence. Accordingly,
he made common cause with newspaper publisher Dennis Heartt shortly before he took his
seat in Congress. Keeping with common practice, Mangum volunteered to serve as an
unofficial correspondent to Heartt's Hillsborough Recorder. On January 31, 1824, Heartt
recalled to Mangum, "You must not forget your promise to furnish me with scraps of
information as may fall within your observation."28 Despite their differences over the
coming presidential election -- Mangum supported William H. Crawford, Heartt preferred
John Quincy Adams -- the two got along well. In time Mangum and Heartt would see eye-
to-eye on the major political issues of the day, as Heartt became one of Mangum's most
trusted and valued allies. Priestly Mangum later captured the spirit of the relationship
when he jokingly referred to Heartt as "your little Irishman" in a letter to his brother. The
use of the diminutive indicates personal intimacy while the possessive suggests a degree
The presidential election of 1824 supplied Mangum with enough "scraps of
information" to satisfy his publisher friend or anyone else who cared to listen. The
congressman became a conduit for his friends and associates in North Carolina, feeding
27 John Chalmers Vinson, "Electioneering in North Carolina, 1800-1835," North
Carolina Historical Review 29 (1952): 175-76.
28 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:112.
29 Ibid, 1:164; Albert R. Newsome, The Presidential Election of 1824 in North
Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939), pp. 59, 143.
them details and offering his own observations and insights. His correspondence during
these first months revealed that presidential politics had a profound effect on elected
officials. Since his arrival in December ,hey seemed to talk of little else. The
machinations of Mangum and his colleagues also expose the undemocratic nature of the
nominating process. Power brokers in Washington fought each other for months to win
the right to name a successor to the incumbent president. Four of the five hopefuls
mentioned in Mangum's first letters remained before the public through the November
election. Public men presented the voters with a slate of candidates drawn from an elite
pool. Lower echelon figures like Mangum conveyed the will of the caucuses, the factions,
and the various state machines to the leaders in their respective home states and together
they labored to lend the process an air of democracy.
Mangum came to Washington pledged to support Secretary of the Treasury William
H. Crawford of Georgia for the presidency. The contest had been an issue in his race with
Barringer, and Mangum stood firmly behind the Georgian throughout. Of the five
candidates who remained in the running in December 1823, Mangum believed that only
Crawford possessed the states rights credentials essential to winning a majority of North
Carolina voters. He perceived the other four -- Clay, Calhoun, Adams, and Andrew
Jackson -- as nationalists. In Raleigh the Crawfordites secured their control of the General
Assembly with the reelection of Bartlett Yancey to the post of Speaker of the Senate. In
Commons, Robert Strange, another member of the pro-Crawford faction, completed the
coup with his election to the head of that body. On December 2, 1823, the organization
flexed its muscle by awarding Joseph Gales & Son, publishers of the Raleigh Register, the
state's leading pro-Crawford organ, the lucrative public printing contract. Nathaniel
Macon led the pro-Crawford Tar Heels in Washington. Strict constructionists and
proponents of thrifty government from across North Carolina rallied behind the Georgian
to become the dominant faction in the state. On December 24, 1823, their elected
representatives held a caucus in the senate chamber and nominated Crawford for the
presidency. Before adjourning, they named a seven-member committee of correspondence
and began organizing their campaign.30
William Harris Crawford had been a front-runner in the race to succeed Monroe
since about 1820. In 1816 he had polled a close second to the eventual nominee at that
year's Congressional caucus. As Monroe's Secretary of the Treasury he commanded vast
reserves of patronage. He used this prerogative to build a loyal following of officeholders
and political appointees. Among the populace, however, his appeal was confined to the
South and New York State. Especially popular with the older states rights Jeffersonians,
the fifty-one year old Crawford opposed protective tariffs and federally funded internal
improvements. Among the heirs to Federalism in North Carolina, Mangum was unique
30 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:101, 105; McFarland, "Rip Van
Winkle," pp. 143-45; William S. Hoffman, Andrew Jackson and North Carolina Politics
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958), p. 3; James F. Hopkins,
"Election of 1824," in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Fred L. Israel, and William P. Hansen,
eds., History of American Presidential Elections: 1789-1968, 4 vols. (New York: Chelsea
House Publishers, 1971), 1:374; Richard P. McCormick, The Second Party System: Party
Formation in the Jacksonian Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966),
pp. 202-03; Newsome, The Presidential Election of 1824, p. 62, 102-03; Thomas E.
