{ subscribe_url: '/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/law.php' }

Senator Hiram Revels

Hiram Rhoades Revels, Afro-American senator, three-quarter length portrait, seated by small table, facing right. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection.1860-1875. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpbh.00554 .

Hiram R. Revels of Miss. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection.1860-1875. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cwpbh.00554 .

In celebration of African American History Month, our picture of the week is of Hiram Revels, the first African American to serve in the United States Senate. Revels was born a free man in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1827.  He was first apprenticed as a barber, learning the trade from an older brother, and later became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, preaching throughout the Midwest. Later, Revels recruited two Maryland regiments and served as a chaplain in the Army during the Civil War. After the end of the Civil War, Revels helped to establish schools for African Americans and served as a pastor in Natchez, Mississippi. He was soon elected to the position of alderman, and subsequently,  Mississippi state senator. The election of Revels to the United States Senate occurred prior to the adoption of the 17th Amendment, so it fell to the state legislature to elect Revels to the upper house of Congress.

Southern Democrats refused to seat Revels, arguing not only that Mississippi was under military rule at the time of his election, but also that Revels could not satisfy the nine years of citizenship required of a U.S. Senator, because, in light of the precedent established by the Dred Scott decision, he could not have been considered a citizen until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.  Ultimately, the matter was decided when the Senate voted to seat Revels on February 25, 1870.  During his time in office, Senator Revels was recognized as a political moderate and a gifted orator who worked to secure civil rights for African Americans in the areas of education and work. He also strove to put aside the bitter sectional conflicts of the Civil War and reunite the nation by supporting the removal of political disabilities for selected former Confederates, provided they consented to an oath of loyalty. After retiring from the Senate, the Senator served as the president of the Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University) and Secretary of State ad interim of Mississippi.

3 Comments

  1. Nathan
    February 22, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Wow …. not enough expletives to express my disgust when I started reading the SCOTUS opinion on Dred Scott. Could not finish due to nearly throwing up. Unbelievable – yet I do believe 🙁 – that people at any time/place can believe that crap. Dred Scott must have been an extremely brave man to sue his “master”! … Would you guys post links to info about Dred Scott? He needs to be honored alot for his heroic actions. After my migraine goes away, I will read up on him with strong hopes that he gained his freedom and lived well. Links needed for quickest access for people to immediately continue reading all they can about the Senator as well. Lots of history to uncover. Thanks for this very interesting blog.

  2. jeremy kuhlman
    February 24, 2020 at 11:06 am

    this was very helpful for my research assignment and i hope you guys add even more that we dont know about

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.