What Did The First 23 Black Members of Congress Have In Common?

In case you didn’t already know, the United States Congress is bicameral, meaning it has two legislative bodies. The House of Representatives makes up the first of these bodies and it consists of 435 members, called representatives. The number of representatives each state can elect is dependent on it’s population. The second legislative body is the Senate, it is comprised of 100 members, which are called senators. Each state is allowed to elect two senators. The purpose of Congress is to create and pass laws that affect Americans all across the country. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, many Americans showed their willingness to embrace change by electing black men to congress. Believe it or not, but most of them were elected in southern states.

The color of their skin, or the fact most of them were elected in southern states, are not all these men had in common. What might surprise many people today is the knowledge that the first 23 black members of congress were all Republicans. However, those who know their history a little bit may not be so surprised as it is known that the south was largely comprised of Democrats during the 19th century. Yes, the Democrat Party was the party of slavery, whereas the northern states were predominantly Republican and anti-slavery. Therefore, it stands to reason that black politicians would join the side that fought for their freedom.

At the end of this post is a list of those 23 black men, the years of their births and deaths, the state they were elected in, and the years they served. I found it particularly interesting that the first of these men elected, John Willis Menard, was elected just three years after the end of the Civil War. This could have been because Louisiana regretted their role in the war and sought to make amends, or perhaps it was a political move to reassure the North. One reason that this interests me so, is that black men weren’t allowed to vote until the 15th Amendment was ratified in February of 1870. This of course means that only white men elected John Willis Menard. In the long-run the reason no longer matters, but it is interesting food for thought.

If you found this topic and information interesting, please let me know in the comments below. Also, if you have some deeper knowledge on this subject than I do, or if you just want to share your thoughts, please do so in the comments as well!

Elected to the Senate:

Hiram Rhodes Revels (1822-1901); Republican – Mississippi; 1870-1871

Blanche Bruce (1841-1898); Republican – Mississippi; 1875-1881

Elected to the House of Representatives:

John Willis Menard (1838-1893); Republican – Louisiana; 1868

Joseph Rainey (1832-1887); Republican – South Carolina; 1870-1879

Jefferson F. Long (1836-1901); Republican – Georgia; 1870-1871

Robert C. De Large (1842-1874); Republican – South Carolina; 1871-1873

Robert B. Elliott (1842-1884); Republican – South Carolina; 1871-1874

Benjamin S. Turner (1825-1894); Republican – Alabama; 1871-1873

Josiah T. Walls (1842-1905); Republican – Florida; 1871-1873, 1873-1875, 1875-1876

Richard H. Cain (1825-1887); Republican – South Carolina; 1873-1875, 1877-1879

John R. Lynch (1847-1939); Republican – Mississippi; 1873-1877, 1882-1883

James T. Rapier (1837-1883); Republican – Alabama; 1873-1875

Alonzo J. Ransier (1834-1882); Republican – South Carolina; 1873-1875

Jeremiah Haralson (1846-1916); Republican – Alabama; 1875-1877

John Adams Hyman (1840-1891); Republican – North Carolina; 1875-1877

Charles E. Nash (1844-1913); Republican – Louisiana; 1875-1877

Robert Smalls (1839-1915); Republican – South Carolina; 1875-1879, 1882-1883, 1884-1887

James E. O’Hara (1844-1905); Republican – North Carolina; 1883-1887

Henry P. Cheatham (1857-1935); Republican – North Carolina; 1889-1893

John Mercer Langston (1829-1897); Republican – Virginia; 1890-1891

Thomas E. Miller(1849-193); Republican – South Carolina; 1890-1891

George W. Murray (1853-1926); Republican – South Carolina; 1893-1895, 1896-1897

George Henry White (1852-1918); Republican – North Carolina; 1897-1901


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