Jeffrey, State Parties and National Politics: North Carolina. 1815-1861 (Athens: The
University of Georgia Press, 1989), p. 21.
in his support for Crawford.31 Of all the candidates, Mangum thought Crawford a
"sounder constitutionalist" than his opponents, one who promised an administration
"marked with economy & .. rigid accountability."32
Handicapped by reports of failing health, his association with the unpopular
congressional caucus, and the uninspired choice of Albert Gallatin as a running mate,
Crawford faced an uphill battle in North Carolina. The rise of Andrew Jackson provided
a fatal blow to the state's already moribund Crawford movement. Throughout the
campaign, Mangum struggled to preserve the Crawford coalition. In September 1823,
the Georgian suffered a debilitating stroke, leaving him partially blind and bedridden. The
candidate's health disheartened his followers, but they still refused to disclose the full
extent of his illness to the public.33 At first Mangum conveyed a sense of pessimism about
Crawford's condition. He "is very ill," Mangum wrote in December, "[and] tho [sic] his
physicians pronounce him out of danger, yet many entertain doubts of his recovery."34
One month later he evidenced more optimism. While still very sick and sequestered in a
darkened room with his eyes bandaged, Crawford's convalescence was proving beneficial.
31 Richard P. McCormick, The Presidential Game: The Origins of American
Presidential Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 124; McFarland,
"Rip Van Winkle," p. 140; Hopkins, "Election of 1824," 1:351-52, 359, 367; Wagstaff,
State Rights and Political Parties, p. 45; James H. Broussard, The Southern Federalists.
1800-1816 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), 191-92.
32 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:116.
33 Newsome, The Presidential Election of 1824, pp. 106-07; Hopkins, "Election of
34 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:89.
Despite Mangum's repeated assurances that he was on the mend, the candidates's health
remained an issue. As the others entertained their supporters at lavish dinner parties and
elegant balls, Crawford remained conspicuously absent from the affairs that marked an
Mangum also had to refute rumors circulating about his own loyalties. Apparently,
his abundantly-detailed accounts of affairs in Congress had left some of his friends
wondering whom he supported. On January 12, 1824, John Carrington wrote Mangum,
"You said a good deal about the Presidential Election and I thought you appeared
something wandering and did not know well which side to take. "36 Less wary, Seth Jones
inquired, "I should like (as your friend) to know if you have changed your mind & if so
your reasons, & who you are for now."37 Mangum reacted quickly and without
equivocation. "I have only to say," he responded, "that [the rumors are] wholly without
foundation." As if to further placate their suspicions, Mangum added that he had never
been more certain that "the best interests of this country require the elevation of Mr.
Crawford to the presidential chair. "38 The source of these rumors remains unknown. The
fact that they surfaced shortly before a pro-Crawford congressional caucus was scheduled
to meet in Washington may provide a clue as to why they started.
3 Ibid., 1:109, 115.
36 Ibid., 1:105.
7 Ibid., 1:101.
38 Ibid., 1:115.
An avowed opponent of caucuses, Mangum had made it clear that he would not
attend the February 14 assemblage. Dismissed as relics of a bygone era, congressional
caucuses as nominating bodies had come under attack in recent years. A public informed
by antiparty ideals would no longer tolerate closed-door, elite-dominated mechanisms like
the caucus. Three state legislatures expressed formal disapproval of the caucus: Five states
sent only one representative to the gathering, and ten refused to take any part at all. Six
of the fifteen members of the North Carolina delegation in Washington, including Senators
John Branch and Nathaniel Macon, declined participation. Aware that Crawford's men
controlled the meeting from the onset, his opponents tried to prevent the event from taking
place. Failing that, supporters of Jackson, Adams, and Clay, chose to boycott the caucus.
