John Pool, the scion of an eastern North Carolina planter family, played a major role in the development of the Republican Party in North Carolina. A native of Pasquotank County, an 1847 graduate of the University of North Carolina, and a lawyer, Pool rose to political prominence as a member of the Whig Party, serving in the state Senate prior to the Civil War. He ran against incumbent governor, John Ellis, a Democrat, in the gubernatorial election of 1860 on the Opposition Party ticket. The Opposition Party emerged in North Carolina after the Whig party collapsed in the 1850s, and many old Whigs unsurprisingly supported the new party.
Debate over the possible adoption of an ad valorem tax (the amount determined by the value of one’s property) dominated the 1860 gubernatorial election. Many Democrats opposed the ad valorem tax, for it, they argued, unfairly increased the tax burden already shouldered by slaveholders; Pool’s Oppositionists meanwhile declared that non-slaveholding citizens deserved relief from the inordinately high taxes being placed on them as slaveholders benefited from the non-egalitarian tax system in use. Although a planter and a slaveholder, Pool wholeheartedly endorsed the ad valorem tax system. Pool lost the election to Ellis, however. Although the Opposition Party made a strong showing in the 1860 state election, many of the western counties voted for Ellis because mountaineers favored state-sponsored internal improvements–a policy that Pool opposed, or so claimed Ellis.
Pool’s defeat did not bring an end to the ad valorem tax controversy. In 1861, as war clouds gathered, the ad valorem tax came to fruition in North Carolina. By passing the tax, North Carolina political leaders hoped to soften non-slaveholder opposition to a state secession convention.
The coming of the Civil War placed Pool, who opposed secession, in a quandary. A sizable number of North Carolinians such as Pool reluctantly considered secession, for they feared their state’s plight once outside of the Union. The Confederacy nevertheless gained Pool’s support for a time, but as the war dragged on, he supported the restoration of North Carolina into the Union and the peace movement founded by William Woods Holden. (The two men became close political allies, and Holden greatly valued Pool’s political advice.) Still favoring peace, Pool served in the North Carolina state Senate in 1864 and 1865, and in hopes of preventing a Democratic resurgence after the war, he joined the Republican Party.
During Reconstruction, Pool served in a number of political capacities, the most important being North Carolina’s first Republican United States Senator. Fearing the implementation of Radical Reconstruction policies if white southerners refused to cooperate with officials in Washington, Pool implored North Carolinians to accept the federal government’s moderate plans of Reconstruction. During his one term as Senator, he chaired a committee and remained in close contact with Holden. Senator Pool publicly supported and advised Governor Holden in his efforts to suppress Ku Klux Klan violence in North Carolina; the anti-Klan campaign prompted the General Assembly’s impeachment of Holden and his ouster from office. In 1873, Pool left the Senate yet remained in Washington, D.C., working as a lawyer.
Eleven years later, his long and turbulent life ended. Pool had married twice, but both of his wives had died before his untimely death. His children (one son and two daughters) outlived him. Pool is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.
Other members of Pool’s family also participated in public life. His brother, Solomon Pool, served as the University of North Carolina’s president during Reconstruction, and his nephew, Walter Freshwater Pool, was briefly a member of the US House of Representatives, but suffered an untimely death in his thirties shortly after assuming office.
Donald C. Butts, “The ‘Irrepressible Conflict’: Slave Taxation and North Carolina’s Gubernatorial Election of 1860,” The North Carolina Historical Review (1981) 58: 44-66; William C. Harris, William Woods Holden: Firebrand of North Carolina Politics (Baton Rouge, 1987); Gerald W. Thomas, Bertie County During the Civil War (Raleigh, 1996); “Pool, John”, Biographical Directory of the American Congress, http://www.bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay; Allen W. Trelease, “Pool, John” in John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (New York, 1999): 665-66