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Hiram Rhodes Revels: The First Black Senator

Hiram Rhodes Revels

On February 25, 1870, the primary African American ever elected to the workplace of Senator was sworn in. Hiram Rhodes Revels was elected by the Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature to fill out the unexpired time period of Jefferson Davis. Revels had distinguished himself in a wide range of management roles; he had labored from Maryland to Mississippi as a minister within the African Methodist Episcopal Church; he was a recruiter of black regiments within the Union Army; he served as a military chaplain; and arranged faculties for freedmen.

Hiram Rhodes Revels, Library of Congress

Upon Revels’ arrival within the Senate on February 23, 1870, a number of Senators tried to dam the acceptance of his credentials. They argued that he and different African Americans had gained citizenship solely 4 years prior, with the passage of the 1866 Civil Rights Act. (The US Constitution stipulates in Article I, Section 3, clause 3 that “No person shall be a Senator who shall not have . . . been nine years a Citizen of the United States.”) The argument was specious, as Revels’ supporters identified. While residing years earlier in Ohio, Revels had exercised his citizen’s proper to vote. After two days, Senator Charles Sumner made a forceful speech that introduced the talk to an finish.

“What the Black Man Wants”

The unusual argument over Revels’ credentials calls to thoughts a strong speech made shortly earlier than the top of the Civil War by Frederick Douglass. Speaking to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society on “What the Black Man Wants,” Douglass insisted on the granting of full civil rights for African Americans on the conclusion of the Civil War. Emancipation had been granted as a struggle measure, in order so as to add the power of African American troops to the Union Army. But full citizenship rights, together with suffrage, ought to observe. To not grant these wouldn’t solely deny the equality of black males to different Americans; it might impugn the glory of a nation that will quickly be understanding a system to readmit the insurgent states to the Union:

Do you imply to provide your enemies the appropriate to vote, and take it away from your mates? Is that sensible coverage? Is that honorable? Could American honor stand up to such a blow? I don’t imagine you’ll do it. I believe you will notice to it that we’ve got the appropriate to vote. There is one thing too imply in trying upon the Negro, if you find yourself in hassle, as a citizen, and if you find yourself free from hassle, as an alien. When this nation was in hassle, in its early struggles, it seemed upon the Negro as a citizen. In 1776 he was a citizen. At the time of the formation of the Constitution the Negro had the appropriate to vote in eleven States out of the previous 13. In your hassle you could have made us residents. In 1812 Gen. Jackson addressed us as residents—“fellow-citizens.” He needed us to battle. We had been residents then! And now, while you come to border a conscription invoice, the Negro is a citizen once more. He has been a citizen simply thrice within the historical past of this authorities, and it has at all times been in time of hassle. In time of hassle we’re residents. Shall we be residents in struggle, and aliens in peace? Would that be simply?

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You can discover Douglass’ speech and plenty of extra teachable and related civil rights paperwork in our Core Document Collection quantity Race and Civil Rights.  Paper copies and free downloads can be found in EducatingAmericanHistorical’s on-line bookstore.


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