On February 14, 1824, sixty-eight delegates assembled to select their nominee.
Confronting only token opposition, the Crawford forces easily won the day. The session
named Albert Gallatin to the second spot and dissolved without a platform.39
Mangum played to popular prejudices with his condemnation of the caucus.
Although committed to the candidate endorsed by the caucus and working with some of
the most well-organized factions in the country, he continued to portray himself as an
antiparty populist. The image pleased a large segment of his constituency. To William
39 The final vote of the caucus delegates went as follows, William Crawford, 64; John
Quincy Adams, 2; Andrew Jackson, 1; Nathaniel Macon, 1; Raleigh Register, 27
February 1824; Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:115-16; Richard Hofstadter,
The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States. 1780-
1840 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 252; Hopkins, "Election of
1824," 1:360, 368-70, 374; Newsome, The Presidential Election of 1824, p. 82;
McCormick, The Presidential Game, pp. 5, 118-19, 133.
Haywood the caucus was nothing less than a "breach in our constitution. "' John F.
Brevard of Lincoln County, North Carolina, informed Mangum that "the public [sic]
sentiment [regarding the caucus] is universally reprebate [sic]." His state, he
continued, was free from "that spirit of organised [sic] faction which exhibits itself so
thoroughly in the state of New York, & in Virginia."41 In fact, Mangum and his partners
in the pro-Crawford faction in North Carolina worked closely with Martin Van Buren and
William Marcy, two members of New York's powerful Albany Regency.42 On March 6,
1824, the Carolina Sentinel commended Mangum and the five other North Carolinians
"who refused to misrepresent the sentiments of their constituents, or to give countenance
to dictation and intrigue, by attending the Radical caucus at Washington."43 While he
warmly supported William Crawford, Mangum was not entirely happy with the outcome
of the caucus. He thought Albert Gallatin a poor choice for the second spot. The Swiss-
born, former Secretary of the Treasury, Mangum told Romulus Saunders, would not run
well in North Carolina. Gallatin himself agreed and in September withdrew from the
40 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:137.
41 Ibid., 1:123.
42 Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System, p. 252.
43 Carolina Sentinel (New Bern), 6 March 1824.
44 J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, ed., The Papers of Thomas Ruffin, 4 vols. (Raleigh:
Edwards and Broughton, 1918-1920), 1:296; Hopkins, "Election of 1824," 1:370.
Before Andrew Jackson emerged as a major contender, John C. Calhoun had been
Crawford's strongest challenger for the hearts and minds of North Carolina. In addition
to the five above named individuals, the original cast of presidential aspirants included
DeWitt Clinton of New York and William Lowndes of South Carolina. In October 1823
Lowndes died, leaving South Carolina with only one favorite son.45 As a backer of
Crawford, Mangum worried little about the threat posed by Calhoun. "Mr. Calhoun
cannot get more than [South] Carolina & New Jersey unless his prospects shall materially
change," he predicted. "Even if he should get [North Carolina], which I cannot for a
moment believe, still the vote would be thrown away."46 Mangum's main objection to
both Calhoun and Henry Clay was their nationalism. He imagined with dread the
extravagance both would bring to the Oval Office. "I have felt alarm," he wrote, "at the
splendor & profuse policy that I think would characterize the administration of either Clay
or Calhoun."47 Most North Carolinians shared Mangum's suspicion of Calhoun and his
Clay's spendthrift nationalism was not the only thing Mangum found objectionable
about the Kentuckian. As Speaker of the House, Clay had recast the office into one of
45 Hopkins, "Election of 1824," 1:350-51, 361-363.
46 Shanks. The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:116.
4 Newsome, The Presidential Election of 1824, p. 129.
unrivaled power.49 Such a concentration of authority struck Mangum as anathema to
democracy. He thought Clay would use his considerable influence to affect the outcome
of the next presidential contest. If the November election concluded without one candidate
garnering a majority of the electoral votes then the House of Representatives would choose
a new president from one of the three top vote-getters. As the election drew nearer
Mangum began to see this turn of events as a distinct possibility. On February 11, 1824,
he wrote "unless the caucus shall produce considerable effect I am satisfied that an election
cannot be made by the people and will ultimately come to the House of Representatives."
