north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
    William N. H. Smith, jurist and politician, was born in 1812, the son of a prominent doctor who had moved to Murfreesboro from Connecticut. Although his father died when Smith was an infant, his mother managed to raise and educate her son first at Hertford Academy and later at schools in Rhode Island and Connecticut. After completing his preparatory training, Smith was admitted to Yale University and graduated in 1834. Despite his early leanings towards entering the ministry, he was encouraged by an uncle to study law and was admitted to the bar in North Carolina in 1836. Soon after he established himself as an attorney, Smith began to seek political office.

     Smith served in the state legislature in both the House of Commons and the Senate, first being elected to the House in 1840. He moved on to national prominence in 1859 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he was narrowly defeated in a bid for Speaker of the House, an uncommon achievement for a freshman legislator. Smith’s role in national politics came to a close with the opening of the Civil War. With his election to the Confederate Congress in 1861, he sought to avert secession. Once war was declared, Smith served in the Congress for the remainder of the conflict.

     After the war, Smith returned to state politics and was re-elected to the House of Commons in 1865 as an advocate of liberal legislation for freedmen and Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plans. Smith continued to play a role in Reconstruction politics and was a delegate to the 1868 Democratic National Convention. After the convention, Smith returned to private life and operated a law firm in Norfolk. He relocated himself to Raleigh in 1872 after serving as counsel for Governor William Holden during his impeachment trial of 1871. Although the Governor was impeached, many fellow attorneys and politicians praised Smith’s arguments in defense of Holden. In 1878 Smith was named Chief Justice of the North Carolina State Supreme Court by Governor Zebulon B. Vance and held the position until his death in 1889 at his home in Raleigh.


References:
William Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 391—sketch by Thomas C. Parramore
Samuel Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, VII (1908)Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Online:
http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=S000634
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north carolina highway historical marker program


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