A one-term governor, Charles Manly was the last Whig to hold the office (1849-1851). He earned a reputation for maintaining his Whig predecessor’s initiatives. He is more famous for his debates with David Settle Reid during the 1848 gubernatorial campaign in which he disapproved of broadening manhood suffrage.
A Pittsboro native, Manly later attended the University of North Carolina and practiced law before embarking on a political career. The thirty-first governor rode the ebb and flow of the Whig Party. At the party’s inception, Manly spoke fervently in support of internal improvements because he thought, like John Motley Morehead, that railroads would unify the state’s regions and make the state less dependent on neighboring states.
Although Manly won the 1848 gubernatorial campaign, his debates with David Reid may have been the beginning of the end for the Whig Party. Manhood suffrage was a major issue during the campaign and Manly spoke out against broadening the vote. He called Reid’s endorsement of it to be “political claptrap” that was designed to help the ambitious win political office. The serious issue needed genuine discussion outside the political arena, Manly remarked. He won by a mere 848 votes. (In the previous gubernatorial election, Whigs outdistanced their competitor by 4,000 votes).
As governor, Manly’s term was considered unimpressive. He ordered a geological survey and a history project with the goal of transcribing colonial records from London archives. Many deemed the former as unnecessary and the latter remained unfinished until almost 100 years later. As North and South seemed more divided, Manly spoke out consistently against secession in 1850.
Manly ran for governor again but this time lost to David S. Reid. Manly returned to practicing law and living on his Wake County plantation.
During the Civil War, as William T. Sherman marched through North Carolina, the former governor’s home was plundered. After fighting illness for a couple years, Manly died in 1871.
Michael Hill, ed., The Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh, 2006) and William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, 1989).