After summarizing the regional strengths of each of the leading candidates, Mangum
added, "if Mr. Clay gets into the H. of R. the American people need not be surprised if
he is made president." His state-by-state analysis provides evidence that Mangum had
become an astute observer of political trends around the nation. The accuracy of his early
prognostication, however, was compromised by the withdrawal of John Calhoun later that
So much of Calhoun's political fortunes hinged on his ability to win votes outside
the South. He hoped to gain much needed support in the heavily-populated middle
Atlantic states, notably Pennsylvania and New Jersey. His backers there assured him that
they could deliver the votes. All hope evaporated in March 1824 when the Pennsylvania
49 George B. Galloway, History of the House of Representatives, 2nd. edition, revised
by Sidney Wise (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976), p. 11l; Steven S.
Smith and Christopher J. Deering, Committees in Congress (Washington, D.C.:
Congressional Quarterly Press, 1984), pp. 14-15.
50 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:116.
state convention nominated Andrew Jackson for the presidency with only one dissenting
vote. Sensing his declining fortunes, Calhoun decided to throw his considerable weight
behind the candidacy of the General. The new alliance immediately became a force in
North Carolina, where Calhoun now moved from the first to the second spot on what his
supporters there had labeled "the Peoples Ticket." The real contest in North Carolina
featured Jackson against Crawford, for neither Clay nor Secretary of State John Quincy
Adams, the other two remaining contestants, appealed to the states rights conservatives
who dominated the Old North State.5"
Crawford and Jackson's personal animosity toward one another gave the campaign
an added dimension. In an election centered on personalities rather than issues, problems
of political economy were superceded by differences of character. William Crawford
challenged the legality of the General's incursions into Spanish Florida and renounced as
unjust the treaties he had negotiated with native American tribes in the Southeast.52
Mangum never mentioned any of Jackson's indiscretions when he spoke of the General.
His silence possibly grew from his unwillingness to alienate the growing legion of
Jacksonians in North Carolina. In April 1824, word of Jackson's popularity back home
crossed Mangum's desk in Washington. Priestly informed his brother of Jackson's appeal
with folks in the western part of the state who sang his praises at every public event.
51 Hopkins, "Election of 1824," 1:366-67, 374; Newsome, The Presidential Election
of 1824, pp. 83-85, 100-01.
52 McCormick, The Presidential Game, p. 5; Charles Grier Sellers, Jr., "Jackson Men
With Feet of Clay," American Historical Review 62 (1957):538.
William H. Haywood told a similar tale. On April 17, he declared, "I am fully satisfied
that without a great revolution in the public sentiment of this state that Genl. Jackson will
be the favorite for the next presidency."53 For his part, Mangum voiced qualified approval
for the hero of New Orleans. "Gen. Jackson with all my objections to him," he wrote
half-heartedly, "I should prefer to Mr. Calhoun."54
Jackson's reputation was not the only one stained by an unscrupulous opposition.
In a campaign rife with dirty tricks, every candidate fell prey to unsubstantiated rumors
leveled by unnamed individuals using dubious evidence. Congressman Jonathan Russell
of Massachusetts, for example, falsified letters in an attempt to discredit John Quincy
Adams with voters in the western states. Only the intervention of President Monroe, who
confirmed that the documents in question had been altered, silenced reports that the
Secretary of State had been willing to grant Great Britain unlimited navigation rights along
the Mississippi River as part of the Treaty of Ghent. In January 1823, a pro-Calhoun
newspaper based in Washington, D.C. printed the first in a series of letters implicating
Crawford in a minor scandal. Writing under the alias "A.B.," Illinois Senator Ninian
Edwards claimed that the Secretary had misused government funds during the Panic of
1819 and later withheld information from Congress in order to conceal his complicity in
