1865 REGRETS By NC Secession Leaders

AMNESTY PETITION #1 from KENNETH RAYNER, Lawyer, Legislator and Hertford County delegate to the 1861 North Carolina Secession Convention, Legislator and County Representative at the Convention.

To His Excellency Andrew Johnson, President of the United States:

“. . . the entire population seemed to succumb [to secession fever] and then it was, some way, or somehow, by some strange and unaccountable influence, which I can not comprehend, I soon found myself being swept along by this irresistible current. I found that I had imbibed this moral poison, without being able to understand the why, or the wherefore. To be sure, it might be pleaded, and was so pleaded in mitigation [his underline], though not in justification [his underline], of the course our people in this state, that we were under a sort of moral duress [his underline]. And the best union men in the state, were forced, as it were, to attempt to compromise with their sense of duty to the Union, on the ground, that the law of necessity had left us no choice – that Virginia having seceded on the north of us, and South Carolina on the South, and being compelled to take up arms on one side or the other, our territorial position left us no alternative. This view, though fallacious is fact, was honestly and conscientiously entertained – and is the key to the proper understanding of the course of the Union men of our state.

I was nominated for the convention [1861 Secession Convention] in Hertford County, without my being present, and was elected, without opposition. In common with every other member of the convention (for the vote was unanimous) [his bracketed comment] I voted for the ordinance of secession. [my comment: these are common defenses used by many NC petitioners for amnesty]. As long as the convention was in existence, as a matter of personal honor, I felt bound to sustain the state in the position in which I had aided in placing her. But when the convention finally adjourned, when the delirium of the fever of excitement had abated, and reason and judgment had reconnected their sway – I fully waked up to the sad conviction of what a mistake, what a blunder and what a crime [his underline] had been committed in blindly rushing into secession, as a remedy for imaginary wrongs. From that day to this, I have felt nothing but the most poignant regret for the past, and despondency for the future. For the past two years, I have been most anxious for peace on any [of] the best terms we could get – knowing, and predicting, as I have done, that the longer the South persisted in the war, the harder must be the terms to which it must ultimately have to submit. So anxious was I for peace, as the basis of reconstruction, that it was agreed [in discussion] with certain Union men here, last fall, that I was to make a public speech, declare for peace as the basis of reconstruction, and thus make the effort to inaugurate a counter revolution.”

Kenneth Rayner, 1861 North Carolina Secession Convention Delegate from Hertford County. He is identified, by most historians of the convention, as a leader during its deliberations. At the time, he was very worried about being too active in the seismic actions taken by the Convention.

He goes on to say that Provisional Governor Holden was a party to these discussions and thus can verify all that he says above. Then he reports that he became sick and did not leave the house for two months. The numbering of pages in his long rambling petition is confused. He seems to focus on the time just after they put the convention to bed in 1862, however, the discussion, historically speaking, seems more likely to have been after the initiation of a peace movement in North Carolina during August and September, 1863 (covered very well by William K. Boyd). Holden was the central “bad guy”, in the view of President Davis and Governor Vance, in this tough time for Confederate leadership.

AMNESTY PETITION #2 from WILLIAM H. BAILEY, Lawyer from Rowan County; identified in his amnesty records as “Rebel Receiver.”

To His Excellency the Hon. Andrew Johnson, President of the United States

The petition of WILLIAM H. BAILEY now a resident of Rowan County, North Carolina, humbly shows unto your Excellency that he is within the terms of one of the exceptions to your Excellency’s Proclamation of Amnesty has been a Receiver under the Sequestration Acts of the late rebel Congress.

Your petitioner further shows unto your Excellency that he only sold during his term of appointment a box of patent medicines of very inconsiderable value for which he holds himself responsible to the proper owners. Your petitioner further shows that his receipts in the way of enumerations were very trifling and that he only accepted the appointment because it was an exemption from conscription. Your petitioner further shows unto your Excellency that he intends to be a loyal and law-abiding citizen of the United States and now sincerely regrets that the South should have so blindly rushed into the late devastating war.

If it should please your Excellency to extend to your petitioner the benefits of executive clemency your petitioner flatters himself that you will have no citizen who will more cordially do everything to render our re-united Government – one and inseparable, now and forever.”

William H. Bailey, born in Pasqouotank County, was the son of Judge John L. Bailey and Priscilla Brownrigg Bailey of Chowan County. John L. Bailey held judgeships in Orange and Buncombe County.


I have read about fifty to sixty of the amnesty petitions for pardons submitted by North Carolina secessionist leaders who were most active in the politics of 1860 and 61. Kenneth Rayner is the first petitioner, who was a leader at the 1861 Secession Convention, willing, in his amnesty petition, to call the May 1861 convention decisions that resulted in the secession of North Carolina from the Union and joining the Confederacy, a “crime.” Also, his claim that a growing number of Union men in the state supported counter revolutionary actions is not supported by my research.

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