Biography of Bartholomew Figures Moore

Bartholomew Figures Moore was born near Fishing Creek, Halifax County, N. C., January 29, 1801. The first seventeen years of his life were spent on his father’s farm. In 1818 he entered the State University and was graduated from that institution in 1820. From 1820-23 he prepared himself for the practice of law, which he began at Nashville, N. C., remaining there until 1835, when he removed to Halifax County, his old home. In December 1828, he was married to Louisa Boddie, daughter of Geo. Boddie, Esq., of Nash County, who died November 4th, 1829.

On April 19, 1835, he married Lucy W. Boddie, another daughter of George Boddie, Esq. He served in the House of Commons from 1836-’44, with the exception of ’38. In 1848, he was appointed by Governor Graham as Attorney General of the State, and the next Legislature elected him to that position. In 1857 he resigned the position of Attorney General in consequence of an appointment on a commission to revise the statute law of the State. In 1848 he moved to Raleigh, where he remained until his death on November 27, 1878.

In all the long career of Mr. Moore, as a lawyer, a statesman, or as a private citizen, there is probably nothing which brings out the true character of the man so well as the course he chose to pursue during the days of secession and reconstruction. He was by conviction a Federalist, both in politics and in the construction, which, as a lawyer, he placed upon the Constitution of the United States, and when the question of secession arose he declared himself unalterably opposed to it. For his views he was bitterly denounced by some, but few then stopped to consider, and fewer still recognized, the true motive, which prompted him in taking such a course.

Viewed in the light of the then existing circumstances, it was indeed a bold step, and one fraught with the most serious consequences, especially to a man in the high position to which Mr. Moore had attained. He was then, and had been for many years, looked upon as one of the best, if not the best, lawyers in the State. His brief in the celebrated case of the State vs. Will, which, when decided, settled then and forever afterwards the true relations between master and slave in North Carolina, stood then, as it probably does until this day, as the greatest piece of legal argument ever produced in the State. The revision of the statute law of the State, which was entirely under his supervision, and a great deal of it his individual labor, was looked upon by the ablest critics as a work of marked ability. Had he espoused the cause of secession, no man would have stood higher among the leaders than he. But fortunately Mr. Moore was prompted by higher and nobler motives than the mere mercenary, and although deserted by friends and colleagues, he remained true to his honest convictions and unhesitatingly declared his opinion whenever and wherever the opportunity presented.

Mr. Moore was not blind to the fact that the South had grounds for complaint, as he says in a letter to his daughter: “I would not impress upon you that the South has no
cause of complaint. She has many, but if for such cause a people may quit their alliances, then there can be no durable union.”

To him there could be no reliable liberty of the State without the union of the States. He was a close student of the Constitution of the United States and thoroughly understood the principles upon which it was founded. He plainly foresaw the almost inevitable results of a union of the Southern States based upon the principle which prompted secession. A nation composed of States whose union was optional, and necessarily weak, could only come to confusion and ruin.

Probably his own words can give us the best idea of how he looked upon the matter. In his will he says: ” I was unable, under my conviction of the solemn duties of patriotism, to give any excuse for, or countenance to, the civil war of 1861, without sacrificing all self-respect. My judgment was the instructor of my conscience, and no man suffered greater misery than did I, as the scenes of battle unfolded the bloody carnage of war in the midst of our homes. I had been taught under the deep conviction of my judgment that there could be no reliable liberty of my State without the union of the States, and being devoted to my State, I felt that I should desert her whenever I should aid to destroy the Union. I could not imagine a more terrible spectacle than that of beholding the sun shining upon the broken and dishonored fragments of States dissolved, discordant and belligerent, and on a land rent with civil feuds and drenched in fraternal blood. With this horrible picture of anarchy and blood looming up before my eyes, I could not, as a patriot, consent to welcome its approach to ‘ my own, my native land,’ and truly was I happy when I saw the sun of peace rising with the glorious promise to shine once more on States equal, free, honored and united.”