53 Quote from, Shanks, The Papers of Willie P Mangum, 1:137; See also, ibid., 1:134,
54 Ibid., 1:116.
the affair." In a scene rarely witnessed on the floor of the House, the normally taciturn
Mangum spoke out in defense of the Secretary. He called for an inquiry, proclaiming
Crawford's innocence all the while. Late in May 1824, a special investigative committee
vindicated the young congressman when it exonerated Crawford.56 Events had left
Mangum disenchanted and jaded. Reflecting on the episode in a letter to his friend Seth
Jones, he wrote "Crawford has to contend against the most powerful combination & I fear
as unprincipled as powerful." Still hopeful, however, he closed with his oft repeated
prediction that Crawford would win in November. As for Ninian Edwards, the erstwhile
Judge seemed to concur with his friend John Randolph, who said that the perjurer should
have his ears lopped off.57
The Ninian Edwards affair prolonged an already drawn out session and delayed
Mangum's return to Red Mountain. Afflicted with the same homesickness he had known
on the judicial circuit, Mangum's enthusiasm for Washington diminished with each passing
month. By March 14, 1824 he had lost interest in the city's gay nightlife, telling his wife
that he would forego social events altogether if he could do so without appearing rude or
asocial. Cold winter evenings and poorly-ventilated rooms conspired to impair Mangum's
health.58 The birth of his first child, Sallie Alston Mangum, only intensified his yearning
Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1971), pp. 505-07, 512-513; Hopkins, "Election of 1824," 1:365;
McCormick, The Presidential Game, pp. 124-25.
56 Annals of the Congress, 18th Cong., 1st. sess., pp. 2654-2660, 2713-2725.
5 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:146.
58 Ibid., 1:124.
to get back home. Born January 6, 1824, she instantly became a source of pride and
concern for both her parents who wrote lovingly of her in all their letters.9 Describing
the newborn to her absent husband, Charity Mangum joked, "she has a beautiful little head
& her hair is very like her father's, [only] thicker on the top. "6 From his lodgings in the
capital, the new father could only sit and wonder what his baby daughter was like. Lonely
and eager to learn as much as he could about the girl, Mangum pumped his wife for
details: "Can she talk? Does she seem conscious and observing? Does she seem to know
that she has gotten into a very naughty world? Does she know where her Pa is?" So far
removed from home, he had to rely on second-hand descriptions and his own
preconceptions to form an imperfect impression of her. "I am afraid she is like too many
young ladies," he imagined of Sallie, "giddy & unthinking.""6
The first session of the eighteenth Congress ended shortly after it had concluded
closed-door hearings on the Ninian Edwards affair. Mangum, along with most partisans
in Washington, immediately set off for home to help run the last leg of the presidential
race. Following a joyous reunion with his family, the congressman set out for the
hustings. His new status gave him an air of dignity and credibility that others wished to
exploit. Crawford organizers in the state enlisted multiple speakers at a single venue,
59 Priestly H. Mangum to Willie P. Mangum, 14 January 1824, Willie P. Mangum
Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Shanks, The Papers of Willie P.
60 Charity A. Mangum to Willie P. Mangum, 2 February 1824, Willie P. Mangum
Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
61 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:125.
believing that the public would be more likely to accept a message delivered by more than
one person. During the late summer and early autumn Mangum shared the stump with
Thomas Ruffin and many other Crawfordites native to his district. He also campaigned
through the mails, urging his friends and associates to get out the vote for Crawford.62
Despite their best efforts, the Crawford forces in North Carolina failed to deliver
their state's fifteen electoral votes in the November election. Instead, supporters of
Jackson's "People's Ticket," a combination of former Federalist and anti-caucus
Republicans, carried the day. Jackson's victory heralded the breakdown of both
Republican solidarity and eastern-dominated politics in North Carolina. The new coalition
comprised elements that had once been at odds with one another. Counties along the
Albemarle Sound in the east combined with western counties to create a formidable
alliance against the powerful plantation districts of the middle-eastern portion of the state.
