After serving for the Confederacy during the Civil War yet before becoming governor, Jarvis practiced law in Columbia, North Carolina and served as a state legislator (1868, 1870). In his second term, he served as Speaker of the House and presided over the William Holden impeachment. After Vance resigned in 1879 to serve in the U.S. Senate, Lieutenant Governor Jarvis assumed the governor’s position for a year, and he won the gubernatorial election of 1880.
As governor, Jarvis earned a reputation for being a guardian against political corruption and for limiting government intervention in the economy. He sold the state’s interest in railroads to private companies; he lowered taxes; and he worked to ensure that a free-market environment existed for businesses to compete and prosper in North Carolina.
Although he worked for lower taxes, Jarvis established normal schools and mental health facilities across the state and built a new governor’s mansion. Legislative fiscal constraints delayed the completion of some projects, however.
After serving as governor, Jarvis served as U.S. minister to Brazil and was appointed in 1894 to replace the deceased Zebulon Vance as U.S. Senator. After losing a Senate election, Jarvis practiced law and maintained an interest in promoting education, including starting what is now East Carolina University.
Michael Hill, ed., The Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh, 2007).