The Civil War in North Carolina

Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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        On the resignation of Robert J. Walker as senator, in 1845, to assume the duties of Secretary of the Treasury under Mr. Polk, he was appointed Senator of the United States; but for some reason, he did not accept the commission.

        In 1857, he was appointed Secretary of the Interior by Mr. Buchanan, over which department he presided with unexampled integrity and ability, until the great civil war between the states began, when he resigned, preserving the respect and regard of his associates When Mississippi seceded, Mr. Thompson deemed it his duty to share her fortunes and her fate. He was employed by the Confederate government as a financial agent, and suffered deeply in the wreck of his once princely estate. He now resides near Memphis, pursuing the vocation of planter.

        He married in 1838, Miss Jones, whose kind disposition and genial manners shed a charm over every circle. Their only son was in the Confederate army, and fell in battle.

        John Kerr, late one of the judges of the superior courts, resided in this county. He was the son of the Reverend John Kerr, who was an eminent Baptist preacher of great eloquence; he represented the Lynchburg district, Virginia, in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Congress. His son, the subject of our present sketch, was born on February 10th, 1811, in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Educated at home and at Richmond, he read law with Judge Pearson. He was elected a member of the Thirty-third Congress from this district; and was the whig candidate for governor in 1854, but was defeated by Governor Reid. He represented Caswell County in the legislature in 1858 and 1860.

        During the civil war, he was employed in his professional and agricultural pursuits. When the war closed he suffered much tribulation and indignity at the hands of those who were attempting to reconstruct the state government. He and others were arrested by George W. Kirk.

        Upon his application for a writ of habeas corpus, I copy from the records the following:

        "Before Chief Justice Pearson, ex-parte John Kerr, at chambers in the rooms of the supreme court, August 2nd, 1870.

        "The counsel for the petitioner, upon the return of the marshal of the supreme court, and the communication from George W. Kirk being read, contended that Kirk's response to the service of the writ of habeas corpus upon him (that he held the prisoner under order of Governor Holden,) was insufficient upon several grounds, and that he ought to be attached for making it. The counsel, therefore, moved for a precept to have the body of the petitioner brought before the chief justice, &c."

        On this the chief justice delivered the following decision:

        "The motion is not allowed. I can say no more than I have already said. The power of the judiciary is exhausted. I have no posse commitatus. In this particular, my situation differs from that of Chief Justice Taney, in 'Merriman's case.' He had a posse commitatus at his command, but considered 'the power of judiciary exhausted.' He did not deem it his duty to command the marshal with a posse 'to storm a fort.' "

        The time has not yet come to comment upon all these circumstances, yet some of the recorded facts may be detailed for future reference. It was, indeed, a fearful epoch in our history when the lives and liberties of innocent and worthy citizens were exposed to the tender mercies of lawless power.

        That "the great writ of right" was powerless and exhausted in the state struck the whole country with dismay.

        It forcibly brought to mind the prophetic remarks of Lord Shelburne to Mr. Laurens, of South Carolina, once our envoy to Holland and President of Congress, who had been a prisoner in the Tower (1779) for some time; after his release, in an interview with England's Secretary of State, the following conversation occurred:

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