Mangum's home county of Orange gave the General a slight majority of forty-seven votes,
putting his chances for reelection in 1825 in jeopardy. Jackson's edge in the statewide
tally was considerably more authoritative. Polling 20,415 popular votes, he easily
outdistanced his closest rival William Crawford, who took in 15,621 of the 36,036 total
62 Hamilton, The Papers of Thomas Ruffin, 1:311-12; Shanks, The Papers of Willie
P. Mangum, 1:153-54.
63 Hopkins, "Election of 1824," 1:371, 374, 409; Jeffrey, State Parties and National
Politics, pp. 29-30; Marc W. Kruman, Parties and Politics in North Carolina. 1836-1865
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983), p. 18; Williams, "The
Foundations of the Whig Party in North Carolina," p. 116; McCormick, The Second Party
System, p. 203; Newsome, The Presidential Election of 1824, pp. 156, 161.
In the national contest, Jackson captured more electoral votes than his three rivals
but failed to win the amount needed to take the election. As a result, the contest was
thrown into the House of Representatives where each state delegation had one vote. In
December 1824, the second session of the eighteenth Congress met in Washington and
immediately set about deciding the unfinished contest. Once again, "the presidential
question" took center stage in American politics. Contrary to the leanings of the
electorate, most of the North Carolina contingent remained steadfastly committed to
William Crawford. In spite of having served only a single term in Congress, Mangum
stepped forward as a leader of his state's pro-Crawford forces. Romulus Saunders shared
the responsibility of marshaling this faction behind the Georgian. In mid-December 1824,
Mangum felt that Jackson stood the best chance of winning in the House, but vowed to his
friends in North Carolina that Jackson would not get his vote. He could not speculate
about the outcome with a great deal of confidence because he did not know who Henry
Clay would support. Mangum suspected that Clay, whose last place showing in November
had disqualified him from the House election, would prove to be the wildcard. Whomever
the Speaker chose to back, Mangum guessed, would win.6
Mangum's seemingly innocuous observation that Andrew Jackson appeared to be
the strongest contender soon came back to haunt him. By the time his prediction had
reached Bartlett Yancey in Raleigh, it had been reworded so as to suggest that Mangum
had changed his loyalties and now stood behind Andrew Jackson. Nothing could be more
6 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:160; Hoffman, Andrew Jackson and
North Carolina Politics, p. 7.
absurd, Mangum reassured Yancey in a letter written on Christmas Day, 1824. He
continued to hold out the possibility, however, that the North Carolina delegation might
try to use its vote as a bargaining chip if Crawford's chances began to appear hopeless.
Conversations with representatives from around the country led Mangum to believe that
Jackson was fading and that Adams had taken his place at the front of the pack.65 Writing
from his father-in-law's home near Wake Forest, North Carolina, Priestly Mangum
thought Jackson's chances remained very good. He shared his brother's concern that as
a military figure Jackson would be inclined to dictate, rather than respond to "the popular
impulse of the nation." Neither brother had much respect for Jackson or the people who
placed their faith in him.66
With the new year came a renewed hope that Crawford could win the election. As
Adams gained momentum the potential for a deadlocked House grew more likely. If that
were to happen, Mangum wrote an ally in Wake County, Crawford would emerge as the
compromise choice. Still, he cautioned, Clay's refusal to make clear his intentions left the
outcome as uncertain as ever.67 Mangum also confessed his perplexity to Duncan
Cameron. Few if any officials, he stated, know what will happen next. "Clay certainly
holds in his hands the votes] of 5 states," he wrote Cameron, suspecting that the Speaker
would turn them over to Adams. These intrigues bothered Mangum, who complained,
65 Shanks, The Papers of Willie P. Mangum, 1:160-161.
6 Ibid., 1:164.
67 Ibid., 1:169-70.