There have been few, if any, of our great men who have placed a higher estimate upon a good government, and a free and contented people, than did Mr. Moore. He hesitated at no obstacle, it matters not how great, when the purity of the government was at stake. In a letter to his daughter he says: ” I have written, my dear child, more on politics than I intended, but how can I help it, when I regard our country as the best inheritance I can leave to my children; of far greater value than all my property, if that might be preserved in the general wreck of the financial affairs of the day.”

Never did Mr. Moore show the honesty of his purpose, and the true love he felt for North Carolina better or to more effect than in the service, which he rendered in the utter confusion which followed immediately upon the surrender. Time had proved the correctness of his views, and now when the days of reconstruction began he came forward as the leader in restoring North Carolina to her former position in the Union, which he had fought so hard for her to maintain. On account of his position in regard to secession, the Federal authorities sought his advice. Just after the close of the war President Johnson invited Mr. Moore to come to Washington to join in a consultation in regard to the taking of North Carolina back into the Union. He advised that she should at once be recognized with only such changes in her constitution as were necessary to make it better conform to the changed state of affairs. These changes he said the people should be allowed to make themselves and in their accustomed way. Mr. Moore’s advice was not heeded, but it did not cause him for a moment to cease his efforts in his State’s behalf.

When the Constitutional Convention was called by President Johnson, Mr. Moore was a prominent member and warmly supported the adoption of every measure which tended to place North Carolina in what he conceived was her proper place in the Union. His ambition was that she should not have her privileges curtailed, but should stand on an equal footing with any State in the Union. Although he believed in the freedom of the slaves, yet he was bitterly opposed to Negro suffrage and vigorously fought against it. He realized that the ignorant Negroes had no idea of self-government, and to place the ballot in their hands meant no end of trouble for the whites of the South. Military rule was alike obnoxious in his sight. The presence of Federal soldiers to enforce laws was in direct opposition to what he considered the rights of North Carolinians to govern them selves.
Mr. Moore had little respect for the constitution of 1868, which was drawn up by a convention acting under the orders of General Canby, and which is now generally known as the “Canby Constitution.”

In a letter dated March 28, 1868, he says: -It is in my view, with some exceptions, a wretched basis to secure liberty or property. The legislative authority rests upon ignorance without a single check except senatorial age against legislative plunder by exorbitant taxation.” Further on in the same letter he says again: “The Radical party purposes to fill our Congressional representation with those men recently introduced from other quarters of the United States, and to impose them upon us through the instrumentality and league of the ignorance of the State, nor have they stopped there-they have proposed for the administration of justice in our Superior Courts men whose knowledge of law is contemptible and far below the requirements of a decent County Court lawyer. The party has had no regard unless where they thought they would increase their strength, for the selection of a single mate of worth or intelligence for any office, however high might be the qualifications demanded for it.”

Soon after the adoption of the Canby constitution political excitement in North Carolina became very intense, and certain Judges of the Supreme Court openly engaged in the canvass. Against this Mr. Moore felt that something should be done to preserve the purity of the court. He was the oldest member of the bar and naturally felt that he should take the lead in the matter. Accordingly he drew up and had published in the Daily Sentinel of April 19, 1869, the following article, entitled: ” A Solemn Protest of the Bar of North Carolina Against Judicial Interference in Political Affairs.” “The undersigned present, or former, members of the bar of North Carolina have witnessed the late public demonstrations of political partisanship by the judges of the Supreme Court of the State with profound regret and unfeigned alarm for the purity of the future administration of the laws of the land. Active and open participation in the strife of political contests by any judge of the State, so far as we recollect, or tradition or history has informed us, was unknown to the people until the late exhibitions. To say that these were unexpected, and a prediction of them by the wisest among us would have been spurned as incredible, would not express half of our astonishment or the painful shock suffered by our feelings when we saw the humiliating fact accomplished. Not only did we not anticipate it, but we thought it was impossible to be done in our day. Many of us have passed through political times almost as excited as those of to-day: and most of us, recently, through one more excited; but, never before have we seen the judges of the Supreme Court, singly or en masse, move from that becoming propriety so indispensable to secure the respect of the people, and, throwing aside the ermine, rush into the mad contest of politics tinder the excitement of drums and flags. From the unerring lessons of the past we are assured that a judge who openly and publicly displays his political party zeal renders himself unfit to hold the ‘ balance of justice,’ and whenever an occasion may offer to serve his fellow partisans he will yield to the temptation, and the ‘ wavering balance’ will shake.

