The Civil War in North Carolina

Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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terms of the Circuit Courts rarely consumed a week, and a few hours sufficed to dispose of the dockets of the District Courts.

        Since the war the Circuit Courts have usually continued for several weeks at each term and the labor of the judges has been severe and constant. Hundreds of cases have been tried in open court at each term, and the business at chambers has been quite as laborious as in the court room. The district courts have also been crowded since 1867 with cases in bankruptcy, besides a large accession of other questions upon the Revenue Laws of the United States and questions of private right.

        No judge performed more labor since 1866 than Judge Brooks; and in the discharge of his duties he won and retained the highest respect of the Bar of North Carolina, for learning, for courtesy and practical good sense. His decisions are rarely questioned and the people regarded him as an honor to the bench.

        Besides the ordinary business of the Court in which he presided, he was called upon to determine questions under the recent amendments to the Constitution of the United States at a time of intense excitement, when there was serious alarm felt lest a fearful strife should break forth, growing out of the points upon he was called to adjudicate.

        In the year 1870, Governor Holden declared several Counties of North Carolina in a state of insurrection and sent troops who arrested and held in custody a number of citizens of those Counties. These sued out writs of habeas corpus from Chief-Justice Pearson, of the State Court. The writs were issued, but by direction of the Governor the prisoners were not returned. An act of the Legislature of North Carolina had been passed, empowering the Governor upon good cause to declare any County in insurrection and to employ the miltia force to repress such insurrection.

        When the Governor refused the prisoners in obedience to the writs issued by Chief-Justice Pearson, that Judge declared that he had no power to proceed and that the power of the judiciary was exhausted. The prisoners still remained in military custody.

        Immediately they procured writs from Judge Brooks, returnable before him at Salisbury in August, 1870. The questions arising upon these proceedings were of the gravest kind, involving the construction of the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the act of February fifth, 1867, passed in pursuance thereof. The prisoners were supposed to be Democrats, seeking relief at the hands of the federal government from the wrongs of their own State officers; the counsel for the prisoners, all leading Democrats, filed argument upon argument to convince the Court that the Federal arm ought to interfere. The Judge was easy to convince; he had common sense, the text of the Constitution, the written statute and the bias of a life-time on his side. He extended the Ęgis of the Federal Constitution over the citizen of the United States and proclaimed to eternity that the United States is a nation charged to vindicate the wrongs of the subject in every corner of its domain and armed with power to resist the tyranny of any or either of the several States.

        He granted the writ of habeas corpus and extended the federal jurisdiction to the case

        The prisoners exulted in their liberty and a shout of triumph went up from the people and the press over the result. The Judge enjoyed an ovation such as seldom honors the bench, and at the time, no honor would have been too great for the State to lay at his feet.

        The decision referred to, although it did present at the time only a local aspect, is, in fact, a national one, and may one day form the basis of an opinion of as wide notoriety as the Dred Scott case. It in fact ranks with it in
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