Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 597

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 597


This is the grave of Augustus Merrimon.

Born in 1830 outside Asheville, North Carolina, Merrimon grew up on his father’s farm, working in his sawmill from the time he was a teen, where he hurt his hands permanently. He was working but his family still had slaves, which was far from uncommon. Merrimon first came to public light in 1860, when he won election to the North Carolina legislature. He resigned in 1861, when after a brief moment volunteering for the Treason Army and then resigned from that to become a solicitor for the state’s district that covered his home in the western part of the state. After the treasonous slaveholders were defeated, Merrimon got involved in the battles to take back control of the state for white supremacists. The Democratic Party was not a real thing per se at this point, too closely identified with both the national party and the war, but the Conservative Party formed in states such as Virginia and North Carolina and was close to the same thing. Merrimon became a leader in this party, part of one faction that was strongly opposed to Zebulon Vance, the leader of the other faction. The details of this rivalry aren’t really that important, but in 1872 Merrimon lost a very close race for governor. But after he lost, the Conservative Party, which did not quite have a majority, nominated Vance for the Senate. Republicans had no chance of naming their own candidate, but they controlled enough seats in the state legislature that they could play kingmaker. They decided to throw their votes to Merrimon to deny Vance the seat. This would not work out well for them, even though they had some reason to believe it might, for Merrimon had infuriated hardliner Confederates immediately after the war by reaching out to moderate Unionists, of which there were many in western North Carolina.

In the Senate, Merrimon became known for his extreme partisanship and conservatism. He attacked Reconstruction and the protection of black rights vociferously, while also supporting expanded monetary policy, particularly the issuance of greenbacks and wanting to create a new national bank. These latter policies reflected the fact that he had been a Whig as a young man before the battles over the Kansas-Nebraska Act killed that party. He was the Democrats’ choice to be on the commission adjudicating the 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden. Democrats had cheated throughout this election by using violence and murder to keep African-Americans from voting. Merrimon’s role on the committee was to discredit any of this and he worked hard to intimidate all Republican witnesses, especially black ones, from telling the truth about what really happened. Merrimon was all-in on this violence to retake the South for white supremacists and while he might not have gotten his way on the 1876 election, he certainly won the war in the aftermath of the Compromise of 1877 and the return of open white supremacy in the South.

This didn’t really help Merrimon’s political career because Vance wanted to destroy him. Making a concerted effort to defeat Merrimon’s friends in the state legislature, Vance was able to throw him out of the Senate in 1879 and take his place, in part because Republicans threw their vote this time to the challenger, having seen just how horrible the incumbent was.

In the aftermath, Merrimon became a leading judge in North Carolina, serving on the state Supreme Court between 1883 and his death in 1892, the last three years as Chief Justice.

Augustus Merrimon is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, North Carolina.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader donations. Many thanks, as always! Your donations always go 100% into keeping this series alive. If you would like this series to visit some of the other senators who helped bring the South back under violent white supremacy, making them some of the worst Americans, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Zebulon Vance is in Asheville, North Carolina and Pitchfork Ben Tillman is in Trenton, South Carolina. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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