From Jefferson Davis to Hiram Revels

If you have ever studied American history you have probably heard of Jefferson Davis. He was the president of the Confederate States after they seceded from the United States in 1860 following the election of Abraham Lincoln. Many would have you believe the southern states left the union over the issue of state rights.

However, if you read the statements of Jefferson Davis, it is clear that slavery was the true cause of the conflict.

  • “If slavery be a sin, it is not yours. It does not rest on your action for its origin, on your consent for its existence. It is a common law right to property in the service of man; its origin was Divine decree.”
  • “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”
  • My own convictions as to negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses…We recognize the negro as God and God’s Book and God’s Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him – our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude…You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.
  • It was one of the compromises of the Constitution that the slave property in the Southern States should be recognized as property throughout the United States.

The whole question was: Can a person be someone’s property? Davis argued that the Constitution recognized the right of protection of someone’s property. To him, the black man/woman were only property and therefore the Constitution’s promise that “every man is created equal” did not apply to them.

Of course, when the Civil War began, Jefferson Davis resigned his position in the United States Congress. Interesting that when the war was over and Mississippi was back in the Union, a black man was seated in Congress.

At that point representatives were not elected by the public, but rather by the state legislature. When the Republican dominated state legislature nominated Hiram Revels to fill one of the two seats, the minority Democrats agreed to the deal hoping this would “seriously damage the Republican party.”

Revels was never a slave. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1827 his father was a free man and his mother was of Scottish ancestry. Although educating black children was illegal in North Carolina, Revels was able to receive an elementary education from a free black woman and later moved north to complete his education. After attending Beech Grove Quaker Seminary in Indiana and the Darke County Seminary in Ohio, he was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was able to attend Knox College in Galesburg Illinois on a scholarship and graduated with a degree in divinity and theology.. Revels preached throughout several states inclulding Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee. While preaching in Missouri he was imprisoned for a brief time in 1854 “for preaching to negroes.”

During the Civil War he helped recruit two black regiments and served as a chaplain for a black regiment at both Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi.

When Congress met to certify Revel’s place in Congress, some tried to deny him that position because of the 1857 Dred Scott decision which said no African American could be a citizen. When the 14th Amendment was ratified by the states making anyone born in the USA a citizen, they then tried to deny him by saying he did not meet the nine-year citizenship requirement. However, the 15th Amendment, which passed just days before Revel was sworn in, stated that no one could be denied to vote or hold office on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The abolitionist Wendell Phillips called him “The Fifteenth Amendment in flesh and blood.”

Revels served on the Committee of Education and Labor and the District of Columbia Committee. He pushed for integrating the schools iin the District of Columbia and fought against the banning of African-American mechanics from working at the Washington Navy Yard.

Upon leaving Congress, he served as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University). He also served briefly as Mississippi Secretary of State. Teaching theology at Shaw College, he also served on the Board of Trustees. He returned to his roots as pastor and died at a church meeting in Mississippi in 1901 at the age of 73.

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