Skip to main content

Hiram Rhodes Revels: The First Black U.S. Senator

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Hiram Rhodes Revels

Hiram Rhodes Revels

In February 1870, Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African American to serve in the United States Senate. He was also an ordained minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Those who met him considered Revels to be a sincere and honest black man with above-average intelligence. During the Civil War, he served in the United States Army as a chaplain. He is credited with helping to recruit as well as organize two black regiments for the Union Army. The majority of these recruits were from Missouri and Maryland. Revels was involved with the Battle of Vicksburg that took place in Mississippi as well as several other conflicts during the Civil War. When the war was over, he was encouraged to pursue politics.

Early Years

On September 27, 1827, Hiram Rhodes Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was born free in a family that had been free since before the American Revolution. Revel's father was named Elias and was a Baptist preacher. He went to live with an older brother in Lincolnton, North Carolina in 1838 at the age of eleven. Revels was then made an apprentice in his brother's barbershop. He inherited the barbershop when his brother died in 1841. Revels attended the Beech Grove Quaker Seminary in Union County, Indiana, and became an ordained minister in 1845.

Certification of Hiram Rhodes Revels being elected as a Senator by the Mississippi House of Representatives

Certification of Hiram Rhodes Revels being elected as a Senator by the Mississippi House of Representatives

Senate Election

Revels settled in Natchez, Mississippi with his wife and daughters after the Civil War. He was ready to preach to a large congregation. Revels had serious trepidation about being involved with politics. In 1868, he did accept an appointment as alderman by the military governor of Mississippi. During the 1870s, the legislature in every state voted for their U.S. Senators. Revels was elected as a senator by the Mississippi State Senate. He was going to complete the term from one of the two U.S. Senate seats that had become vacant when Mississippi seceded from the union. Revels was a Republican who worked hard to not promote any type of race friction with white Southerners.

Democrat Challenge

Democrats opposed allowing Revels to take a seat in the U.S. Senate. There was a debate that took place for two days to decide the issue. The galleries in the Senate were filled with spectators. The opposition by the Democrats was based on the US Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott Decision. This ruling stated that black people could not be citizens. The Democrats argued that since the US Supreme Court decision came down in 1857, and the 14th Amendment giving everyone born or naturalized in the United States equal protection under the law wasn't passed until 1863, Revels didn't meet the nine years prior citizenship requirement.


Those who supported Revels stated he had been a citizen for many years. The proof was by his record of voting in Ohio. They stated this meant he did meet the nine-year requirement before the Dred Scott decision. His supporters also argued that since the Civil War, the Constitution's Reconstruction Amendments had been passed and overturned the Dred Scott decision. They stated this is the reason it would be unconstitutional to deny Revels a seat in the U.S. Senate based on pre-Civil War Constitution rules for citizenship. A Republican Senator who was a supporter of Revel claimed that Revel was fighting in the last battle-field of the Civil War.

Hiram Rhodes Revels being sworn in as a U.S. Senator

Hiram Rhodes Revels being sworn in as a U.S. Senator

First Black U.S. Senator

Evidence of Revel's election from the Mississippi House of Representatives and Mississippi State Senate was presented. It was complete with signatures from the clerks of the Mississippi House of Representatives. A vote was taken in the U.S. Senate on February 25, 1870, concerning Revels becoming a U.S. Senator. On a party-line vote, Revels was approved to be seated in the United States Senate after a vote of 48 Republicans to 8 Democrats. Revels would fill the Senate seat that had previously been held by Jefferson Davis, who was the former president of the Confederacy. When it came time for Revel's swearing-in ceremony, everyone in the galleries stood.

Hiram Rhodes Revels

Hiram Rhodes Revels

U.S. Senate Career

Revels worked hard to prove to his fellow Senators about the abilities of black Americans. He made his first speech in the U.S. Senate on March 16, 1870. Revels made a case for the reinstatement to the Georgia General Assembly of black legislators. They had been removed illegally by white representatives of the Democratic Party. He served on the Committee dealing with the District of Columbia as well as the Committee of Education and Labor. Much of the work of the U.S. Senate at this time was addressing the issues associated with Reconstruction. Some Republicans wanted more punishment for ex-Confederates. Revels stated he believed that restoration of full citizenship and amnesty should be given to them if they were willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States. He worked hard on championing the cause of black workers around the country. Revels was praised by various publications in the northern press for his proper conduct and oratorical abilities in the U.S. Senate.

Hiram Rhodes Revels with a class at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College

Hiram Rhodes Revels with a class at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College

After Senate

Revels resigned from the U.S. Senate after a year. In 1871, he accepted an offer to be president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College. It was a historically black college. Revels was excited to have direct participation in the intellectual growth of black Americans. During this time, Revels also was active in the Methodist Church. Revels continued to preach publicly.


On January 16, 1901, Revels died in Aberdeen, Mississippi of a stroke. He was attending a meeting of Methodist ministers. Revels was 73 years old.



Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation



U.S House of Representatives Archives

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Readmikenow (author) on October 07, 2020:

Dora, thanks. He is a person that is good to read about.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 07, 2020:

Thank you for shining the light on Hiram Rhodes, outstanding statesman and clergyman. Like Cheryl, will forward your article to my grandchildren.

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on October 04, 2020:

Yes he does

Readmikenow (author) on October 04, 2020:

Cheryl, thanks. He seems like he would be a good role model for anyone.

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on October 04, 2020:

I never heard of him. Thank you for the history lesson. I will share with my grandchildren who are doing traditional home school.

Related Articles