Reconstruction and closing

The defeat of the Confederacy and the emancipation of one-third of the people of North Carolina in 1865 brought change at every level to the university and Chapel Hill. Fewer than 100 students remained enrolled, and the university's finances were ruined by investments that were now worthless. Potential new students would have come from families likewise impacted by the economic collapse. Political divisions played out over control of the campus. A provisional state government led by Republicans was hostile to a university that they identified with the elite wealthy people who had led the state into secession and defeat. UNC president David Lowry Swain eventually persuaded the legislature to appropriate funds to pay faculty salaries. He also gained access to the state's share of the Morrill Act, passed in 1862 by the U.S. Congress to create land-grant colleges.

When Congress took over Reconstruction in 1867, it imposed new requirements on the former Confederate states. Under a new state government and a new state constitution ratified in 1868 by a multiracial assembly, control of the state university shifted to the State Board of Education. The Republican state government replaced Swain and the faculty with new appointments, making professor Solomon Pool president. Democrats, comprised largely of the former slaveholding elite who had lost the war, imposed a virtual boycott on the university. In Chapel Hill the opposition included Cornelia Phillips Spencer, who excoriated Republicans and Pool's administration in weekly newspaper columns. Students stayed away, while the Republican legislature, mired in its own financial troubles, offered no support.

At the 1869 commencement, Republican governor William Woods Holden called for a more egalitarian approach to higher education and for UNC to truly be a "people's university." He proposed opening a school elsewhere for African Americans that would be part of UNC, a plan that led conservative opponents to make untrue claims about the integration of the university. Terrorist activity by the Ku Klux Klan in Orange County targeted university faculty and Republicans, adding to social turmoil and uncertainty. Holden's attempt to fight the Klan with state militia helped mobilize Democratic voters, who in 1870 elected a majority in the state house and senate. The legislature impeached and convicted Holden, removing him from office.

President Pool still tried to keep the university open, but the threat of Klan violence and the lack of financial resources ensured that no new students enrolled. By the beginning of 1871 the university was closed, and faculty and students were gone. Four years would pass before the university's allies could muster the political support under Democrats to reopen the campus.


Date Established: 1863

Date Range: 1863 – 1877