A native of Warrenton and the brother of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, Thomas Bragg served as the 34th Governor of North Carolina (1855-1859), as a United States Senator (1859-1861), and as the second Attorney General for the Confederate States of America. After the Civil War, he and William A. Graham, and Augustus Merrimon prosecuted Governor William Woods Holden in an 1871 impeachment trial.
Compared to his gubernatorial counterparts, Bragg’s political career (rather his political success) began at a later age. Bragg began his professional career in the area in which he matured. He opened a successful law practice in Northhampton County. He served one term in the state House (1842-1843). Yet he was, for the most part, unknown outside his community. His political popularity, however, increased in the 1840s and early-1850s, when he served at several national Democratic conventions.
Thomas Bragg twice successfully ran for governor in 1854 and 1856. He narrowly won the first time. But in the waning days of the Whig Party, Democratic power increased. Bragg soundly defeated his 1856 opponent. Bragg’s terms have been noted for the broadening of manhood suffrage and for internal improvements, most notably the North Carolina Railroad.
Bragg can be credited, in part, with the strengthening of the Democratic Party in North Carolina. During Bragg’s administration, the manhood suffrage issue was settled. David Reid had first mentioned in an 1848 gubernatorial campaign and debate with Charles Manly. Unlike Reid, Bragg’s support of it reflected the Democratic platform and his inaugural address urged the General Assembly to pass a suffrage amendment. Its ultimate passage meant that more and more property-less, white men could vote and they by and large joined the Democratic Party. This combined with the Whig Party’s internecine quarrels helped ensure Democratic success in the late 1850s and 1860s.
After his gubernatorial terms, Bragg’s political career continued, yet this time at the national level. The state legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1858, and he served there until the body expelled him for supporting the Confederate cause. In November 1861, the president of the nascent Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, appointed Bragg as the second Attorney General of the CSA. Bragg replaced Judah Benjamin until he resigned in March 1862. According to historian Michael Hill, Bragg never fully endorsed secession yet he never abandoned his homeland: “I will stand by the old State, and if the worst shall ultimately come, as I very much fear, I will go down with her, and when all is over, I will do what I can to save what is left of her.”
After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, Thomas Bragg opposed some of the changes that were made in the 1868 North Carolina Constitution. The Conservative Party opposed what they deemed to be Radical Republican rule and in particular denounced William Woods Holden’s actions in suppressing Klan activity. A legal, all-star team of Bragg, William A. Graham, and Augustus Merrimon were hired to prosecute Holden in 1871. They successfully did.
The Raleigh resident died approximately a year later. He is buried in Oakwood cemetery
Lindley S. Butler and Alan D. Watson, The North Carolina Experience: An Interpretive and Documentary History (Chapel Hill, 1984); Michael Hill, ed., The Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh, 2006); William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, 1989); Milton Ready, The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (Columbia, 2006); Richard L. Zuber, North Carolina During Reconstruction (Raleigh, 1969).