” It is a natural weakness in man that he who warmly and publicly identifies himself with a political party will be tempted to uphold the party which upholds him, and all experience teaches us that a partisan judge cannot be safely trusted to settle the great principles of a political constitution, while he reads and studies the book of its laws under the banners of a party.

“Unwilling that our silence should be construed into an indifference to the humiliating spectacle now passing around us; influenced solely by a spirit of love and veneration for the past purity which has distinguished the administration of law in our State, and animated by the hope that the voice of the bar of North Carolina will not be powerless to avert the pernicious example which we have denounced, and to repress its contagious influence, we have under a sense of solemn duty subscribed and published this paper.”

The above article was signed by one hundred and eight prominent attorneys, which was about one-fifth of the entire number in the State at that time. The matter was taken up at once by the Supreme Court and the famous “contempt proceedings” begun. Chief Justice Pearson issued orders that those lawyers whose names were signed to the article should hereafter be debarred from further practice in the courts unless they should appear before him and show cause to the contrary. To save expense and shorten matters notice was served on only three of the attorneys, Messrs. Moore, Bragg and Haywood. When answer to the charge was made, Messrs. Battle, Person, Fowle and Barnes appeared for the defendants. No denial of writing and publishing the article was made by the defendants, but they did disavow any intention of committing contempt or of doing injury to the court. On the other hand they declared their purpose was to preserve the purity of the court and protect the administration of justice. Judge Pearson gave quite an elaborate opinion on the case, strongly implying the guilt of the parties accused, but decided under the law which grants the accused the privilege of coming into court and purging himself by pleading a disavowal of any intention to commit contempt. Their disavowal, coming within the rule, they were excused, but not acquitted.

The court seemed glad to let the matter go as it did, and well it might. The rebuke was merited, and the court has never recovered from its effect.

No one can doubt the honesty of Mr. Moore’s motives in administering this reproof, and although he came out of the contest victorious, the whole matter was a source of the deepest regret to him. He says in a letter to his daughter: ” While I rejoice that my course is sustained by all the virtuous and sensible, yet I weep over the degradation into which the court has plunged itself and the liberties of freemen. I had no purpose to degrade the court; God knows that my only object was to purify and elevate it. The conduct of individuals composing the court was unbecoming the judges according to my judgment, founded upon all the past examples of the enlightened men who had adorned our annals. 1 saw that if such conduct should be tolerated and become common, the judiciary would sink into partisan political corruption. I felt it my duty, as the oldest member of the bar, to lift my wavering voice against the pernicious example. I did so as an act of duty. I feel now still more sensibly that it was my duty.”

This one act was probably the greatest single service ever rendered by any man in our State in the cause of the administration of justice. The same spirit of bold opposition to what he considered harmful to the State, which characterized Mr. Moore’s course during the days of secession and reconstruction, is seen throughout his entire life. And whatever may be said of him along other lines, he certainly stood as an unselfish protector of the people’s interests, displaying in his actions a foresight and sound judgment displayed by few.

* The material from which this paper was written was taken from a Memorial Pamphlet, issued by the Bar of North Carolina, and letters written by .Mr. Moore to his daughter, Mrs. Capehart, of Kittrell, N. C. They belong to the papers of the Historical Society of Trinity College.



Trinity College Historical Society. Historical Papers of the Trinity College Historical Society. Durham, N. C.: The Society. 1897-1956.

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