Benjamin Hedrick, Chapel Hill Heretic

Benjamin Hedrick, Chapel Hill HereticOn October 4, 1856, Benjamin Hedrick, a professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina, published his “Defence” in the North Carolina Standard, a Raleigh newspaper.  The letter was his response to the newspaper’s campaign against him after he announced his support for the presidential candidacy of Republican John C. Fremont in August of that year. 

The crux of the issue was slavery. Though not a militant abolitionist, Hedrick did not support the expansion of slavery and advocated the election of Fremont because he shared Fremont’s views on the matter. Fremont was an ardent abolitionist.

The Standard did not simply call for Hedrick to be dismissed from the university but said that “No man who is avowedly for John C. Fremont for President ought to be allowed to breathe the air or tread the soil of North Carolina.”

Hedrick’s colleagues advised that he not respond to the Standard’s attacks, but he ignored them and published the defense of his position. University students burned him in effigy, the trustees fired him and the faculty issued a statement assuring the people of the state that the faculty had no more “Black Republicans” as white southerners called whites who sympathized with the hated party.  Hedrick left his native state soon after and lived the rest of his life in New York and Washington.

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