On June 21, 1832, Joseph Hayne Rainey was born in Georgetown, South Carolina to married slaves. His father, although a slave, was a barber who managed to buy his and his family’s freedom.
In 1941, William Henry Harrison was sworn in as the first President of the United States as a member of the Whig Party. Over the next decade, slavery became more of an issue and members of Whig Party proved to be too weak or unwilling to stand up for the abolitionist views of many northern states.
In 1846, the Rainey family moved to Charleston, South Carolina where Joseph learned to be a barber like his father.
The death blow to the Whig Party came with the introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The act was designed to replace the Missouri Compromise and allow western territories wanting admittance to the Union to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be a free or slave state. Whig politicians were not able to stop the legislation and their party fractured.
A number of anti-slavery Whig members began meeting in February 1854 to discuss forming their own political party that stood firm against slavery.
On March 20, 1854, key anti-slave members of the Whig Party met in Ripon, Wisconsin and made the decision to formally create the Republican Party as the party to oppose slavery. They chose the name ‘Republican’ referencing back to the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson. They also chose the name because they wanted to commit to the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in which they believed slavery as a violation of those rights.
In 1856, John Fremont was the first Republican to run for the presidency. Although he won 11 of the 16 northern states, he carried none of the southern states, losing the election to his Democratic challenger James Buchanan.
By 1860, when Lincoln ran for the presidency as a Republican, he made it known publicly that he was against slavery, but some who knew him personally stated that he was still undecided on the issue. Due to his public stance against slavery, his election caused the southern states to begin seceding from the Union, leading to the Civil War.
In 1861, Rainey was called into service by the Confederacy. He was tasked with helping to dig trenches to fortify Charleston and then to serve on a Confederate blockade runner and as a cook.
In 1862, Rainey has his wife managed to escape from the Confederacy and ended up in Bermuda, which had abolished slavery in 1834. Rainey became a successful barber and his wife Susan opened a dress shop.
On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the preliminary version of his famous Emancipation Proclamation.
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. In reality, this proclamation did not free every slave, just those in the Confederate states as many northern states had already passed laws against slavery.
On February, 1, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed a Joint Resolution on the 13th Amendment, which then sent it to the states for ratification. The 13th Amendment reads:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
On February 1, 1865, Illinois became the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment.
On December 6, 1865, Georgia became the 27th state to ratify the 13th Amendment. Making the 13th Amendment a part of the US Constitution.
In 1866, after learning that Civil War had ended, Rainey and his family returned to Charleston. He was now a wealthy man and quickly became a respected member and leader in his community as a member of the Republican Party.
In 1867, Rainey moved back to Georgetown and was elected as the County Chairman.
In 1868, Rainey was part of the convention called in Charlestown to help write a new state constitution.
On July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified and made part of the Constitution. The 14th Amendment established citizenship to everyone born in the US or naturalized, which for the first time included blacks.
In 1869, Rainey continued to serve his community as the census taker in Georgetown and then attending the state labor commission. He also worked as an agent for the state and commission and held the rank of Brigadier General in the South Carolina militia. He ran for the state senate and won a seat.
On February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified and made part of the of the Constitution. The 15th Amendment granted the right to vote to all US citizens including blacks and former slaves (many Irish were also held as slaves). Although not specified in the wording of the 15th Amendment, the right to vote was not extended to women.
In February 1870, Benjamin F. Whittemore, the Republican Representative from South Carolina resigned from the US House due a pending scandal he was involved in. The Republican Party selected Rainey to replace Whittemore in the House.
In October and November, 1870, Rainey defeated his Democratic challenger C.W. Dudley in two elections, making him the first black man to win a seat in the US House of Representatives.
On this day, December 12, 1870, Joseph Rainey became the first black to be duly sworn in as a member of the US House Representatives. His election and the ratification of the 15th Amendment opened the door for more blacks to run for House and Senate seats.
Perhaps a national holiday should have been given in Rainey’s honor instead of Martin Luther King’s.
Sources for the above includes: Today, December 6, 1865: 13th Amendment Ending Slavery Ratified [VIDEO]; Amendments 11-27 to the U.S. Constitution; Rainey, Joseph Hayne (1832-1887); RAINEY, Joseph Hayne; RAINEY, Joseph Hayne, (1832 – 1887); Joseph Rainey was America’s First Black Congressman; Joseph Hayne Rainey