Wednesday, Jan. 07, 2009

Hiram R. Revels

A former minister, Civil War chaplain and Mississippi state senator, Hiram Rhodes Revels was sent to the United States Senate by his former colleagues in the statehouse (legislatures elected Senators until the passage of the 17th Amendment in May 1913). Chosen to fill one of Mississippi's two vacant seats (both were abandoned when the state joined the Confederacy, with one left behind by the rebel president himself, Jefferson Davis), Revels presented his papers on Feb. 23, 1870 upon the readmission of his state to the Union. But his acceptance into the Senate was held up for two days by Democrats who protested that Revels was not actually a citizen. Since the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed the rights of former slaves, had been passed only two years before, opponents argued that Revels had not been a U.S. citizen for the amount of time required by Senate rules. The fairly transparent argument was defeated, and two days later, Revels became America's first African-American senator. He served for a little more than a year.